General Foundation Questions
What is the relationship between Cummings Foundation and Cummings Properties?
As Cummings Foundation's exclusive real estate management firm, Cummings Properties, at no charge to the Foundation, oversees the leasing, maintenance, and property management of the many large commercial buildings owned by and operated for the sole benefit of the Foundation. Learn more about how “Cummings buildings power charities.”
Founded in 1970, Cummings Properties manages more than 11 million square feet of prime office, lab, and medical space located in 11 suburban Boston communities. The firm has earned a solid reputation for providing businesses with well-located highway properties at reasonable rates. Its diverse portfolio includes spaces for executive or satellite offices, healthcare practices, laboratories, retail storefronts, and warehouses.
What is the best way to arrange a meeting with a representative of Cummings Foundation?
Although Foundation volunteers sometimes conduct site visits while evaluating grant proposals, Foundation staff members do not conduct site visits or hold informational, relationship-building meetings. Because this policy is applied uniformly, organizations will not be disadvantaged by it in any way.
Does my organization's focus fit within the Cummings $30 Million Grant Program guidelines? How should I determine whether to apply for a grant?
Please review the Grant Information section carefully to determine whether an organization is eligible for a grant and falls within the funding priorities.
What are the Foundation’s funding priorities, and how many organizations within each priority will be funded?
The most current funding priorities are described on the webpage for our annual grants program under “Priority Funding Causes.” The section following it, “Eligibility,” will also be helpful to review. We do not predetermine the number of grants to be funded under each category, but rather aim to advance proportionate numbers of proposals throughout the process. For example, if 25 percent of LOIs focus on education, it is likely that approximately 25 percent of grant recipients will focus on education.
If my organization is headquartered outside the Foundation's geographic funding area, but would expend the funds within that area, could it still receive funding?
Although we recognize that nonprofits are doing good work across county lines and throughout Massachusetts and New England, the Foundation has a very local focus, supporting organizations that not only serve our geographic focus area but also are headquartered there at the time the grants are awarded and throughout the term of their grants.
If my organization is a local chapter of a regional or national organization, but serves those in the Foundation's geographic focus area, could it still receive funding?
Cummings Foundation appreciates the positive impact that regional and national organizations have on the local area; however, its support is primarily focused on local organizations without access to the infrastructure and resource capacity of a broader network. Local affiliates will be considered if they have an EIN separate from the larger organization and an independent board of directors.
Does Cummings Foundation fund organizations under fiscal sponsorship?
Cummings Foundation will consider requests from organizations that have fiscal sponsors. In such cases, a copy of the memorandum of understanding between the two entities will be requested. The Foundation is more likely, however, to fund organizations that have their own 501(c)(3) statuses because of the transparency and IRS oversight that accompanies that designation.
How do I apply for funding through Cummings?
The Foundation awards the majority of its grants through the annual Cummings $30 Million Grants Program, which has an open application process. Organizations seeking funding should review the eligibility parameters and funding priorities and, if appropriate, submit a letter of inquiry (LOI). A limited number of applicants will then be invited to complete full grant applications. Proposals submitted in any other manner will not be considered.
How do I apply for a 10-year grant?
All applicants should write proposals with a three-year grant in mind. Prior recipients of grants through Cummings’ annual grants program who are awarded new grants will also automatically be considered for 10-year grants. These prior recipients will be asked to complete one additional application question related to their capacity to maximize long-term funding.
A limited number of returning grant winners will then be invited to participate in Presentation Days, during which they will meet with a panel of volunteers (who have reviewed the current application and past impact/site visit reports) and make their case for having their three-year grant elevated to a 10-year award. At that point of the grant selection process, Foundation volunteers make decisions based on nonprofits’ long-term potential for sustainability and growth, not on firm plans. We recognize that a lot will change in a decade, and it would be challenging for most organizations to predict their needs 10 years from now.
Can my organization submit more than one letter of inquiry in the same grant cycle?
Organizations should submit no more than one letter per grant cycle. Accordingly, departments at large institutions, such as universities and hospitals, are encouraged to coordinate efforts to ensure the highest priority need is presented. Once an organization is awarded a grant, it will be eligible to reapply when the current grant is fully disbursed and all associated requirements are complete.
How does being a recipient of previous funding affect a new grant application?
Every application is evaluated on its merits; receipt of a prior grant has no bearing on the awarding of a new grant. If a letter of inquiry is received from a previous grantee, however, our staff verifies that all required impact reports were filed and approved for the previous grant before considering the new request. Previous grantees will be evaluated alongside other previous grantees and will not be compared with potential new grantees.
During the final stage of the grant selection process, previous grantees that have been selected for a new grant during the current cycle will be considered to have their award elevated from a three-year grant to a larger 10-year grant.
Does receiving an invitation to complete a full application mean my organization is likely to receive a grant?
No. In past years, Cummings Foundation has awarded grants to approximately 50 percent of the organizations that completed full applications. We expect that the selection of grantees will continue to be a highly competitive process in which the number of fully worthy applications will exceed considerably the number of grants awarded.
Does Cummings Foundation have a policy regarding overhead or indirect costs?
Recognizing that most nonprofits incur general operating costs, the Foundation will consider funding necessary "overhead" expenses (e.g., rent, phone service, administrative salaries, etc.). These costs should be detailed in the budget template provided within the application rather than allocated as a percentage of the grant, as is often the practice with larger institutions, such as universities.
Does Cummings Foundation have guidelines or restrictions regarding grant expenditures?
Built on fiscal responsibility, Cummings Foundation still adheres to the ideal of doing more with less. Accordingly, it seeks to support nonprofits that maximize their resources to deliver the greatest benefit possible. The Foundation’s one specific prohibition is the use of grant funds for upgraded airline tickets, to include upgrades achieved through mileage awards. It is our understanding that federal grants also preclude the use of funds for premium travel. (Neither Foundation staff nor founders use business- or first-class transportation.)
Does Cummings Foundation fund building or renovation projects?
Given the Cummings organization's basis in commercial real estate and construction, the Foundation understands the importance of bricks and mortar. Capital projects are reviewed closely, however, to ensure that plans are appropriate (and not extravagant) and that quotes are fair and reasonable. The Foundation’s ability to provide funding is largely a result of decades of disciplined “value engineering” and cost-effective construction by Cummings Properties, and we like to see a similar level of fiscal control when considering funding projects that fall within our area of expertise. If approved, these awards will be treated as pledges to be paid when construction is ready to commence. In addition, large capital projects are not typically funded unless very near completion.
What should I request for an annual installment?
All requests should be written with a three-year grant in mind. Applicants may request annual installments of $10,000 to $100,000, and round numbers are preferred (e.g., $40,000 instead of $42,599).
In general, Cummings encourages its grantees to have diversified funding sources and prefers that its funding not represent an outsized percentage of an organization’s budget. A general guide (more than a hard rule) is that the requested annual installment amount should not exceed 20 percent of your organization’s average annual revenue for the past three years. Please do the math necessary to determine this figure for your organization before completing this field in the LOI. There is room for leeway, however, particularly for nonprofits that are on a strong growth trajectory.
Smaller organizations may wish to request $25,000 or less to enjoy the following benefits:
- an evaluation process that groups them with organizations of a similar size that are all seeking general operating support
- a streamlined short-form proposal at the full application stage
- no budget submission
Please note that applicants who submit the short-form application will not be eligible for a 10-year award. The reason is that three-year grants often help catapult nonprofits to a new level of growth, and a 10-year grant would lock them into a smaller installment for an extended period. If awarded a three-year grant, however, applicants would be welcome to reapply at the conclusion of that grant, this time completing the long-form application to be considered for a larger 10-year grant.
Applicants who may be eligible for a 10-year grant should not be concerned about how to translate a three-year request into a 10-year request. At that point of the grant selection process, Foundation volunteers make decisions based on nonprofits’ long-term potential for sustainability and growth, not on firm plans. We recognize that a lot will change in a decade, and it would be challenging for most organizations to predict their needs 10 years from now.
What tips can you offer grant writers?
- Be concise: With several hundred requests received each year, the Foundation greatly appreciates clear, concise writing.
- Be different: The Foundation often receives applications from multiple organizations that address a similar need. Convey the qualities or services that make your organization especially effective, or explain how it fulfills an unmet need.
- Be cost-effective: The Cummings organization was built on—and continues to operate with—a strong sense of fiscal responsibility. The Foundation looks for that same commitment to cost-effectiveness in grant applicants.
- Be jargon-free: While some selection committee members possess expertise in a particular area (e.g., education, healthcare), each application is read by multiple people with varying backgrounds. The value of a request will likely be much more evident if it is written in commonly understood language.
- Be concrete: Opt for hard numbers and specifics over rhetoric and hyperbole. For example, "The grant would fund a new part-time instructor, allowing our organization to add two classes per week, serving an additional 200 clients per year," is preferable to, "The grant would allow our organization to increase its capacity to provide transformative learning experiences."
- Be early: Although the Foundation accepts proposals over several weeks, the vast majority are submitted in the final days before the deadline. Submitting requests early is one way to stand out from the crowd.
Grant Selection Process
Who evaluates LOIs and grant applications?
The majority of grant decisions are made by community volunteers, with no input from Foundation staff. Among these volunteers are nonprofit professionals (including executive directors and fundraisers), business leaders, public officials, and active or retired professionals from a variety of industries. See our Volunteers webpage for a complete list of volunteers.
Readers of your proposal may or may not have knowledge of your community or cause. Accordingly, we encourage you to write your application for a lay audience. If you have applied multiple times, please note that the volunteers reviewing your proposal will most likely not have read your past proposals and will not be familiar with your prior Cummings grants, if any. As such, applicants are welcome to submit the same or similar material from previous submissions.
Is there a scoring rubric?
Given the diversity within the applicants, it would be difficult to create a fair rubric. Instead, grant selection volunteers are provided with Committee Guides that outline the Foundation’s thinking and priorities, as well as some broad selection criteria. In addition, shortly before each committee begins its work, volunteers attend an orientation to hear from Foundation staff and have their questions answered.
The guides for each of our various committees are available for you to read on our Volunteers webpage.
How are the decisions made?
Foundation staff perform a cursory review of all LOIs to remove applicants that do not meet the eligibility requirements or do not align with the Foundation’s funding priorities, as outlined on this webpage.
Perusing the descriptions under “Grant Cycle Committees” on the Volunteers webpage should give applicants a sense of the process through which the majority of decisions are made. Proposals advance through four volunteer committees and at least nine different volunteers: LOI Committee, Application Review Committee, Final Grant Selection Committee, and 10-Year Committee. The actual guides for each of our various committees are available on our Volunteers webpage.
There is a great deal of subjectivity to the grant selection process, and we leave most of the decision-making up to the good judgement of the volunteers. In an effort to create an equitable process, we have strived to create committees that are broadly diverse in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation, expertise, and lived experiences. This is an ongoing process, and we are always trying to increase the diversity of our volunteer force.
The volunteers provide the Foundation not with recommendations but rather with decisions. These decisions are overturned only in rare instances when the Foundation becomes aware of concerning or disqualifying information about which the volunteers were not aware.
What are “Early Decision” grants?
Well more than half of the 150 grants each year are decided completely by community volunteers (as described above) with no input whatsoever from Foundation staff. The remaining awards, deemed “Early Decision” grants, are determined by Cummings Foundation through an internal process. A nonprofit might be granted Early Decision status if it is a previous grant winner that has been identified as an outstanding performer, or if it has a longstanding positive relationship with the Cummings organization or an affiliated individual.
There is no process through which an applicant can request Early Decision status. Depending on the circumstances, grantees may or may not be aware of their Early Decision status.
When should I expect to receive a response?
The timeline on the $30 Million Grant Program page provides key dates.
Please note that important notices about letters of inquiry and applications are sent via email. To decrease the likelihood of missing such an email, applicants are encouraged to add email@example.com and @cummings.com addresses to their approved senders list and to check their spam folders regularly.
If my application was declined, is there a waiting period to submit another request?
There is no waiting period for organizations that have been declined for a grant. It is strongly recommended, however, that these nonprofits review the guidelines closely before submitting a letter of inquiry the following year.
If my application was declined, can I get feedback before submitting another request?
Out of respect for the significant time and effort that nonprofit professionals dedicate to creating LOIs and full applications, the Foundation has always considered it important to provide feedback when requested. Because our small staff is fully engaged in the next phase of the grant cycle for a brief period after sending decline notices, we typically ask that organizations wait until a specific date before requesting feedback. Please see your decline notice email for this date. Also, please note that we do not schedule feedback calls, finding it more efficient to field them as requests are received.
To request feedback, please call our office at 781-569-2335, and you will be connected with an available staff member (either Deputy Director Andrew Bishop or Executive Director Joyce Vyriotes). You may also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and a staff member will try to reach you within one business day. (Please be sure to include your phone number in the email.)
The majority of grant decisions are made by volunteers, and our staff will be pleased to pass along the contemporaneous comments written by these volunteers. In most cases, staff have not read the applications and, accordingly, are not in a position to provide additional feedback. Also, given that staff are not generally involved in grant decisions, they do not participate in informational or relationship-building calls.
After Receiving a Grant
Why is the annual installment awarded different from the request in my application?
Although the Foundation seriously considers an applicant’s requested annual installment, it must frequently make adjustments to ensure that the total awarded among all 150 recipients equals $30 million. The Foundation weighs many factors when adjusting an applicant’s installment, including recommendations from grant selection committee volunteers, the scope of the proposed program/project, and an organization’s overall budget size. In general, Cummings Foundation prefers that its support comprise not more than 20 percent of an applicant’s annual revenue.
How can I thank Cummings Foundation for my organization's grant?
- Spend the funds wisely. The Cummings organization was built on, and continues to be a strong proponent of, fiscal responsibility. We hope and expect that grant winners will be thoughtful and creative about maximizing the impact of their grant funds.
- Patronize businesses that lease space from Cummings Foundation. The large majority of buildings managed by Cummings Properties are actually owned by and operated for the benefit of Cummings Foundation, with 100 percent of rental profits going to charitable causes. Organizations that lease space in these buildings help to fund Cummings Foundation's grant programs, so we hope you will keep them in mind when deciding which businesses to patronize. Visit the Cummings Properties Client Directory for a full list of these organizations.
- Refer potential leasing clients to Cummings Foundation. If you know of an organization that leases commercial space, please let them know that leasing from the Cummings organization means that their rent dollars will absolutely help local nonprofits.
Will my organization be required to submit a report detailing its use of the grant funds?
Grant recipients will be required to submit an online impact report by April 15 of the year following the awarding of the grant and each April 15 thereafter during the grant period. Please note that after a final grant payment, the impact report is due earlier, by February 28. Access to and the guidelines for this report will be provided via email at least two months in advance.
As stated in the grant agreement, if it is determined in Cummings Foundation's sole discretion that the grantee has not completed required reporting or is otherwise not adhering to the grant agreement and/or has furnished false or misleading information, the Foundation may terminate the grant, shall be entitled to restitution of grant funds previously paid, and shall decline to renew the grant. In addition, if two consecutive years pass without a disbursement due to a grantee's failure to comply with the terms of the agreement, the grant will be considered terminated.
Does the foundation perform site visits?
In the years following the final two disbursements of a three-year grant and every year of a 10-year grant, Cummings Foundation volunteers will typically schedule a time to visit the nonprofit and see firsthand how the grant has impacted the organization. We send a letter each January to grantees that are slated for a visit that year, sometime before the end of August. Volunteers then aim to reach out to the nonprofits directly, by July 1, to schedule the visits.
The Site Visits Committee is made up of community leaders from both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. These volunteers, who are listed in our Volunteers webpage, thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to learn about local nonprofits and help the Foundation maintain relationships with grantees. Two volunteers participate in every site visit and then individually write brief reports, which are reviewed by Foundation staff and, if applicable, future site visit or grant selection volunteers. Having multiple site visitors allows for some diversity of thought and perspective.
How should my organization acknowledge this grant publicly?
In all public announcements of this grant, please acknowledge "Cummings Foundation." You may also reference that your organization is the recipient of a "Cummings Grant." Please do not insert "The" before Cummings Foundation.
The grant agreement requires most grant recipients to include a link to CummingsFoundation.org on their websites and create and distribute a media release announcing the grant.
Grantees have permission to use the logos for Cummings Foundation and the applicable grant program.
Cummings Foundation reserves the right to use and republish, for not-for-profit purposes, any grant-related photograph/video submitted to the Foundation, posted to social media, or taken at any grant-related event, without the further permission of those included within the photograph/video.
Should we add Cummings Foundation to our regular mailing lists?
In an effort to conserve your time and funding, we would very much appreciate your not adding any Cummings organization addresses (including Cummings Foundation, Cummings Properties, Cummings Center, and Joyce and Bill Cummings) to general mailing lists for fundraising requests or informational updates.
Additional funding requests will be considered only after your current grant has been fulfilled. Additionally, although we are very interested in the good work grant recipients are doing in local communities, our limited staff is unable to read the many newsletters, event notices, and other announcements that arrive with increasing frequency via both email and postal mail.
When can my organization request additional funding from Cummings Foundation?
The Cummings organization does not typically award new grants to current grantees. A recipient of a $100,000 or three-year grant may submit a new letter of inquiry during the summer it receives its final grant installment. If the request is successful, the new grant would be awarded (and the first installment disbursed) the following June, allowing for uninterrupted funding.
A recipient of a 10-year grant, however, must allow a gap year in funding before re-applying. This policy allows the Foundation to reach more local nonprofits that have not yet received any Cummings grants. Accordingly, 10-year recipients may apply one year following their final installments.
Can my organization request a grant increase if the Foundation modifies or expands the annual installment maximum in the years after my grant is initially awarded?
The Foundation makes grant program modifications from time to time, and eligible grantees are welcome to reapply under any new parameters once they’ve completed their current grant and associated reporting. With a large number of active grantees and a very small Foundation staff, however, we do not have the bandwidth to reevaluate current grants each time the annual program is modified.
Please note that Cummings Foundation reserves the right to modify, add to, amend, or eliminate any of its eligibility requirements, priority funding areas, or policies at any time.