The Definitive Guide to
WRITTEN BY NATHANIEL VAN CLEVE
How To Find The Perfect Grant
After reading chapter one you should have a better understanding of your organization and your project or program. In chapter two you will learn to perform a comprehensive search to identify funders and grant opportunities for your organization.
We will first give an overview of the different types of funders and then explain step by step how to find grants for each type.
Your goal in chapter one was to better understand your own organization. Your goal for chapter two is to gain a deep understanding of your potential funders.
Who gives out Grants?
There are primarily three types of entities that give out grants: private foundations, corporations, and the government. Within government, there are funders at the federal, state, and local level. We’ve divided the grant search process into two chapters, with chapter two on foundation and corporate funders and chapter three on government funders.
Foundations should be the first place you look for grant opportunities. A foundation is a non-governmental entity that is established as a nonprofit corporation or a charitable trust, with the principle purpose of making philanthropic grants to nonprofit organizations, institutions, or individuals for scientific, educational, cultural, religious, or other charitable purposes. There are 86,000 foundations in the US (including corporate entities) who give more than $60 billion in grant dollars per year.
Corporations give away billions of dollars every year, mostly in the form of donations, but some also give out grants. Like foundations, corporations tend to give grants to organizations located near where they are located or where they do business. Corporations typically give to causes that are related to their business operations, or that benefit their company or employees. The Coca-Cola Foundation, for example, gives grants related to water conservation, which is relevant to their business interests given that water is the main ingredient in their product.
With this many different foundations to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. Follow these strategies to find foundation grant opportunities for your organization:
SEARCH BY GRANT TOPIC
SEARCH LOCAL FOUNDATIONS
If you are a small nonprofit, or a new nonprofit, start by targeting small to mid-sized local and regional foundations.
Many foundations only give grants to organizations in their local area. Use the free foundation search tool provided by the Foundation Center to look up foundations in your region.
Once you have a list of foundations, one-by-one, go to their websites and learn about what they do. Pay close attention to their mission, what types of issues they care about, and what current grant opportunities they offer. Also look for past grants or grants with recently closed deadlines that look promising. Foundations typically offer the same grant opportunities year-after-year, so you can plan to apply to the next funding cycle for grants with recently passed deadlines.
Don’t forget to check what types of organizations or projects foundations explicitly do not fund. The last thing you want is to spend hours applying for a grant for which you are ineligible.
Research the funding history
Foundations state the issues and organization types they fund on their website, but their funding history tells the real story. For example, a foundation may claim to fund organizations across the country, but their funding history may reveal that 90% of their awards are to organizations in the same state.
Some foundations list their past awardees on their website or in an annual report. If not, you can look up their awards in their public tax form 990. The Foundation Center has a tool to look up foundation 990 forms. You can also try contacting foundations to learn more about their programs and organization preferences.
Use a spreadsheet to keep track of which foundations seem like a good match for your organization. Write down foundations even if they don’t look perfect or if they don’t have any current grant opportunities for you. Grant opportunities can change over time and sometimes foundations offer grants that aren’t listed on their website. Some foundations might not have grants for you but may be willing to help you connect with other similar foundations that do.
Use a Google search to find foundations that give grants nationwide or any opportunities you may have missed in step one. “Nonprofit grants for your topic” is a good initial search. This may lead you directly to foundation websites or to other articles and resources that can in turn lead you to foundations. Use your keywords from chapter one when searching. Try variations
Searching this way can be time consuming but it is a great method to learn about opportunities when you don’t already have a list of foundations to choose from. Follow the website evaluation steps above when you find potential foundations.
ADDITIONAL SEARCH TOOLS
The Foundation Center has a popular search tool called Foundation Directory Online. For a monthly fee you can search their database to find grant opportunities and use their prospecting tool to learn more about foundations.
You can access free fundraising information from the Foundation Center network of over 400 partner institutions. Check this map to find a partner near you.
GuideStar offers a free search tool that will help you learn more about a particular foundation. Create a free account to see recent 990 forms and information about the foundation leadership team.
Instrumentl offers a paid grant search tool. Create a profile on their website and they will send you foundation and corporate grants that are relevant to your organization, no searching required.
LOCAL GRANT GROUPS
In many regions of the US, there are organizations of grant seekers and funders that share grant opportunities and other resources. Here are two lists of networks from all across the US:
Search these lists for networks in your region or focused on your issue area, there may be resources that help you in your grant search. Some of these organizations require paid memberships for access to their network of funders and library of grant opportunities. Ask existing member organizations if their membership helped them secure grants before you consider joining any paid associations.
Sometimes the best way to find grants is by ditching the computer and doing it the old fashioned way. Talk to your friends, your board members, and other organizations in the same space as you to see if they know of potential opportunities. Be aware that some nonprofits that do similar work to you may be hesitant to help you if they think you could be competing with them for the same grant money.
Meeting with foundation program officers or staff is a great way to learn about grant programs. Look for nonprofit or grant related events in your area for networking opportunities. We will talk more about networking in chapter four, as building relationships with funders is a critical component of success for foundation and corporate grants.
If possible, seek to form partnerships with other organizations and work together to secure grant funding or even create joint initiatives. Partnering with a larger organization on a grant project can be a great tactic to get a portion of a grant that would otherwise be too large for your organization to pursue.
Do some sleuthing! Many nonprofits list their donors on their website or in their annual report. Find nonprofits who do similar work, and make a list of the foundations or donors that have given them grant money. Then search the websites of these foundations for grant opportunities.
Chapter 2 Key Takeaways
Local foundations are the best source of grants, particularly for small nonprofits
Thoroughly research each foundation's grant giving preferences, including award history, to determine if the funder is a good match.
If you can’t find local funders, broaden your search to nationwide foundations and consider networking or using a paid search service.