Establishing and strengthening relationships

The Corporate, Foundation and Research Relations (CFRR) team in Health Sciences Development is here to support you in establishing and strengthening relationships with private institutional funders. Our goal is to increase the amount of funding received by UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA from corporations and foundations in order to advance faculty-initiated projects, departmental priorities, and the university mission. Contact us anytime at

Our office performs the following services:

  • Conducts research to identify potential funding sources
  • Works with faculty, staff, development officers, and volunteers to develop strategies for approaching funders
  • Plans and coordinates proposal writing
  • Provides writing consultation and review of PI proposals so as to meet funders’ selection criteria with the most competitive submissions possible
  • Facilitates the application process
  • Assists in writing major stewardship reports and developing other stewardship and cultivation activities for foundations and corporate donors

View and download additional information

CFRR’s strategic role is to raise major gifts and grants from corporations and foundations by:

  • Understanding the funding priorities of corporations and foundations
  • Building knowledge, internally and externally, about the priorities and goals of UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
  • Partnering with faculty and leadership to cultivate, solicit, and steward corporate and foundation donors

General information and resources

The Foundation Center—the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide—offers free resources, including a recorded webinar “Introduction to Proposal Writing.” You can find the webinar and other short videos and tips of the trade here:

The most important thing to know about proposal writing is that the “writing” itself is not the most critical element. A well-thought-out project with a clearly defined statement of needs, objectives, timelines, and achievability is much more important. You do not need to be an expert writer to craft a compelling proposal. If you are concerned that the writing is not strong enough, the CFRR office can help.

Many grantmakers supply their own application forms and increasingly use online forms. Many of these have specific character limits, and may have little space for a tradition narrative. A few basics characteristics are important for most proposals:

  • Make the request upfront. In the executive summary or the first paragraph, include the specific dollar- amount requested and a description of the project it will support.
  • Answer the funder’s questions.
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms as much as possible (although this may be hard), especially if there are several names for different programs or organizations. The acronyms create distance and can get confusing for the reader. In general, write to a well-educated audience, but in a lay language. (Medical research proposals are an exception, since the proposal will likely be peer-reviewed by experts; in those cases, the abstract and lay summary will be read by and must be understandable to the foundation staff.)
  • Address the funder’s interests. If appropriate, mirror the foundation’s own language to demonstrate that you understand its priorities and have chosen this particular funder for a reason.
  • Focus on the societal need, not your funding gaps. Talk about the project and the resources needed to achieve a specific aim and avoid referring to institutional budget cuts and the like. (There are exceptions, when it makes sense to discuss healthcare reform, changing reimbursement streams, etc.)
  • Data can be compelling—within reason. Highlight important points with bullets, incorporate tables if appropriate, and offer visual breaks within your text. Reviewers are often reading a sizeable stack of proposals and easy and clear visual presentation helps them better understand the material.
  • Storytelling can also be compelling—within reason. Anecdotal information in the absence of good data can be weak, but highlighting the complexities of the personal alongside the statistical can make for a more compelling case. (For a proposal about care coordination, for example, data about the costs of inadequate care coordination would be important, but a story of how a particular patient must navigate many providers can furnish a better example of what is needed.)
  • Use active and persuasive language. Make your case, positively demonstrating the work you will do. For instance, use “will” instead of “would.” For programs that already exist, use clear language to distinguish between what you currently do versus what you will do with the additional support (current vs. future state).
  • Get a second opinion. If possible, have a colleague or a coworker review your proposal- preferably someone not familiar with the project. Or contact the CFRR office for a review.

Budgeting is an important part of a proposal package, and one of the most important factors in ensuring a project’s success if it is funded. Often the proposal language may be vague. “What exactly will they do with the money,” the funder may wonder. The accompanying budget should answer that question.

Although the budget is often a projection of your estimated costs, you should still plan as much as possible in advance. Budgets that look too “easy” can often be recognized by funders as guesstimates, not actual estimates. You department’s financial manager or pre-award office can assist with putting together specifics. The CFRR office can also provide feedback on which expenses may or may not be more attractive to a funder, as well as what is realistic. Because we have worked on grants in many different areas, we often see how projects play out over time and understand which budgeted expenses may be unrealistic.

Some funders prefer a “three-column” budget—with one column reflecting a total program budget, another detailing which line items the funder will support, and a third showing what other sources of support will be used. Whether or not they use this format, foundations often want to see a more comprehensive financial view of your project, including other committed resources and funding sources.

All private awards accepted as gifts are subject to the 6.5% chancellor’s fee. It is important to note that this fee is taken off the top of the award, not budgeted as a percentage of direct costs. If you budget 6.5% as part of your total project costs, you will not have sufficient funds to cover the fee. For example, if your total project costs are $250,000, you need to calculate the 6.5% gift fee (divide $250,000 by .935, which would amount to $17,379) and add that to the total project cost, which in this case will come to $267,379.

More often than not, when working with private foundations, you will be calculating a budget for a grant, rather than a gift. Many funders have stated policies on allowable indirect costs, typically ranging from zero to twenty percent. These costs are usually budgeted as a percent of total direct costs. Your pre-award office or OCGA analyst can help you prepare an indirect cost waiver or reduction at the time of submission if needed. If the funder has no stated policy, and you are unsure about what to calculate, please contact our office.

Building a relationship with a funder is like any other relationship—preferences are personal and it can be hard to read the signs. It is important to try to respect a funder’s preferences if you know what they are. Some foundations prefer an initial conversation before you submit anything in writing, others expect letters of inquiry, and some want to receive a full proposal as a first step. Some funders are not open to new requests and find grantees through an invitation-only process.

As diverse as grantmakers are, there are some common factors that can help make a strong connection between a grant seeker and a prospective funder:

  • Aligned mission and strategy: a close fit between the grantmaker’s mission and the goals of the proposed project. You may see funded projects that do not closely align with a grantmaker’s mission; these are usually made because of personal relationships or specific trustees. When you are submitting an application through normal channels, a close fit with a funder’s strategy is essential.
  • Geography: close geographic proximity is a requirement for some funders (based on where trustees reside, or where corporations have their offices). If a funder is interested in work similar to yours but has never made a grant in Southern California, your chances of funding are small.
  • Trust: a good reputation and/or positive past experience with the organization or people involved.
  • Planning: a well-thought-out project that can be described in clear terms and show high impact in a problem area the grantmaker is interested in.
  • Planning: a well-thought-out project that can be described in clear terms and show high impact in a problem area the grantmaker is interested in.
  • Business alignment: for many corporate grantmakers, philanthropy is aligned with their business goals. This may vary for corporations that have separate foundation arms, particularly pharmaceutical or medical device companies (where corporate dollars are used for projects clearly aligned with marketing interests, foundation dollars provide care for the underserved, or afford greater flexibility in spending).
  • People: often the best resources for making connections are the people, including staff, volunteers, board members, and other collaborators of the funding organization.

Stewardship is often considered to be synonymous with donor relations; but first and foremost, it means stewarding financial resources (spending the funds as promised to achieve stated goals) and reporting on the activities that have taken place.

Reporting is a key part of good stewardship. Foundations often use these reports internally to assess the effectiveness of their grantmaking and share their activities with their constituents, including major donors or trustees. Completing reports in a timely manner is important not only for strengthening your long-term relationship with a funder but also for positively impacting the entire university’s relationship with that funder.

At a basic level, reporting helps funders understand how a program or a project was executed and how the funds were utilized. At a higher level, good stewardship helps funders see the long-term benefits of their philanthropy. For example, a researcher who chooses to dedicate his or her career to a particular disease because of a private foundation’s early support may encourage the foundation to make more career development awards or demonstrate that a given area represents a good investment.

It is also critical to let private funders know early if a project does not go as planned. Personnel departures, changes in relationships with community partners, unanticipated expenses, or budgetary changes can mean major changes to a project plan. The earlier you notify a grantmaker of such changes, the better. If you are in doubt about an issue or how to communicate it, please contact the CFRR office for help. Not being upfront with a funder, or providing poor stewardship, can affect the entire university, not just one department or unit. More often than not, grantmakers want to hear about unforeseen challenges. They want to learn from the process and use that information to make better grants in the future.

FAQS: Working with Corporate, Foundation, and Research Relations

Funds are solicited and committed to the university in a variety of ways. The terms of the funding agreement (not what the award is called by the funder) determine whether an award should be handled as a gift or a grant. A gift typically comes with greater flexibility, such as unrestricted support for a program or an area of research, but not a specific research project with a defined performance period and deliverables. Agreement terms such as “return of unexpended funds,” “the right to audit,” “detailed financial reporting,” and “performance” will typically indicate that the award is a grant. Be aware that in some cases, foundation grants are considered gifts and should be received by the development office. In other cases, foundation grants are considered sponsored projects. The distinction is made on a case-by-case basis. Both gifts and grants are charitable awards because they carry no tangible benefit or a quid-pro-quo for the funder. Agreements, where value is exchanged, are considered contracts.

Please contact our office to help review the terms of an award and make an appropriate determination of its terms.

It is absolutely critical to donor relations that all checks be processed within 24 hours. Please do not hold a check because a gift or a grant determination has not yet been made, an agreement signed, or an appropriate fund number assigned. All checks can be deposited while outstanding paperwork is processed. To deliver a check to our office, please schedule a pick-up by contacting and have it delivered to Chloe Vieira at the Ueberroth building, Suite 3132. Depending on the terms of the award, it may need to be processed by OCGA or by the UCLA Foundation. We can review the terms and alert the appropriate parties to make a determination if it is not clear whether the award is a gift or a grant.

As a major research university, UCLA maintains a robust administrative structure designed to help faculty research comply with all applicable laws while protecting the university’s and faculty’s interests. The UCLA Office of Corporate, Foundation, and Research Relations supplements the work of these offices with a donor-centric approach focused on relationship building and matching faculty with funders. All final grant proposals should be submitted through the Office of Contracts and Grants, which receives and negotiates all grant awards. OCGA maintains a proposal intake team and award intake team whose jobs are to route your proposal correctly. You can find the intake team members and other OCGA representatives here:

The CFRR office can help you research private partners, edit narratives, provide feedback on a project’s design, direct questions to a funder, participate in meetings and phone calls with the funder, and serve as a liaison between the funder and OCGA when needed.

While we encourage multiple university relationships with donors, a small number of leading private foundations have requested that UCLA coordinate all inquiries and formal applications to them, whether in response to a formal request for proposal (RFP) or as a general submission, and whether it will result in a gift or a grant. The UCLA Office of Corporate, Foundation and Research Relations manages these relationships. It is very important to follow the proper guidelines for these submissions. The full list of coordinated funders and their points of contact can be found here:

Because specific guidelines apply to medical education grants, the Dean’s Office of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA oversees CME events. Some frequently asked questions and contacts can be found here: https:// and here: Pages/about/industry-relations/contact-us-industry-relations.aspx

I am interested in corporate sponsorships for a fundraising event. Can you help me with that?

The best first point of contact is your assigned development officer within Health Sciences Development. Most corporate sponsorships for events come from volunteer committee members, honorees, and faculty relationships with local corporations. Depending on the event, the development officer will consult with CFRR if needed. Special tax considerations may apply for ticketed fundraising events, and development staff can provide guidance on these issues. If you do not have an assigned development officer, or are not sure who your officer is, please contact our office.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss your ideas for a concept or a proposal with you. Please consider first whether your project may have particular appeal to institutional funders. See the following section for more about foundation grantmaking.

Yes, we offer training throughout the year on working with private funders. Training opportunities will typically be sent out in newsletters and e-mails from the UCLA Research Escalator team in the Office of Research Administration.

Our team covers medical specialties across UCLA Health Sciences. Please contact:

Melissa MacRae
Senior Director, Corporate, Foundation and Research Relations
UCLA Health Sciences Development
Tel: (310) 825-4250

Jyothsna Buddharaju
Director of Development, Medical Sciences
Central Corporate, Foundation & Research Relations
Tel: (310) 983-3067

Chloe Vieira
Development Assistant, Corporate, Foundation and Research Relations
UCLA Health Sciences Development
Tel: (310) 267-1855

FAQS: Working with Private Funders

CFRR has considerable familiarity with potential donors, as well as access to search tools that can discover new or less commonly-known prospects among thousands of organizations. Though the search for donors may not always yield abundant results, we are able to determine realistic strategies for applying for funding and research current and upcoming opportunities. We also are happy to investigate any corporation or foundation lead or contact you may have.

There is a wide spectrum of funding organizations that refer to themselves as “foundations.” No two are truly alike and CFRR staff can help you understand what type of foundation you might be pursuing and how it operates. Foundations may be family-run, with family members making funding decisions, or large endowed organizations that employ Ph.D.-level program officers with subject area expertise. Other “foundations” are actually public charities—most major medical research foundations fall into this category. They not only make grants, but actively fundraise each year to support their work. Some foundations do not make grants at all, but serve as policy or advocacy organizations running their own programs.

Foundations also provide different types of funding: some favor seed grants and value novelty and innovation; others prefer funding programs or models with a solid track record of success and offer core operating support. Foundations vary widely in their priorities and areas of focus, and many periodically review and revise their programs in response to community needs assessment.

Although there are always exceptions, foundations do not typically support endowments. Private foundations often derive their income from their own endowments. Grantmakers generally prefer not to make grants from their own endowment to another endowment, but see their funds be used to make immediate impact. They also prefer to support programs (especially new ones or those introducing expansions or innovations to the existing projects), rather than fund operations, which are seen as the core expenses of an organization. Although this is changing and a number of key foundations are beginning to provide more operating support.

In addition to supporting programs, foundations will sometimes provide funds for equipment purchases (or occasionally donate equipment or other goods or services in kind), capacity building projects, capital expenses, and other needs.

Many foundations historically favor certain program or project characteristics, such as: multi-institutional collaborations; interdisciplinary programs; university-community partnerships, especially in conjunction with local schools or safety net organizations; creative and economical uses of technology for teaching and learning; services to the underserved populations; or access to higher education for non-traditional students. Foundations often wish to support projects that are either replicable or scalable, with the potential to make an impact beyond the initiating institution and/or project and develop new solutions to persistent problems. Foundations may also favor programs that have existing institutional or private support. Project sustainability is often a key concern for foundation partners.

When thinking through your proposal, you might consider the following:

  • What is the problem to be addressed? Frame your project in the context of a larger issue (global, regional, national, societal) and show how your project will address that issue or otherwise move the field forward.
  • Why is UCLA the ideal place to address this issue?
  • What will have changed by the end of the project?
  • How will you accomplish these changes?
  • What do you need (time, money, facilities, people, etc.) to do it? Does the project have a high cost per person served? (This is a major consideration for some, but not all, funders.)
  • How will you evaluate success?
  • Why are you sending this particular proposal to this particular foundation?

The Corporate, Foundation and Research Relations team can assist you with compiling supplemental documents, including:

  • Form 990s
  • Audited Financial Statements
  • Tax Determination Letters
  • Operating Budgets
  • Board of Trustees Lists

An organization issues a request for proposal (RFP) in order to solicit research/grant proposals seeking funding. The RFP typically includes the requirements for submitting the proposal, as well as details on the funding opportunity’s specific topic and purpose.

You can sign up for newsletters and other funding resources through the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research: In addition, the Office of Corporate, Foundation and Research Relations subscribes to hundreds of private funder newsletters and weekly reviews funding opportunities. We send out targeted RFPs to development officers assigned to your department.

Sometimes, as part of a grant review process, a grantmaker will make a visit to ask more detailed questions about the project or just to get to know the staff. These visits can be brief and informal or lengthy and thorough. The CFRR staff has experience with site visits and can help you think through the agenda and any presentations that might be required. It is always recommended that a CFRR staff person accompany you on a site visit to answer institutional questions that might arise and to help strengthen the relationship between the funder and the university. Our staff also can prepare briefings for you on the foundation’s giving history, key personnel, and other university relationships.

It is usually a long process, taking months rather than weeks. Funding decisions often are made by boards of directors who meet infrequently and need to receive materials at least one month prior to a meeting. You should pursue private funding well in advance of your project needs.

Corporations give for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Improving employee and customer relations
  • Deepening relationships with universities (for example, providing grants to a department from which employees are often recruited)
  • Advancing knowledge in a field relevant to their business (research)
  • Garnering publicity and recognition

Foundations are generally established explicitly to donate money (a few operate programs). In exchange for privileged tax status, they must benefit society. The IRS requires that private foundations pay out 5% of their assets annually to charitable causes. Foundation giving patterns often follow the wishes of the founder, priorities of current board members, or advice of professional foundation staff. In many cases, foundations see their role as fostering good ideas—social, scientific, educational, or technical—or other forms of innovation that might not get supported by the business community or the government.