What to take into consideration when applying funding from Finnish foundations

Applying funding from foundations has some special characteristics some of which are obvious and some less so. In this text, I try to provide some hints and guidelines on how to make a great application.

Private foundations have a major role in Finland in supporting arts, sciences and other socially beneficial causes. There are approximately 2800 registered foundations in Finland of which app. 800 provide grants[1]. In 2022, foundations distributed 295,2 million euros to science (515,6 million including arts and other causes) of which the medical and health sciences were the biggest “recipients” in science with 99 million euros received[2]. Otherwise app. 41 million was awarded to Humanities, 52 million to Social Science and Economics, while both natural and technical sciences received app 25 million each. Finnish foundations have varying grant making possibilities from hundreds of euros to multimillion awards. The biggest donors nationally are The Finnish Cultural Foundation, Kone Foundation, Swedish Cultural Foundation, Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation and Sigrid Jusélius Foundation. These “top five” foundations provide almost half of all funding annually. All in all, calculating since the Finnish independence of 1917, foundations have awarded over 5,5 billion euros to different institutions, working groups and individuals[3].

As there is a lot of diversity among foundations, it is difficult to make generalizing statements about applying, or how to make a good application. But as we are here now, I’ll try to suggest a few things to, at least, look for when preparing your proposal. The good news is that operating with foundations is rather straight-forward - their “main” job is to give out as much money as they can. However, foundations naturally want to give that money to candidates that have made excellent proposals which support the strategy of the foundation. Sometimes this means requiring ground-breaking science (Jane and Aatos Erkko) or paying attention to the (social) impact of the research (Finnish Cultural Foundation) or only accepting applications in a specific field/theme (Jusélius) or only supporting a particular institution/geographic area (The University of Oulu Scholarship Fund, Regional Funds of the Finnish Cultural Foundation). In many cases what the foundations are looking for is very evident but sometimes a look at the evaluation criteria is required. As we are talking about Finnish Foundations, some of them might have an explicit emphasis on “Finnishness”, ie. that the applicant needs to have Finnish nationality and/or reside in Finland and that the work must benefit Finland. Sometimes this also manifests so that the applications/information are only offered in Finnish or Swedish. However, inspecting the list of grantees of different foundations, it is evident that grants are awarded to researchers of any nationality if they have made an excellent application that support the aims of the foundation.

Writing a proposal for a foundation follows the practices of “good grant writing” meaning that the research plans need to be clear, concise and convincing. The main difference with applying from national (like the Finnish Research Council) or supernational (like EU) science funders is that the foundation applications are generally much shorter. Also the evaluators working for foundations are not always experts in your particular field/theme, especially with general purpose foundations like Finnish Cultural Foundation, Kone, Wihuri etc. This can be counter-acted by avoiding field specific jargon and arguing for the importance of your research through practical examples. Some general tips for writing a proposal:

  1. Check what is being funded

    Make sure to properly review what the foundation funds, before writing/submitting. This applies for themes and funded activities. A common complaint heard from foundations is that a lot of applications are rejected due to the wrong scientific field. In case of less obvious applied research, check from the foundation.

  2. Important stuff first

    In your proposal, start with what you aim to do, why it is important, what are the expected results/benefits and what you apply funding for exactly. The evaluators read, at minimum, tens of applications and waiting to “get to the point” is not be wise.

  3. Focus

    The space is at premium with shorter applications so keep your contextualization, literature review/state of the art focused and short. No need to endlessly “enlighten” the evaluators regarding the intricacies of your theme. Don’t write a proposal like a journal article – that is a different genre of writing.

  4. Pay attention to clarity

    Avoid unnecessary jargon and explain all abbreviations. As it is not guaranteed that the evaluator is an expert in your theme, make the text understandable for a wider audience. Use visual tools like pictures explaining your project design and a gantt chart to help understand when you aim to do what.

  5. Convince and sell your expertise

    Proposal writing is not the place to play coy. You are asking someone to pay a lot of money for your work and you need to convince them to do so, ie. sell them your idea. The topic must be important, novel, typically timely and you must also assure the evaluators that you are THE person who can deliver the results! Use assertive language, active voice and especially with personal grants, write in first person (instead of stating that you are trying to do something, say that you will do it!). It is good to remember that whereas article writing is communication, proposal writing is marketing.

  6. No spamming

    It is just common sense to submit to many funders using the same idea but always modify the proposals to take in account the requirements of each foundation. There might be special focus areas to address and the proposal requirements are often different (headings/contents, page amounts etc.). Submitting the exact same proposal to multiple foundations is not wise. Also, take the time to improve your proposal for each new submission.

These tips apply pretty much to any proposal writing but definitely to foundations. Furthermore, a few points as general advice. If you are running a multi-year project but only apply funding for, say a year, detail briefly the whole project plan, the past and the future. Getting funded in the past and/or having a solid roadmap is a plus for your project. Furthermore, it is also okay to seek funding from multiple sources but specify what is being applied from where (and when). A common question is whether it is possible to apply for certain things, like travel expenses, from the foundations. Although there is a lot of variation between the foundations, a good advice is to check if something is explicitly “forbidden” and if not, go ahead and apply. Naturally, everything that is being applied must be justified properly and have a direct connect with the outputs/result/impact of the applied research project.

You can find upcoming calls for foundations from https://tiedejatutkimus.fi/fi/results/funding-calls (Finnish) and https://research.fi/en/results/funding-calls (English). The database contains all Finnish calls but only those open at the moment and most calls are in Finnish. In English you can also try researchprofessional.com (need to use the University of Oulu’s s intranet/VPN) that works in English, contains most of the calls and also lists future calls. The Research and Project Services also maintain a list of foundations that you can find in Patio.

This blog was written by Jani Haapakoski, Research Funding Specialist from the University of Oulu Research and Project Services

[1] Tieteen tukijoukot, https://tieteentukijoukot.fi/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Tieteen_tuki…

[2] https://saatiotrahastot.fi/saatiotuki-lukuina/

[3] https://saatiotrahastot.fi/juttuarkisto/saatiotuki-2022/