Updated: Apr 26, 2019
If you aren't taking the time to carefully research foundations before you apply, you are wasting your time. That's right. The most important aspect of grant writing isn't about writing at all. The truth is each foundation has specific preferences about what types of organizations and projects they fund. So even the most persuasive and well written application will be dead on arrival if you send it to the wrong foundation.
This quick guide will teach you how to search our foundation database to find the right funder for your organization to maximize your chances of success. You can also fill out our 5 minute Foundation Match Questionnaire for personal foundation recommendations. Our database currently lists Los Angeles County foundations that make grants to organizations throughout southern California.
I will go through each section of our foundation profiles and teach you how to identify a foundation that is a good match.
At the top of the page underneath the foundation name and logo there is a table of the grant details. This table contains basic, categorical information about foundation grant giving. If any of these details is incompatible with your needs you should move on to the next foundation.
The information in this section is gathered both from the foundation websites and IRS form 990 data. We are unable to locate certain data points for some foundations, in which case the table says “unspecified” for that category. I explain each category below.
“Yes” means the foundation accepts applications or letters of inquiry from nonprofits without requiring any previous relationship or invitation. “No” means you must establish a relationship with the foundation or receive an invitation before being able to submit an application. Some foundations incorrectly state their applications are “invitation only” on their website, which is misleading. For more information read this quick article.
This is the range in grant amounts that the foundation has made in recent years. You should start your search process with a rough estimate of the amount you need for you program in mind. Note that most foundations do not make grants that are a significant portion of your existing organization budget.
These are broad issues or fields that the foundation supports. Some foundations will fund any program that falls into their broad priority issue areas. Others have preferences for specific types of programs or activities within these categories. You will need to read the additional information to see if they provide more detail.
Funding use refers to the types of expenses that the foundation will cover. Foundations use these terms somewhat loosely so be sure to check the eligibility and grantmaking approach information (which I discuss below) to learn more about what types of activities a foundation will fund.
Program support is most common. They are grants that must be spent on the specific proposed program, with little to no money allowed for organization overhead.
Capital support is money that can be spent on purchases of equipment or infrastructure.
Operating support can be spent on “overhead expenses” and is the least restrictive form of funding. Operating support is often the best type of grant for nonprofits so I wrote this guide on how to find it.
Research funding usually means funding for science or research at academic institutions.
Grantee Service Area
This is the geographic area where your organization provides services, not to be confused with where your office is located. Foundations sometimes state that they have a preference or priority for a specific city or community (e.g. south Los Angeles) even though their stated eligibility is a wider area (Los Angeles County). This means most of their grants will go to organizations that serve their narrow target area but they will also consider excellent proposals for projects serving the wider area.
Below the grant details there are four additional sections: Mission, Grantmaking Approach, Eligibility, and Ineligibility. These sections contain more in-depth information about foundation preferences. The information in these secretions is taken directly from the foundation websites. A blank section mean the foundation website does not provide this information.
This is the mission statement of the foundation. The work of your organization must meaningfully contribute to the foundation mission for you to be considered for a grant.
Some foundations use this specific term on their website, although many do not. In this section we provide all additional details about funder preferences and goals that will be helpful for you to determine if your program is a good match. This is the most variable of the four sections because foundations are widely inconsistent with the information they provide on their websites.
This section mainly refers to the type of organization but some foundations include additional criteria. Most foundations only make grants to 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organizations. Some foundations will make grants to organizations that do not yet have 501 (c) (3) status if they have a fiscal sponsor. Foundations will not consider your application if you do not meet the eligibility criteria.
Foundations list the types of organizations, projects, and expenses that they will not fund. Do not apply if your program is listed as ineligible. If one small component of your project falls under this list, consider eliminating it from your proposal or contact the foundation for clarification.
Putting it All Together
Now that you know how to understand foundation grant information, choosing the right foundation is the easy part. You want to find foundations for which all of the grant details, and the foundation mission, grantmaking approach, and eligibility are compatible with your program and organization. That’s it.
You’re now ready to start searching for foundations. Get started finding a foundation that will fund your organization.