Before searching for funding sources, it is important to clarify your needs and goals. By briefly answering the following questions for yourself it will help you determine an appropriate funder.

  • Describe the activity/program or project you are seeking to fund.
  • What population(s) will your program serve?
  • What key terms describe the educational research, approach, and/or curriculum that would be included in a grant proposal?
  • What is the dollar amount you want to raise? By when?
  • Describe the difference this activity or program will make for your school(s).
  • What specific goals or objectives would you write into a grant proposal?
  • What other funding or in-kind resources have you already secured?
  • Describe other sources or groups that could offer funds/support.
  • What outside support do you anticipate you’ll need to plan, write and carry out this grant project? (i.e., facilitator, grant writer, evaluator, trainers, other technical assistance?)
  • Once you have clearly defined your needs and goals there may be a number of funding sources available to provide a grant for you. The Grants and Research Office has narrowed the search for you by providing five ready-to-use lists of funding sources.

Once you have clearly defined your needs and goals there may be a number of funding sources available to provide a grant for you. The Grants and Research Office has narrowed the search for you by providing five ready-to-use lists of funding sources.

  • Minnesota Foundation Grants
  • Community Foundations
  • Family Foundations
  • Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Grants
  • United States Department of Education (federal) grants

Foundations are a major source of educational funding in Minnesota. A foundation is a non-governmental, nonprofit organization that has its own assets and is managed by a board of trustees. Foundations aid charitable, educational, religious or other activities that serve the public good.

This section profiles some Minnesota Foundations that have funded education-related projects.  This is not an exhaustive list, but a good place for educators to begin their search for private funders. Always check the funder’s web site or call the foundation to obtain the most recent guidelines and proposal due dates. (For more information on foundation grants and other foundation search options, see below.)

Click on the MN Foundations below to visit their websites:

Foundations are more likely to fund programs that are close to home. Be sure to check if the funder covers your geographic area.  Also note that funders usually have special areas of interest. It is best to apply to a funding organization only when your program’s focus falls squarely within the organization’s giving area.

woman with large pencilRemember that working with private foundations is different from working with the Department of Education or other government organizations. In many cases, working with private foundations involves relationship-building: introductions, getting to know one another, courtship, and ongoing communication. As a result, a private funder may be an outstanding source of funding for the future, as the relationship has developed and the funding organization has become familiar with your work.

Many Minnesota Foundations require you to follow a grant template. To learn more about this form, go to the Minnesota Common Grant Application information page.

Where Can I Search for other Foundations?

Detailed listings of all of the Minnesota-based foundations and corporate giving programs are available from:

  • Minnesota Council of Foundations (MCF) Grant Makers On-Line
    A membership is required to search their database. To learn more:
  • Minnesota’s Foundation Center Cooperating Collections
    You can utilize this collection for FREE at the Minneapolis Public Library: 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis (612/630-6300);

Local community foundations and community groups can be a great source of funding for small projects ($1,000 to $10,000) or emergency funding of an existing program. Developing relationships with a foundation/community representative is essential for tapping into this resource. Set up a meeting with a community foundation board member or staff, or attend a community meeting to learn more about their program focus and what educational areas or youth issues they are interested in supporting.

Be sure to check the geographic area for community funders. Usually they fund schools and other non-profits in a specific area and for certain types of programs. Community Service groups like Kiwanis, the Rotary Club, or the Lions can be very helpful, but don’t forget other community funders. Three large community foundations in Minnesota each manage many smaller community foundations—to learn more about these donor funds, click here. Make sure to coordinate requests from your school district or check with your supervisor and/or the grant coordinator for the district.

What is a Community Foundation?

A community foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity that is endowed by the community. That means donors from the community give money (charitable gifts) to a foundation for the purpose of making the community stronger. The community foundation invests the money so the assets can grow into a charitable endowment. The interest and dividends earned on the endowments are given back to the community through grants. Today, community foundations are the fastest growing sector in philanthropy, with an increasing number of people looking to put their charitable dollars to work meeting community needs.
–Minnesota Community Foundation web site

Click on profiles below to learn about these community foundations:

Many school leaders have developed relationships with their local Rotary, Kiwanis or Lions. Check these web sites to learn more:

Rotary Club

The three largest community foundations in Minnesota have specific funding initiatives listed on their web sites. Send in a short description of your project so that their staff can share it with potential donors through one or more of their donor advised funds.

Minnesota Community Foundation/The Saint Paul
The Minneapolis Foundation
The Saint Paul Foundation


Your school may be able to find a major donor to provide between $1,000 to $10,000 for a specific project by sending a two-page letter of inquiry to your local community foundation.

Large donors often donate to community foundations who manage their special fund and ensure that grants go to causes specified by the donor.

Hundreds of donors have established charitable funds with one of the three large community foundations: The Minneapolis Foundation, The Saint Paul Foundation or the Minnesota Community Foundation. Their charitable interests are broad and diverse. Donors often rely on the expertise of Foundation staff to identify nonprofit organizations and programs that match their interests.

A good example is the Connections Grant program of the Minneapolis Foundation which now serves all Minnesota Communities. The Connections Grants program supports “systems change work” or programs/projects that are small in focus. Others specify that the grant money is support for “one time only,” time sensitive projects, or for a new/unique opportunity.

Minnesota nonprofits wishing to connect with other funding opportunities through The Minneapolis Foundation are encouraged to submit a letter of inquiry. Preference is given to requests for funding that address a special need or project with clear and measurable results. Letters of inquiry should be no more than two pages and must answer all of the questions on the web site. Letters of inquiry are reviewed and referred to potential donors on an on-going basis. Your request remains active for one year. Please limit your submission to one letter of inquiry per year. You will only be notified if a grant has been approved.

Minnesota has seen a rapid growth in the number of Family Foundations and Donor Advised Funds over the past decade as more high-income families seek to give back to their communities. Family foundations are small and give out a limited number grants per year, but are worth pursuing. When you develop a funding relationship it often continues for years. The key to developing a funding relationship with a family foundation is getting the attention of one of the family members serving on its board. Names of board members can be found at or in the additional resources described below.

Larger family foundations have staff support and well-defined guidelines and priorities. Small family foundations are less formal and have a great deal of discretion in selecting new projects and organizations to fund. We have compiled a brief profile for twelve family foundations with an interest in education. See list below— click on the foundation name to learn about the focus and values that are important to the family.

Additional Resources

To learn more about the foundations above or to find additional family foundations that may be a fit for your project you can –

  • Visit the Foundation Center Cooperating Collection at the Minneapolis Central Library in downtown Minneapolis
  • Look through the annual reports of other organizations and charities to review their list of donors and the amount of dollars given
  • Subscribe to the Minnesota Grantmakers On-Line.
  • Send a brief summary of your organization and projects to the staff for the donor advised funds at the Minneapolis Foundation and St. Paul Foundation so they can share your projects with potential donors.

Once you know the name of a family foundation, you can research past projects they have funded. Find out the names of their board members on their Annual IRS form 990, available on line at Finally, it is of great help to research to find someone (staff, parents, etc.) in your district knows one or more board members of the family foundation(s) from which you are seeking funds. If you have a contact who knows a member of their board– you can ask them to introduce your project and/or organization to them.

The State of Minnesota, through the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) provides grants for programs with a very specific focus.

The U.S. Department of Education offers many grants to Local Education Associations (LEAs), which include independent and intermediate school districts.