FDO vs. FoundationSearch vs. Instrumentl: Which Tool is Best for You in 2024?

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November 17, 2022

Last Updated:

January 26, 2024

If you’re a seasoned grant writer or researcher, you’ve surely heard of Foundation Directory Online (FDO). But what about FoundationSearch? Or Instrumentl?

In this article, we’ll aim to compare the well-known FDO with the lesser-known FoundationSearch by Metasoft, which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as with Instrumentl to see which provides the most value for grant professionals. We’ll weigh in on their features, their pricing, customer reviews, and more.

Let’s dig into our brief on grant discovery platforms.

FDO vs. FoundationSearch vs. Instrumentl Features


Besides allowing users to search for foundation profiles, funding opportunities, and RFPs, what features do these top grant platforms have in common? And what stands alone? Most importantly, which is the most useful for grant writers and researchers?

We’ve broken down the different tools and features of FDO, FoundationSearch, and Instrumentl below.

FDO Features

FDO is well known as being a repository of foundation profiles, including little-known family foundations and small funders without websites. Depending on your subscription, Foundation Directory Online can provide deep insights on these foundations, such as what other nonprofits have received funding from them, average and median funding amounts, and more.

FDO’s search capabilities for foundations are quite refined, allowing you to search by funder interest, geographic area funded, VIP names, EIN, and even the funder’s name. They provide basic data visualization including a heat map of funding distribution, what interests are being funded, and a bar chart comparing grant amounts.

Recently FDO rolled out a new tool, My FDO Dashboard, which provides some basic grant management and tracking tools. These include projects, a list of prospects, submitted grant proposal tracking, a contact list, and next-step tasks. But genuine collaboration is not supported in a team environment, meaning those in management roles must find other solutions to enable team collaboration.

FDO Features

FDO also lists open RFPs, some on their website and some via their daily e-newsletter, Philanthropy News Digest. However, these listings are not exhaustive, and they’re time-consuming to look through as the only filter offered is funder interest. Talk about a headache!

Below is a screenshot of open RFPs filtered by “religion”. There isn’t anything intuitive about this feature, and researchers and grant writers will have to comb through dozens and dozens of opportunities before possibly finding one good fit.


Finally, FDO’s partnership with Candid means Candid Learning’s educational resources are at users’ fingertips. These include:

  • A blog
  • Candid’s knowledge base
  • Sample documents
  • Nonprofit startup resources
  • An e-book library
  • A collaboration hub

And, FDO itself offers chat and email support, as well as a blog.

Metasoft’s FoundationSearch Features

If your nonprofit is located in Canada, or does business there, FoundationSearch is worth a look. It lists not only U.S. funding opportunities, but also funders in Canada. The company claims to have 5,000 users.

FoundationSearch features a search tool that allows you to identify foundations based on name, location, size, giving interests, geographic focus, foundation type, NTEE codes, IRS 990 forms, and/or names of directors. However, no RFPs are listed.

Their grant visualizer tool allows users to analyze a heat map of their area to hone in on foundations which are increasing—and decreasing—giving in a specific area.

Metasoft’s FoundationSearch Features

FoundationSearch states they list funders in the following sectors:

  • Arts and Culture
  • Community Development
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Faith-based
  • Health
  • International
  • Social Services
  • Sports and Recreation

That list seems to be missing some key sectors, including LGBTQIA+, women’s concerns, children and youth services, poverty and homelessness, food insecurity, and more.

FoundationSearch also claims to feature an analytics service, but that, too, is locked behind a paywall with no other information available.

In terms of training and customer service, FoundationSearch offers CFRE-approved live and interactive webinars by fundraising experts, as well as online education modules and lessons on the software itself. It’s important to note that many of these courses are offered for a fee ranging from $175 to $395.

They also provide ​​a help desk during business hours, tutorials, and help documents. FoundationSearch is currently beta-testing a grant management and team collaboration tool, but there’s no word on if or when this may go live.

Instrumentl Features

Instrumentl combines grant prospecting, proposal tracking, team collaboration, and grants management into a single, easy-to-use cloud-based solution.

Yes, Instrumentl, like FoundationSearch and GrantStation, provides detailed information on private foundations, corporations, and government funders at all levels. But it delivers so much more as well.

One of Instrumentl’s many useful features is that it allows you to create separate projects and then search for funders and RFPs aligning with each of your organization’s interests or causes. This feature is a boon for complex nonprofits with numerous programs, as well as for grant writing consultants with several clients.

Instrumentl’s intelligent matching algorithms easily identify best-fit funders—and continue to automatically update new information.

Each new opportunity that’s uncovered will offer detailed foundation profiles that include funding history, fields of work, geographic focus, average grant size, openness to new grantees. and much more.

Instrumentl Features

Because Instrumentl is hosted in the cloud, its integrated grant management tools help you manage your entire team and your grant pipeline from start to finish. A consolidated calendar makes it easy for your team to stay coordinated. And pulling reports is a breeze in either PDF or CSV formats.

Instrumentl Features

And Instrumentl doesn’t skimp when it comes to training and customer support, including:

  • A free 30-minute onboarding call for all trial users with an Onboarding Advisor. You’ll discuss grants strategy, objectives, and oversight of how projects are created.
  • Fun and informative weekly 1-hour small group live-trainings with Instrumentl’s Customer Success team for new customers who subscribe.
  • Free weekly grant writing and fundraising workshops with partners and thought leaders sharing the latest insights.
  • Chat support as well as other support via hello@instrumentl.com.
  • A comprehensive help center at help.instrumentl.com.
  • A 1-hour annual review call with Instrumentl’s Customer Success team to deep dive into your account and provide personalized recommendations for getting the most out of the platform.

Learn more about the tools and features that only Instrumentl offers here.

FDO vs. FoundationSearch vs. Instrumentl Pricing

Competitive Pricing

One of the biggest considerations when shopping around for software and other solutions is not only features—it’s price. So which of these tools provides the most bang for your organization’s buck?

Foundation Directory Online Pricing

Foundation Directory Online offers three tiers of pricing for potential subscribers: FDO Essential, FDO Professional, and FDO Enterprise.

FDO Essential

FDO Essential by the month offers the most flexible option for a potential user, although the price rises by the number of users needing access. The prices quoted above are for one user only.

It’s important to note that FDO Essential only allows users to search about half of FDO’s entire database—111,000 funders—instead of their full database of nearly 250,000.

On the other hand, FDO Professional offers more features, as well as their entire 250,000 funder dataset.

FDO Professional

One of the added bonuses of FDO Professional is the ability to deep-dive into other grantees to see if any are similar to your organization.

Then there’s FDO Enterprise, which is custom-built for your team of more than 10 people. Prices are not divulged by FDO—you have to contact them for more details.

FoundationSearch Pricing

FoundationSearch Pricing

Herein lies a mystery: As you can see, FoundationSearch lacks transparency about its subscription fees. One must email or call them to learn more.

Instrumentl Pricing

Instrumentl’s pricing structure is transparent and above-board.

Instrumentl Pricing

Instrumentl does cost a bit more than FDO (but who knows about FoundationSearch?).

Why? Instrumentl offers so much more than “just” looking up foundations. With Instrumentl, you not only get grant discovery, but grant tracking, grant management, task assignments, and the ability to measure and report on grant outcomes.

Instrumentl really does take you and your team to the next level.

With Instrumentl’s Basic tier, you and two other users will be able to create up to 10 projects, identify good fit funders via Instrumentl’s smart grant matching, view foundation profiles, track grants, get reminded of deadlines and tasks, and share a document library.

Instrumentl’s Standard package allows you and two others to create up to 20 projects, and in addition to the features in the basic package, discover additional foundation information, get advanced funder insights, see profiles of other grant recipients, share an integrated calendar, and see who “owns” the grant proposal process for each opportunity.

The Professional level gives you and two others all the features of Professional plan as well as personalized training, integration with Salesforce, and integration with calendar tools such as Outlook and Gmail. Oh, and you’ll be able to create up to 50 projects.

Talk to Instrumentl’s team about their customized enterprise package should you and your team not fit any of these scenarios—think of a large university or medical center with multiple development offices.

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What Are Customers Saying About FDO, FoundationSearch, and Instrumentl?

Customer Reviews

Word of mouth and comments from end-users are often some of the most helpful ways to learn about how satisfied people are with their grant discovery system. Let’s look at comments from actual subscribers to the tools we’re examining.

FDO: What Customers are Saying

FDO What Customers are Saying

FDO has lots of fans in the nonprofit world, especially older users who remember when it was the only game in town. While FDO remains a valued tool, the cost vs. its perceived value is beginning to make some people question if there aren’t better tools out there.

FDO Reviews

FoundationSearch: What Customers are Saying

And you thought FDO was expensive…apparently Metasoft’s FoundationSearch is even pricier, at least according to this review on Reddit’s r/nonprofit.

FoundationSearch What Customers are Saying

Not surprisingly, most of FoundationSearch’s positive reviews are found on their website, such as this one.

FoundationSearch Reviews

And, while there are some smaller organizations using the software, the majority of subscribers seem to be health systems and universities who can afford a more expensive tool.

Instrumentl: What Customers are Saying

To say that customers are impressed with Instrumentl’s entire suite of grant discovery, management, and collaboration tools is an understatement.

From the ease of finding RFPs to its smart matching technology, grant discovery not only is time-saving, but also turns up more opportunities than with other competitors.

The shared calendar function and the ease with which managers can assign tasks reduces stress and ups productivity. And, Instrumentl’s nimble reporting functions makes accountability and grant reporting a breeze.

Read this user’s review:

Instrumentl What Customers are Saying

Or this one

Instrumentl What Customers are Saying

If that isn’t enough to convince you, Instrumentl has the wholehearted endorsement of a number of well-respected grant writing consultants, among them Dr. Bev Browning, Meredith Noble, and Patrick Kirby. (By the way, these folks are some of the instructors for Instrumentl’s awesome (and free!) master classes.)

Seeing is believing: contact Instrumentl for a free, no obligation, 14-day trial of the best grant discovery and management tool currently available.

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Wrapping Up: FDO vs. FoundationSearch vs. Instrumentl: Which Tool is Best for You in 2024?


While FDO and FoundationSearch have their fans, both are fairly expensive for what you get: not too many insights, the need to do additional homework to drill down into details, and a dated user interface (UI).

And neither has Instrumentl’s smart matching algorithms which work when you’re not even logged in, building you a list of new and promising grant opportunities.

Instrumentl has all the features a busy grants team wants—and more.

Contact Instrumentl today for your free 14-day trial. We believe once you get a taste of Instrumentl, you’ll never go back to the old way of grant discovery and prospect research again.

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl team

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