7 Steps to Finding Funders for Your Grant
Looking for organizations that might fund your grant can be overwhelming. Cut it down to size with a system.
An important 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 great resource that could be helpful is the Foundation Center's Funding Information Network (interactive map and listing). These are free information centers in libraries, community foundations or other nonprofit resource centers. They will have access to the Foundation Center's database, plus a basic collection of publications.
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 source, follow these steps, suggested by the authors of Winning Grants, Step by Step.
Identify your search criteria
Your criteria can include keywords, subject matter, geographic area, target audience, gender, race, ethnicity, and any other parameters that fit your interests. Make a list in advance so you can refine and focus your search easily.
Use the subject index of each directory to find suiting support
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 type of support you are seeking.
Look for funders located in your geographic area making sure to not neglect small family foundations in your area. 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
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 important aspect of finding a good prospective funder. Many grants are rejected because they just don't align with the funder's goals.
Visit prospective grantor websites to learn even more about them
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.
Use the information to craft a proposal that "speaks" to each individual funder
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 be attuned to.
You will also have a sense of how much you can reasonably request from each funder. It is important to make each grant proposal unique. Do not just put together one proposal and send it to everyone.
Create a prospect grid or spreadsheet
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
The Foundation Center is the best resource for almost anything related to funding by foundations. Their "Foundation Finder" allows you to look up very basic information on foundations free of charge. 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 over 100,000 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 useful information for nonprofits, including announcements of federal grants. Using the database is somewhat tricky.
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 grant-making foundations, community foundations, corporate giving programs, and the state website homepage.
The Community Foundation Locator is sponsored by the Council on Foundations. Their website 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 grants 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. Also offers online classes to learn more about the features of its extensive database, which contains the 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 basic 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.