The Foundation Center offers an “Ask Us” librarian chat service Monday through Wednesday, 9:30 am - 8:00 pm, Thursday and Friday, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm (Eastern Time). Questions can also be submitted by email. They answered 4,000 chat & email questions in 2010.
A good place to start before asking a question is the Grantspace Knowledge Base, which replaces the old Foundationcenter.org FAQ. It includes tips on how to get started with proposal writing, starting a nonprofit, charitable statistics, and fiscal sponsorship. Fiscal sponsorship is when an individual or organization that does not have 501(c) (3) status partners with one that does. This increases the potential grant pool by a factor of at least 10, although there is usually a 5-10% fee. The new site Fiscalsponsordirectory lets you search for fiscal sponsors by state or area of interest.
In these challenging economic times, the Foundation Center librarians often get questions from people who need help for themselves, rather than getting a grant for their organization. Health and disability needs are the most common. If they need help right away, United Way’s 211 service is a good place to refer them. Benefits.gov offers easy access to government assistance programs. It asks you a series of questions, then gives you a list of assistance you may be eligible for. This makes it a good complement for the Foundation Center databases, since they do not include any government grants or programs. Ed.gov is a good site for adults returning to school or looking for vocational training. For people with disabilities, www.disabilityresources.org has funding information for assistive technology, vocational rehabilitation, and health care.
Although for-profit businesses are generally not eligible for grants from foundations, the Foundation Center offers links on where to get started for business loans and other assistance. Social Enterprise, which combines a social mission with business methods, is a hot trend these days. These are some good links that the librarians recommend to get started.
Nonprofits may need help with legal issues from time to time. The Nonprofit Law Blog is written by attorneys who cover topics like governance, fiscal sponsorship, forms, and intellectual property. If they want to know what to pay their new residence supervisor, the Economic Research Institute has a salary calculator that can be refined by state or zip code. If a nonprofit needs statistics in order to discover giving trends, the Foundation Center has some, as does the Center for Charitable Statistics and the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University.
So, if you have a real foundation-related stumper, the Foundation Center librarians will be happy to help. I have contacted them a few times--once for a scan from a publication in their library, once to find out if they could recommend a title or not, and they were very helpful.