A Nonprofit's Guide To Grant Prospect Research

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November 22, 2023

Last Updated:

November 22, 2023

Are you struggling to find the right grants for your nonprofit? 

Whether you are a seasoned grant writer or new to the grant searching process, finding the right grant and then aligning your grant proposal can be a lengthy and frustrating process. 

Luckily, we have help!

In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through the step-by-step process of efficient grant research, using Instrumentl's powerful features to supercharge your fundraising efforts. 

Not only will we help you maximize your grant research strategies, but also help you increase your rate of success.

Let’s dive in!

The Fundamentals of Grant Prospecting

We know that nonprofit grant research can be confusing. You’re digging through hundreds of opportunities, not sure how to speed up the process of finding which are relevant.

Below, let’s unpack the fundamentals. Then, you’ll have a better idea of how to research grants more efficiently.

The Fundamentals of Grant Prospecting

What Is Grant Prospecting and Research?

Grant prospecting and research is a strategic way to find grant monies that align with your nonprofit’s mission, needs, and goals.

There are numerous nonprofit grant research tools online, and knowing how to do grant research properly will ensure you are taking the time to write proposals for funding that align with your organization’s mission and goals. That way, you can identify good-fit funders faster and easier. 

Why Is It Important To Do Grant Research?

Grant research is a great way to fundraise beyond just soliciting donations from organizations you already know or donors who already support your nonprofit organization.

You may have already identified funding prospects by contacting individuals in your organization or soliciting current donors, and that’s a good place to start.

However, just completing donor prospecting is leaving thousands— in some cases millions— of dollars on the table.

For example,

Let’s just say there is money to be had!

This is why using Instrumentl can help you go well beyond your current nonprofit circle. Instrumentl’s grant research tools bring together grant discovery, research, and tracking all in one place.

How To Start Finding Grants Efficiently

If you have searched for grants in the past, you have more than likely already used Google and Grants.gov.

There are definitely many grant research tools out there today. However, the problem with these sites is that you will find an unbearable amount of grants to sift through to find the ones that are right for you. 

There’s a better way.

Instrumentl is a more efficient way to discover grants that actually match your nonprofit’s needs. 

You can set up a free Instrumentl account for 14 days (no credit card required). Once inside, start following each step below to find funding for your nonprofit.

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Step 1: Decide On Your Funding Needs

Using your Instrumentl account, you can set up a new project that allows you to keep a saved grant search, while also tracking every grant opportunity related to that project in the same place. 

Decide On Your Funding Needs

There are numerous stages to grant research, but we break them down, step-by-step, to help you through the nonprofit grant research process.

However, before you set up your search through Instrumentl, you need to have a clear idea of what you actually need the funding for:

  • A new project you're kicking off?
  • A specific program?
  • Your whole nonprofit?

Once you clarify what you need funding for, you can start the grant research process. You will start by setting up your search criteria through Instrumentl. There are three main steps to setting up your project to find grants:

  1. Set up your organization
  2. Create an overview of your project
  3. Determine your funding matches

Let’s start creating your project by first setting up your organizational information.

creating your project by first setting up your organizational information

First, you will want to set up your organization as either inside or outside the United States (or both). This will help match you with grants that are relevant to your geographic area.

set up your organization

Click “Save and Continue”.

set up your organization

The second step is providing an overview of your new project.

set up your organization

If you are searching for funding for either your entire nonprofit or multiple projects, you will want to create a project name that is related to your program or nonprofit to make it easier to identify matches in Instrumentl. 

For our example throughout, we will create a “Project Name” called “Food Bank and Homeless Shelter.”

set up your organization

You will want to make sure you select “Matching & Tracking” so that Instrumentl can match you with relevant grants that fit your specific criteria. 

Choosing just “Tracking” is only best used if you already have grants and you just want to track them within Instrumentl.

set up your organization

Click “Save and Continue.”

set up your organization

Now you can move on to part 3 - Matches Setup.

set up your organization

In this next step, you’ll want to first clarify the types of grants you want to see. 

Since we are a fictitious Food Bank and Homeless Shelter, we will choose “Nonprofit” first and then “No” when it asks if we would like to search for specifically faith-based grants.

set up your organization

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Step 2: Define Your Location and Field Of Work

The next step in the grant searching process will be to define your location and field of work. First, we’ll select our location as “Inside the U.S.”

Define Your Location and Field Of Work

You can also specify if your project is national in scope or in a specific state. In our example, we are going to say that we operate out of Pennsylvania, specifically the counties surrounding the state capital of Harrisburg. 

Simply search your state and then select the counties that are relevant to your nonprofit. That way, you can possibly find federal, foundation, or even state and local grants that align with helping your local community.

Define Your Location and Field Of Work

Now you will narrow your grant research by selecting the field of work you operate in. This will ensure you get matched with grants from funders who support nonprofits like yours.

Define Your Location and Field Of Work

When clicking “+Select Field of Work,” you should search for the cause(s) you support (in our case, fields for a food bank and homeless services). 

We suggest you select 2-3 keywords from the drop-down that fit your mission.

Pro-tip: Select 2-3 fields of work so you have a wide enough scope for relevant grants. In our example, first we searched “food” and found two fields of work, and then we searched “homeless,” as illustrated below.

Define Your Location and Field Of Work

Now that you have used relevant keywords and phrases related to your project, you can discover grants that specifically match your area of interest. 

Step 3: Define Your Grant Size And The Type Of Funder You Want To Pursue

You will now want to set a minimum or maximum type of grant you’d like to be matched with. This will filter out grants that are either too small, making them not worth pursuing, or too large, making them too competitive.

In our example, we set the minimum to $1,000 and no maximum.

Define Your Grant Size And The Type Of Funder You Want To Pursue

Next, you will want to make sure you select all the types of grants you are interested in so you get matched with them. 

In the section, “What will you use the funds for,” you could select any or all the following:

  • Education/Outreach - Get matched with grants specifically for educational programs and projects.
  • Project/Program - Get matched with grants specifically for programs or projects that are not research projects or education projects.
  • General Operating Expense - Get matched with grants specifically for overhead expenses.
  • Capital Project - Get matched with grants for construction, renovations, or equipment.
  • Training/Capacity Building - Get matched with grants that support internal training.

We decided to choose “Project/Program” and “General Operating Expense.”

Define Your Grant Size And The Type Of Funder You Want To Pursue

Pro tip: Choosing “General Operating Expense” will match you with more flexible grants— either  capacity grants, that can be restricted, or unrestricted funding, meaning you can use it however you’d like (within reason).

You will also want to specify what kind of funders you want grants from. In our example, we’ll take grants from any kind of funder, whether an association, a corporate foundation, a government entity, or a private funder.

Then, click “Save and Exit” to start seeing the grants you are matched with.

Define Your Grant Size And The Type Of Funder You Want To Pursue

Step 4: Review Grants

At this stage, Instrumentl has narrowed down all of the potential grants you could pursue in your area. That way, you can prioritize what grants support your cause. In our case, Instrumentl found more than 200 grants that matched our nonprofit’s needs!

You’ll see that your grants are divided into three categories:

Review Grants

Instrumentl will search through its database to find opportunities that align with your fundraising needs. 

These are then output into a Matches tab, where you’ll be able to dig deeper and learn about each potential funder to create your list of top grant prospects.

Not only that, but Instrumentl continuously updates your matches so that you have the most timely and relevant data available. 

This is critical for ongoing grant work because one of the most common mistakes in grant prospecting is using old, outdated data. For this reason, Instrumentl makes sure you always have the freshest grant opportunities.

Instrumentl’s grant matches resemble an email inbox. The matches are all on the left, and when you click one, the details will show on the right.

Review Grants

As you can see below, the “Funding Opportunity Matches” are individual active grants and the “Funder Matches” are funders who match your search criteria.

Review Grants

You will see that Instrumentl matched us with quite a bit of results. You will want to review what you see to determine which grants are the best fit for your nonprofit.

The right side of the screen expands the details of the grants you clicked on the left. Under “FUNDING OPPORTUNITY” you can see the details of the grant, such as the amount, the funder’s website, their application period, and much more.

Review Grants

There are also specific fields highlighted in either gray, yellow, or green colors. These colors explain why the grant was matched with your project.

Review Grants

We have a helpful video that details how to spot trends in the keyword coloring so you can use your project’s keyword selection to find more specific matches for your program. 

Instrumentl summarizes other key details in an easy-to-digest format so that you can see:

  • An overview of their finances (assets, total giving, average amount)
  • Contact details (EIN number, phone, websites, address)
  • Key people (directors, board members)
  • Key financial stats over time (total giving, average and median amount)
  • Links to 990 reports
  • Past grantees
  • Their openness to new grantees
  • The causes they support

Step 5: Filter and Refine Results

When you’re ready to refine your results further, you can use the filters to narrow down your information even more based on your search criteria:

  • Funding use
  • Field of work
  • Location of project
  • Past giving
  • Funder type

For example, if we wanted to specify homelessness services in only Dauphin County, we simply choose those filters and Instrumentl does the rest.

Filter and Refine Results

This video explains how you can learn more about how to prioritize your funders by filtering down your Matches.

Step 6: Analyze Grantmaker Profiles

You can explore detailed profiles of grantmakers within Instrmentl to gain a better understanding of their mission, priorities, and giving history. For example, you can see the 990 reports by clicking on “FUNDER 990 REPORT” to see key details about the funder and their history.

Analyze Grantmaker Profiles

For example, you can view information about past grantees to see if your project aligns with their funding interests. 

This information reveals if they have awarded similar grants to your location, the historical grant amounts, and if there are similar giving purposes.

Analyze Grantmaker Profiles

To learn more about how to analyze a funder’s past giving trends through their 990 reports, watch this quick video.

For the funding opportunity above, the 990 report didn’t have much information on a funder’s giving trends and how open they are to new grantees. 

Note: Instrumentl will populate as much information as is available, but if a funder is behind on filing their 990s, it can leave holes in the available data.

To find a better-fit grant, let’s review another opportunity from our matches. 

Although the example below only shows 4% of this funder’s grants over the last three years going to new grantees, we may still be interested in pursuing this rolling grant opportunity further:

Analyze Grantmaker Profiles

Once you find the grants you are interested in possibly pursuing, the next step is to save your searches.

Step 7: Compile a List Of Opportunities

Once you find grants you are interested in pursuing further, you can save them in the “Tracker” section of Instrumentl to prioritize later. 

Compile a List Of Opportunities

Here is an example of potential good-fit grants we saved for further review.

Compile a List Of Opportunities

As you can see in our example, we saved one grant as “Planned,” one as “Researching,” and one as “Application in Progress.” 

Just as we did, you can organize and save your own grants’ statuses depending on where you are at in the grant process: “Researching,” “Application,” or “Award” status.

Compile a List Of Opportunities

Using the Tracker will help you and your team manage your grants, whether you’re just researching or you have taken the step to apply.

Pro tip: We have a helpful checklist here about managing grants, meeting deadlines, and maintaining communication with your team.

Step 8: Prioritize Opportunities

One final step is to prioritize the funding opportunities in your list based on certain factors:

  • Alignment with your project
  • Eligibility
  • Application deadlines

We decided to prioritize our three saved grants based on the “Application deadline.”

Prioritize Opportunities

As you continue to add more grant opportunities to your Tracker, you’ll find the priority sections to be valuable in organizing all of the funding opportunities you find. 

These are just some of the best practices you can use when researching grants. Using our grant research strategies will help you find matches quickly to determine if you want to take the time to apply for funding.

Become A More Efficient Grant Prospect Researcher

We’ve broken down each step in the grant research process. We hope you see how much easier, faster, and more efficient Instrumentl is to use than the alternatives in grant research. 

And, with the 14-day free trial, there is no risk. Try it out and see if Instrumentl is right for your nonprofit.

Fundraising for nonprofits can be a complicated process, yet using grant research options like Instrumentl will help you identify solid grant prospects. By following our process of prospect identification and research, you can create and save a list of top funders to apply for in the future.

Stephanie Paul Morrow

Stephanie Paul Morrow

Stephanie Morrows holds a Ph.D. in Media and Communications and is a professor at PennState Harrisburg.

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