When it comes to searching for funding for your nonprofit, there’s often so much information out there that it's difficult to know where to begin. A quick Google search will spit out a long list of matches, but it’s hard to tell which ones are helpful for your specific organization. And let’s face it - no one has the time to comb through all of them!
In this article, we’ll identify the best grants search engines and discuss how to choose the right one for your nonprofit, saving you time and energy in your pursuit of funding.
What is a Grant Search Engine?
The first question you might ask is what we mean by the terms grant search engine? A grant search engine is a collection of information, usually assembled in a database, which provides lists of funding opportunities for nonprofits and other groups.
Though each search engine is different, they are typically arranged in a way that allows users to search by category, location, or focus area. Some grant search engines provide very specific funding opportunities, such as government grants. Others connect users with a broad range of grantmakers, from family foundations to corporate foundations and everything in between.
Still further, some grant search engines connect you to additional resources for your grant process – educational materials, tips from the pros, calendar trackers, and proposal writing tutorials. Costs to access these databases vary widely. Some are free and others require a monthly or annual subscription. Some are open for any users, while others are restricted to enrolled institutions or organizations (think universities or library systems).
After reading this, you may be thinking that just Googling “grant opportunities” sounds a lot easier! But familiarizing yourself with available grant search engines and perhaps enrolling in a regular database service will ultimately prove its value in the end.
Unlike a general Google search, a grants database search engine is much more refined and strategic, allowing you to filter information specific to your organization’s mission, location, and funding needs, and giving you a more useful list of results. Using a grant search engine is more efficient and provides a confident start to your grantmaking process.
Now that you know what grant search engines are and why they play an important role in the process, it’s important to know how to go about choosing which one to use. There’s indeed a ton of options out there, free and paid. But no fear! We’ve done the homework already and made a list of criteria to help you decide. Keep reading for suggestions on how to pick the best grant search engine for you.
How to Evaluate Grant Search Engines for Your Organization
Every nonprofit is unique, with its own mission, history, service area, and capacity. Grant search engines are equally distinct, with some catering to organizations based on their size, mission, scope, and financial resources. Before you shell out dollars for a subscription to a database service you’re not sure is going to be a good fit, consider the criteria outlined below.
Many services will incur a cost, but it’s important to consider cost as an investment in helping your nonprofit establish a more efficient and rewarding grants process. Small, new, or volunteer-led nonprofits may have limited resources and therefore need to be judicious in their spending for extra services.
Check to see what’s earmarked in the budget for subscriptions towards organizational development. A nominal monthly investment in a grant search engine may have long-term financial and organizational benefits that far outweigh the fee!
Prices for grant searching services will vary according to features and scope, which we’ll describe in further detail as part of your evaluation criteria. In general, for a subscription service, you can expect to pay between $45 and $200 per month for comprehensive database access and other resources.
A pro tip: before shelling out extra money for a service, check to see that you don’t already have access to a grant database through an existing membership.
For example, if you are already a member of a state nonprofit association, library, or university, you may already have access grants search engines. In Colorado, the regional library system provides free access to a nonprofit grants database search engine that would normally cost users $79 per month. All you need is a library card! A high annual savings and benefit!
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When evaluating grant search engines, another important feature to consider is the scope of opportunities it provides. Some grant search engines will yield only results in a specific area. For example, grants.gov is a large database and free to access, but will only contain government-funded opportunities.
Similarly, other grants databases will only provide grantmaking opportunities for research, but not operations–or will only list funders for certain populations. For example, NAVSO.org is a solid resource but contains only funding opportunities for nonprofits which assist veterans.
While there’s nothing wrong with using more specific grants search engines, especially if your nonprofit serves a specific demographic, if you’re choosing a paid service, for most organizations, it’s best to opt for one that covers a broad range of funders. Most users want to see as many opportunities as are available to them in one place.
Comprehensive grants search engines will offer up opportunities from foundations, corporations, and municipalities and will not be restricted to one area. Essentially, you want to find the most bang for your buck if you’re paying a monthly fee.
In keeping with the above criteria, look for grants search engines that provide the most features for your needs. Grants search engines will all provide access to opportunities or a list of potential funders, but more comprehensive services will also offer more details and features.
For example, for those wanting a broad overview of available grants, a basic search engine might provide a decent list of grantmakers. But if you want to narrow in on your focus areas, a more sophisticated system will allow you to filter by category and ideally will auto-generate results. These matches will include other useful info such as current and upcoming deadline dates, past funding amounts, and links to the funder’s website and/ or their 990s.
To keep a better flow throughout the grants process, application status notes and automatic updates will keep you on task.
Pictured below is an example from Instrumentl’s Matches tab. Instrumentl intelligently matches you to active grant opportunities you can pursue, so that you can then save it to your Tracker to move forward in the grant process.
When evaluating a grants search engine, collaboration can take on a few different meanings depending on your organization and its needs. Some nonprofits may have only one primary grant writer or development staff person, while others have whole teams that are tasked with raising funds. But for either of these circumstances, it's still necessary for some grant collaboration, even in the search.
The capacity for collaboration in a grants search engine is key. This could be as simple as the ability to add users to the registered account so that more people can participate in the search itself. Or it can be as complex as the ability to give multiple users access to calendars, notes, and in-progress applications.
The best grants search engines at higher levels also offer a project management platform. You can conduct a search, build an application, collaborate with a team, and track progress all in one place.
The last and maybe most straightforward evaluation factor is the grant search engine’s user-friendliness. The best grants search engines are those that provide targeted search options, clear and useful information about funders, and accurate deadlines.
Especially before spending dollars on a paid service, take advantage of the free trial period offered by most companies. Spend time on the platform. Think about who may be potentially using the system besides yourself and everyone’s ability to successfully use the information that you’d be paying for.
Essentially, a grant search engine should make things easier and more efficient! If you constantly find yourself thinking, “How do I see the deadlines?” or “How do I access that funder’s application?”, then the platform might not be the best investment. Further, check the platform’s support and customer service. Does it offer a help desk or contact if you need assistance?
Now that you understand the important factors to consider in evaluating a grant search engine, we’ll discuss a few of the top picks and their pros and cons.
Click to find the best grants for your nonprofit from 12,000+ active opportunities.
Since each grant search engine offers different features, price, and level of complexity, and each nonprofit user is equally unique, the best grants search engine for you may be different from your neighbor. We’ve outlined some pros and cons below so you can choose the best value for your nonprofit’s needs.
Instrumentl provides unique insights such as what is pictured above. Their Openness to New Grantees helps grantseekers understand differences between new grantees and repeat grantees.
Pros of Instrumentl:
Instrumentl is the only institutional fundraising tool that brings prospecting, tracking and management to one place. Its intuitive, easy-to-use platform keeps you focused on the big picture: winning more grants.
It has key information on hundreds of thousands of funders and recipients.
It offers intelligent matching based on several criteria, making its results page refined and actionable.
It features a grants tracker, email updates, and links to funder’s websites, their grantmaking history, and their 990s.
The platform offers collaboration and project management capabilities.
The site also provides a host of other relevant tools including articles on polishing your proposals and best practices for the grantmaking process.
Instrumentl also provides a 14-day free trial period, a staff person who provides a virtual “walk-through” of all its features, and ongoing customer support.
Instrumentl can be cost-prohibitive for early-stage nonprofits with limited resources. It’s recommended that only nonprofits over 90K in operating revenue use it and that those who do not meet this criteria focus first on sustainability. That said, with all of Instrumentl’s tools, you’re likely to recoup that investment through winning more grants!
Foundation Directory Online
Pros of Foundation Directory Online:
It’s one of the earliest grant search engines meaning they have many years worth of data.
It contains a large database of many types of grantmakers including foundations, municipal, and corporate opportunities in all award amounts.
Filters allow you to view results easily within the given criteria.
Graphics make it easy to get an overall picture of a grantmaker’s giving history (as the website describes, “an in-depth profile of funders”).
Subscription plans start at a low cost of just over $30 per month for the “essential” level, making it a low barrier paid service for nonprofits. You may also be able to get free access through a local library.
Cons of Foundation Directory Online:
The most useful benefits and access to all of the funders begins at the “Professional” level which is considerably more expensive than the “Essential”, costing $200 per month (when billed monthly) at the time of this writing.
While the funder’s data and history are better than most other tools, FDO does not have some of the data insights that you may find in other tools such as Openness to New Grantees.
There are many self-directed search capabilities but no auto-generated intelligent matching.
This is truly a grants search engine, in the narrowest definition, as its focus is grant opportunity identification. The platform offers no other grant writing resources, educational materials, project management or collaboration capabilities.
Pictured above is Grants.gov’s general search page filtered for 501c3 nonprofits.
Pros of Grants.gov:
It’s free for everyone!
It provides a robust database of government grants in many different sectors, everything from grants for research to capital projects and major systems transformations.
Government grant opportunities are generally higher dollar value amounts compared to foundation grants, upwards of $50k to several million.
Cons of Grants.gov:
Not user-friendly and very difficult to navigate search capabilities.
Limited platform support and contact info for point person on each opportunity is hard to locate.
The eligibility criteria for many grants is difficult to understand and the length of the applications make these opportunities reserved for mainly well-established organizations with dedicated development teams.
Pros of GrantStation:
It offers a database including charitable organizations and government opportunities.
Opportunities listed include US-based as well as those for Canadian organizations.
Membership gives users access to many tools which are useful in grantmaking – webinars, informational resources, and articles on various topics of interest. As described on their website, a “one-stop shop” for all things grants-related.
Long history of success, having been in the business of grants since 1999.
They run regular sales through affiliates such as TechSoup which allow you to get access at a big discount.
Cons of GrantStation:
Low annual costs at $699 per year but no monthly payment option. No free trial period to check it out before committing.
Lots of online tutorials, but no personalized customer support.
A robust database and search tools but no strategic auto-generated matching.
Pictured above is GrantWatch’s general nonprofit search page.
Pros of GrantWatch:
It offers various subscription plans and prices, and even a low-cost weekly option at $18/ week. The highest level is only $200 annually, which makes it within reach for most nonprofits.
It contains a database of grant opportunities from foundations and federal, state, and local governments.
It offers advanced search features to refine results by specific focus area, funding type, or geographic area.
The platform contains grants for small businesses, which nonprofits tend to overlook and yet many times are still eligible for.
It contains other helpful information including a glossary of “grantmaking terms.”
Higher level subscription packages provide features such as deadline reminders and grant opportunity updates.
Cons of GrantWatch:
While full of information, it can be hard to navigate.
There is no personalized or intelligent grant matching feature. You’re pretty much searching on your own.
$200 annually is low, but you don’t get many of the helpful features of other subscription plans that are crucial to developing a successful grant process (tracking features, collaboration tools, detailed info about funders, etc).
Wrapping Things Up: The Best Grants Search Engines
There are many grant search engines out there with lots of different features all vying for your attention! But hopefully after reading this article, you have a better understanding of what a grant search engine tool is, how it can help your nonprofit’s grant search process, and what to look for when choosing the platform that’s right for your organization.
Take advantage of Instrumentl’s free 14-day trial and experience first-hand the comprehensive features that make Instrumentl consistently one of the best grants search engines for yourself.