Conversation with Polk Brothers Foundation, Part 1

Earlier this month, a senior officer with the Polk Brothers Foundation met with a group of local fundraising professionals to discuss the current grant making climate in Chicago.  While the comments are specific to the Polk Bros. Foundation, the information is useful for how non-profits should approach most Foundations for support.  These are my takeaways.


The Polk Bros. Foundation currently has $425 million in assets compared to $480 million in 2008 and $325 million in 2009.  Since the Great Recession, the Foundation grants 5.5% of its assets and provides funding to 325 non-profit organizations in Chicago.  Sixty percent of the non-profits funded by the Polk Bros. Foundation have been receiving funding for at least 15 years.  The Foundation does not ask funded organizations to take a break.


At the Polk Brothers Foundation, Board members receive a one-page document per request for support.  It is the responsibility of the program manager to consolidate the documents submitted by the non-profit organization down to a single page.

Here are some tips your organization can take to assist program managers in helping your organization get funded.


When assessing requests for funding, the question “So what?” is frequently asked by Foundation Board members.  The Foundation program managers seek to answer this question for your organization and synthesize the response down to one-page of bullet points for its Board members.  The answer to “So what?” speaks to the goals of your non-profit and it is usually found in the numbers and the percentages.

Track everything. Submit the most current information available.  It is difficult for Board members to justify funding if your organization submits 2010 data in the 2013 funding cycle.  You are being measured against similar organizations that are using recent data.  Find a way to put resources and effort into measuring your effectiveness.  It will enhance your proposal and therefore increase your chances at securing funding.

Decide which tools you will use to show your program is working.  Will you use pre and post surveys?  Is it anecdotal evidence from an instructor?  Maybe focus groups? As an organization, be willing to take the steps to learn what is and isn’t working.  You will be able to respond to both client needs and to funders quicker.

After you have captured the data, be able to articulate it.  Program managers need the analysis.  Instead of sending a program manager 100 surveys and leaving it up to them to find 3 important bullet points, do the work for them.  Make it easy for them to defend your organization to their Board.

NEXT:  Strategic Philanthropy