''It's a tougher game than it's ever been.''
The ''player'' is Norton J. Kiritz, president of the Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles. The ''game'' is seeking financial support from private philanthropic foundations.
Each year nearly 1 million requests for funding are made to the roughly 22, 000 active foundations in the United States. Less than 7 percent of those applying actually obtain the grant support they seek, reports the Foundation Center, a national service organization created and supported by foundations (see related story).
And foundation officials expect that the current recession, plus a diminished federal role in social programs, will cause demand for their money to grow.
These same officials say many applications that would be rejected might not if some simple guidelines were followed in the grantsmanship process.
* Know your foundation: It is the most important part of the entire funding process. Many applications fail because the grants being sought do not match the interests of the foundations approached. Successful grantsmanship depends on identifying and then reaching those with a pattern of funding programs like the ones for which you need support.
The Foundation Directory, put out by the Foundation Center, is the best-known and most-often-used source to do initial homework on what is the best foundation for you.
Another valuable reference tool is a form called 990-AR (annual report) that the Internal Revenue Service requires private foundations to file. It provides details relating to the particular giving patterns of a foundation; all grants made or approved during the year; the name and address of each recipient; the amount and purpose of the grant; and the relationship, if any, between any recipient and the foundation's managers or substantial contributors.
* Realize that foundations are not in the charity business. They see themselves as contractors seeking services in areas that meet their goals and stated purposes. Numerous officials contacted by this reporter highlighted this point. A foundation responds to an organization that comes to it from a position of strong management, some measure of financial stability, and hopefully some record of past success.
* The idea itself is the greatest asset of your proposal.
By and large, the staff of large foundations are highly qualified and will almost always have someone with expertise in the area of a grant request. They will look at the soundness of the idea in relation to the institution proposing it.
''Don't think it is appropriate to bend your needs to go for the money,'' Mr. Kiritz says. ''Set your priorities. Trust this will accomplish your purpose. Have a strong statement of purpose and a clear set of goals.'' (His organization runs one-, three-, and five-day workshops on how to obtain grants. The Grantsmanship Center can be reached at 1-800-421-9512.)
* Foundations want to get as much mileage out of their investment as they can.
''Linking your request to other groups with similar interests can't hurt and more than likely will be beneficial,'' says Robert Payton, director of the Exxon Education Foundation.
* After choosing the foundation that best fits your program, submit your proposal in clear, neat, and easy-to-read English. When it comes to the first contact, with few exceptions foundations do not want long, wordy, detailed proposals. (More than four double-spaced pages should be a warning to reread and see if it can be said more simply.)