7 Steps to Finding Funders for Your Grant

So your nonprofit wants to explore the world of grants. Almost all charities eventually do expand their funding base with a few grants.

However, to make sure you don't harbor unrealistic expectations for what grants can provide or to whom foundations and corporations give them, first check out these articles: Is Your Nonprofit Ready to Apply for Foundation Grants? and Why Grants Are Not the Answer to Your Nonprofit Financial Problems.

Once you are sure you're ready and realistic about grants, here's how to start the search process.

An essential first step is choosing one or more directories. Almost all research for funders is done online now. At the end of this article, you'll find a list of some of the best sources with links to their websites. Some of these are free, but most require a subscription.

One extremely helpful resource is Candid (a collaboration between the Foundation Center and GuideStar).  Candid's interactive map and listing of free information centers in libraries, community foundations, or other nonprofit resource centers direct you right to nearby resources. 

If you're looking for a government grant, our Guide to Finding Government Grants for Nonprofits​ may be helpful for you. 

Once you've located a resource,  follow these steps.

Identify your search criteria

A woman researches a grant
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Your criteria can include keywords, subject matter, geographic area, target audience, gender, race, ethnicity, and any other parameters that fit your interests.

Develop a comprehensive list in advance so you can refine and focus your search quickly. Be patient. Often, it takes time to work out a useful checklist and then to research using those items. You may go down a few blind alleys while you refine your methods.

Use the subject index of each directory to find the best funding possibilities

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Are you fundraising for a new program? Capital? General operating expenses? Choose your subject areas and the type of support you need. Your strongest prospects will be foundations and corporations that have an interest in one of your subject areas and that fund the kind of help you are seeking. 

Look for funders located in your geographic area, making sure not to neglect small family foundations. They will be hot prospects for you and are often more amenable to funding local causes than are large, national foundations.

Learn all you can about your prospective grantor

Grant writers contemplating potential funders
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Study all the information on each prospect you identify so you can determine just how good a match your organization and the grantor will be.

Matching interests is the most critical aspect of finding an excellent prospective funder. Many grants are rejected because they don't align with the funder's goals.

If local funders end up on your list, try to find a personal contact. Perhaps a donor or one of your board members knows someone at that foundation or corporation. If so, ask for a personal introduction so you can discuss your needs and see if the organization might be interested in helping you.

Visit prospective grantor websites to learn even more about them

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Once you have developed a list of likely funding sources, visit their websites to get to know them. Look at their annual reports, success stories of previous grants, staff biographies, and anything else they are sharing with the public.

Check out their current guidelines. These change frequently and often have not found their way into the online directories. Do your best to find the most current information. Don't hesitate to call if you have any questions.

Use the information to craft a proposal that "speaks" to each individual funder

Each grant proposal must be as unique as a red umbrella in a sea of black ones.
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With all of this information, you should have a good idea of how to target your proposals for each funder, in the language its program officer will likely prefer. Be aware that many funders prefer a letter of intent rather than a full proposal. Determine the preferences of your target funders.

You will also have a sense of how much you can reasonably request from each funder. It is essential to make each grant proposal unique. Do not just put together one proposal and send it to everyone. Also, be very careful about transferring sections of an old proposal into a new one. It's best to start anew every time so that a particular proposal will be original and fresh.

Create a prospect grid or spreadsheet

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Your prospect spreadsheet should include: 

  • Every prospect you have identified
  • The program of your organization that most closely aligns with each prospect's funding interests
  • Your proposed request amount
  • Deadline dates
  • Any other pertinent information

If you target local foundations, let your board take a look at your prospect list. It's entirely possible someone has a contact at one of those foundations.

Online Resources for Your Grant Research

Double checking a grant proposal before sending it.
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 Candid (mentioned above) is the best resource for almost anything related to funding by foundations. Check out the interactive map and list of free resources.

You can also subscribe to The Foundation Directory Online. This comprehensive database provides foundation funding priorities and past grants. Several subscription levels give access to thousands of foundations, corporate donors, and public charities. The Foundation Directory is truly the gold standard for databases and is well worth a subscription.

Grants.Gov is useful if you want to apply for federal government grants. This U.S. government website has lots of helpful information for nonprofits, including announcements of federal grants. 

Guidestar provides information on all kinds of nonprofits, including foundations. You can register for free and use the advanced search capabilities to find the 990-PFs of foundations.

The Grantsmanship Center is a treasure of information about grants: getting them, finding resources, writing grant proposals. My favorite part of the site is the Funding State-by-State. There is a map of the U.S. where clicking on a state brings up links to top grantmaking foundations, community foundations, corporate giving programs, and the state website homepage.

The Council on Foundations sponsors the Community Foundation Locator. The web site displays a map of the U.S. where you can click on your region to pull up a list of its local community foundations and links to those foundation sites.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy is an excellent source of news on the foundation and nonprofit world, and there is a grant database. You do have to subscribe, however, to access the database. There are a limited number of articles available for free.

BIG Online is a for-profit resource, BIG Online provides online and telephone assistance for navigating the various tools on its website. It also offers online classes to learn more about the features of its extensive database, which contains the tax documents also known as 990s of many funders. Don’t underestimate how much useful information you can find just on these tax returns.

GrantStation allows grant seekers to identify potential funding sources for their programs or projects and mentors them through the process. The site maintains a searchable database of active requests for proposals, federal grant deadlines, online tutorials, and many webinars. You must join the site for full access, although a few features are free.

Instrumentl puts nonprofit grant search on autopilot. Nonprofits provide necessary information about their programs and projects, and Instrumentl matches them with relevant funding opportunities and helps to manage their process. A paid subscription promises to save dozens of hours and thousands of dollars that you might otherwise spend tracking down the best leads. Make use of the 14-day free trial to see if you'd like to use this resource.