3 Steps To Finding Grants for Your Nonprofit

Author:

Jessica Knapp

,

CEO, Communities In Schools Pennsylvania

Reviewed by:

Published:

January 4, 2022

Last Updated:

January 31, 2024

There are over 126,000 private foundations in the United States. Pinpointing the right opportunities for your nonprofit is no easy task. 

Theresa Anderson, Development Director at the Salesian Sisters of Tampa, faced this exact dilemma: where should she cast her net to find the right grants for her nonprofit?

In this article, we are going to unpack what Theresa, and you, can do to find grants that are a good fit for your organization. You’ll learn how to unearth fundesr that align with your mission, vision, and funding needs.  

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The 3 Different Places to Find Grants

When Theresa first joined the Salesian Sisters of Tampa, she was a one-woman development show. She knew the first thing on her to-do list was to determine how to begin raising funds for her organization. 

The only problem: finding good-fit matches for her organization wasn’t easy. There were many different kinds of grants offered by different types of funders, such as foundations, government organizations, and corporations. Here’s a quick breakdown of each:

 1. Foundations: A Key Focus for Nonprofits

Foundation grants are charitable contributions made by organizations that are often funded by affluent individuals/families. Most foundations have specific causes that they like to support, including:

  • Educational programs
  • Arts & culture programs
  • Social causes (hunger, housing, homelessness)
  • Healthcare research & education

For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation offers grants to nonprofits who engage in work that fights against inequities in the world. 

Foundation grants

Here’s why foundation grants can be such great funding opportunities for nonprofits: 

  • There are often a lot of opportunities for foundation grants locally, regionally, and even nationally that nonprofits can apply for. 
  • Foundation grants can also provide long-term support, thereby enabling nonprofits to meet long-term objectives and pursue financial sustainability. 
  • Lastly, foundation grants are typically pretty cut and dry; the funder will make it clear what they are willing to fund and for how long, which allows nonprofit grant professionals to plan accordingly. 

For more information on this type of funding, check out this article on how to find foundation grants.

2. Government Grants: Understanding the Landscape

Federal government grants are monetary funds allocated by federal agencies and departments. These grants play a key role in enabling nonprofit organizations to perform their work effectively and sustainably. 

These grants can come from local, county, or state government agencies, as well as federal government departments. For example, the federal Department of Education Office of Elementary & Secondary Education offers a competitive Full-Service Community Schools grant competition each fiscal year.

Government Grants

There are lots of reasons why nonprofits choose to pursue government grant opportunities. Here are a few:

  • Financial Stability: Government grants are often larger and can spread across multiple years. This means they’re a source of stable funding for nonprofits.
  • Scale of Impact: Multi-year government grants allow nonprofits to scale up projects, reaching a broader audience and increased overall impact.
  • Credibility & Recognition: Securing government funding enhances a nonprofit’s credibility, signaling to other donors that the organization is trustworthy, competent, and effective.

It’s important to note that federal grants tend to have stricter guidelines and reporting requirements than other types of grants. Nonprofits must adhere to a specific set of guidelines, complete a detailed application process, and develop regular reports for this type of funding. 

For detailed steps on how to find government grants for your nonprofit, check out the steps in this article which includes a video tutorial!

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3. Corporate Grants: Aligning Missions and Values

Many corporations and businesses offer grant opportunities as part of their commitment to support the communities in which they operate. 

Larger corporations might have subsidiary foundations, while smaller or mid-sized corporations might streamline their charitable giving through direct-giving programs. These opportunities will almost always be found under the “Corporate Responsibility” or “Community Giving'' tab on a business's website. Often, businesses and corporations focus their charitable efforts on causes that align with their mission and vision. 

For example, Tyson Foods, the producer of 80% of the US’s chicken, beef, and pork, focuses their community giving on food insecurity and affordable access to nutritious food. A special emphasis is given to communities in which there are Tyson plants, in an effort to support the company’s employees and their families.

Corporate grants are a good option for nonprofits, especially if they are located in an area where corporations and businesses have plants, factories, or headquarters.

If you’re interested in pursuing corporate giving for your organization, but you aren’t sure where to start, check out this article on the top corporate funders. It might give you some good leads to investigate for your nonprofit!

Let’s take a moment to re-join Theresa on her grantseeking journey. Out of all of these different types of grants, Theresa decided to focus her efforts on foundations. However, she was struggling to find good-fit opportunities for her organization. If you’re a grant professional, this might feel relatable to you.

So, how did Theresa overcome this challenge? It’s really simple—she used Instrumentl! Keep reading to learn more.

3 Steps to Kickstart Your Grant Search

Grant prospecting requires three key steps, regardless of the tools you use. You have to: 

  1. Identify potential grants 
  2. Prioritize the best fits 
  3. Track your grants to stay organized 

However, these steps are easier said than done. Finding the right opportunities can be difficult, and trying to determine whether a funder is a good fit can be a lengthy and complicated process. Fortunately, Instrumentl is here to help!

In the following sections, we are going to break down each of these steps and explain how Theresa was able to leverage Instrumentl’s tools to streamline and enhance the entire grant-seeking process.

Discover Your Next Grant

 
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Step 1. Identifying Potential Grants

Before using Instrumentl, Theresa identified grants the way most nonprofit professionals do: combing through internet searches hoping to find something that was relevant to her organization’s mission. 

Not only was this method incredibly time-consuming, but it wasn’t super effective, either. 

And, here’s the thing—the more time you waste on opportunities that are not a good fit, the less time you have to spend on those that are. 

With Instrumentl, searching for good-fit funders is way easier, thanks to intelligent matching capabilities. All you have to do is share information about your nonprofit, and Instrumentl’s smart matching system will automatically match you with active funding opportunities that align with your mission and funding needs. The best part is that you get an email notification each time there are new opportunities added!

When you set up your first project in Instrumentl, you’ll be asked to input “Field of Work'' keywords. 

These keywords will drive the smart matching algorithm to find opportunities for you. The more specific the keywords you enter, the better the matches you’ll receive. The screenshot below shows you what the fields of work selector looks like, and how it helps you narrow down what you’re looking for. 

In the image below, you can see a list of funding opportunity matches for a project titled “Community Garden”. You can click on each match to learn more about the specific grant, including its deadline, amount, funding uses, and more! 

Community Garden

When Theresa started using Instrumentl, she realized an 80% time savings versus her old-fashioned grant search method. Incredible!

When Theresa spoke to us about this time savings, she couldn’t help but smile: 

“I use that time now to cultivate new donors. Now I actually have time to pick up the phone, call the donors, and say thank you.”

However, the work doesn't stop once you identify a list of potential funding opportunities! You still have to prioritize the best-fits to determine which ones are worth actually applying for. Keep reading!

Step 2. Prioritizing the Best-Fit Grants in Your Search Process

Developing grant proposals takes significant time and effort, which is why it’s so important to only apply for grants that you feel you have a high chance of winning. 

Here are a few things you should consider when evaluating funders: 

  1. Giving priorities: Grantmakers typically outline a few priority funding areas that they like to focus on. This makes it easy to determine when your organization fits into their focus area. 
  1. Service Area: Many funders award grants in specific locations. They may even specify specific towns, zip codes, or even counties that they want to focus their giving in. Here’s a tip: many times these criteria refer to where clients are being served, not necessarily where the nonprofit is based. Or, vice-versa! Looking to where a funder has awarded grants in the past can be a great indicator of future giving. 
  1. Grant size and type: As we’ve discussed, there are many different types of grants that can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. When you start your grant search, it’s important to determine what kind and how much funding you’re looking for. Most grant applications will explicitly say what they will and will not fund.
  1. Date of grant cycles: Acquiring grant money can take time; many nonprofits underestimate how long it will take to begin securing and receiving grant funds. Even when a grant is approved, it can take weeks—or months—for the funds to be distributed. It’s critical to determine when you need funds and to create a realistic timeline and grant calendar to get those grants on time.

For example, if your nonprofit doesn’t align with the grantmaker’s focus areas, past giving history, or geographic preference, you’re not likely to get funded. 

Much of this information can be found within a funder’s Form 990. However, if you’ve ever read a Form 990, you know how detailed and frustrating they can be to dissect and glean helpful insights from. 

That’s why Instrumentl offers users 990 snapshots that break down the most helpful information into bite-size graphs and charts so that they can evaluate funders seamlessly. Amazing, right? This is a huge time-saver.

When you click on your matches, the “Funding Opportunity” tab on the right will show you all the details of that specific opportunity—such as its deadline or eligibility requirements. 

Funding Opportunity

You can then select the“Funder 990 Report” tab to reveal the funder’s 990 insights that you can use to make a final determination about whether or not an opportunity is a good fit. 

Funder 990 Report

For example, for each funder you can take a look at their giving by NTEE code to see if their past giving aligns with your organization’s area of focus. 

giving by NTEE code

You can also see how open a funder is to new grantees year after year. Super helpful! 

Openness to New Grantees

Theresa is a strong advocate for how much these funder insights impacted her work: 

“Now that I look back, I just think about how much Instrumentl fundamentally changed the way we work, especially in terms of finding foundations that really fit us.

Step 3. Track Your Grant Applications and Stay Organized

Once you begin narrowing in on the grants you want to prioritize, it's key to track those opportunities and keep your applications organized. 

Before Instrumentl, Theresa and her team used Excel spreadsheets to track their grants. You might be doing this as well! However, this method of grant tracking is cumbersome, time consuming, and leaves a LOT of room for error.

Instrumentl can help with this. Instrumentl’s grant Tracker lets you add good-fit opportunities straight from your matches so that you can organize all of your grants in one place. 

You can organize your grants by deadline, application stage, and project. You can also update the status of your grant submissions as you hear back from funders.

Grant Tracker

Basically, you’ll have no need for complicated Excel spreadsheets anymore! You’ll be able to manage all of your grant tracking within a single system. Instrumentl really is a one-stop-shop!

Theresa shared how Instrumentl helps her with grant tracking

“When I open Instrumentl, I always start with the calendar to see what’s coming up, what’s due next month, etc. I can stay on top of everything and ensure I prioritize or assign tasks to my team members.”

Wrapping Up: How to effectively Find Grants for Your Nonprofit

At the beginning of this article, we met Theresa, a one-person grants team at a Florida-based nonprofit. 

Theresa knew she needed to start finding grant funds to support her organization. She also knew she wanted to start her grant search with charitable foundations. But she quickly found her old-fashioned method of grant searching and tracking to be cumbersome and inefficient. That’s when she found Instrumentl!

Relying on a one-stop-shop grant software like Instrumentl, Theresa was able to increase her efficiency and save valuable time. She also learned how to easily identify grant opportunities, determine which opportunities were a good fit for her, and track and manage all of her submissions and applications. 

Regardless of what types of grants you want to pursue, you should be ready to start your own grant seeking journey now! Be like Theresa and give Instrumentl a try for 14 days and see for yourself how it can help you find the right funding opportunities for your nonprofit.

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Jessica Knapp

Jessica Knapp

Jessica Knapp is the State President and Chief Executive Officer of Communities In Schools Pennsylvania, the United States' largest dropout prevention organization. She has over 10 years of experience in nonprofit operations and leadership, program development, and fundraising/resource development.

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