Nonprofit organizations have two essential jobs. First and foremost, they are tasked with carrying out their mission. Second, they are faced with finding the necessary funds to do so! Even the best causes need money to be able to carry out their work.
Acquiring funding is a crucial responsibility to ensure sustainability and yet, can be a nonprofit’s biggest challenge. In this article you will learn how to successfully find funders for grants that are a good match for your organization.
4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Looking for Funders
Grant funders will ask for pertinent pieces of information about your organization. This includes mission statements, organizational history, program description, impact data and financial records, among other things.
Below is a checklist of helpful pre-inquiry questions.
1.Does your organization have a clear mission statement or project idea?
Many new or developing nonprofit organizations try to seek funding before they have a clear mission statement, service area, or purpose. Or some may have a well-established mission, but then only have “ideas” for programs or projects which may not be clearly related to their organization’s mission.
Not having a clear outline of your project or program is one of the biggest initial hang-ups for nonprofits before they even get started with the funding process.
Refer to your organization’s strategic plan or engage your Board of Directors in the grant process and get on the same page about your organizational needs and the programs you’re seeking funding for. This will prepare you for the grant search ensuring you use your time efficiently.
2.Are you seeking general operating funding or money for a specific project?
Most nonprofits need money for organizational overhead – rent, utilities, staff salaries, and technology. These are all the essentials which keep an organization afloat. The umbrella term for these items is “General Operations Expenses.”
Grants for general operating allow for a more liberal use of funds and have broader reporting requirements.
Some grants will fund general operations, while others will be project specific. Program specific grants will usually have more stringent criteria and will also require more detailed reporting on how dollars were used to fund the project.
3. How much time do you have to look for grant funding? Do you have it marked in your calendar?
Searching for grant opportunities takes time.
The search process will (and should) take time, especially at the onset. Assess how much time you realistically can spend on looking for grants.
Carve out a day and time in your calendar each week. Many organizations erroneously view finding grants as an afterthought – a “nice to have” but not a “need to have.” Acquiring grant funding is an important part of building a diverse revenue stream. Take time to devote to the search process.
4. Do you have a budget for grant research tools?
While there are many free resources to help find grants and evaluate funders, there are also grant research tools that are much more efficient and accurate in sharing the most up to date information.
Using tools built to make grant prospecting more efficient will save you and your team time and give you a better chance of winning grant funding.
Let’s dive into the grant search process and how to get started.
6 Considerations To Make When Searching For Potential Grant Funders
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when faced with the prospect of finding a grant for your nonprofit. There are so many opportunities. Here are 6 things to look for when assessing which grants are good fits for your organization:
1. Understand The Priority Funding Areas Of Each Funder You're Considering
A grantmaking foundation or government grant will usually outline several focus or priority funding areas in their criteria. For example, they might list “economic rights and justice”, “food insecurity”, or “education.”
This makes it easy to assess whether your organization or project fits into their focus area.
When using a grant database like Instrumentl to find grants, you'll use keywords to search for and narrow down opportunities. This will help you narrow down good-fit grant matches.
2. Service Area
Like the focus areas described above, many grant opportunities will target specific geographic areas and only those nonprofits serving the specified area will be eligible. Foundations or municipalities will often use a county or a zip code to provide guidance for the service area requirements.
An important note – many times the criteria refer to where clients are being served, not necessarily where the organization has their home office. Or vice-versa! Some applications will utilize the home location of the organization, regardless of where they provide services. Government grants will often rely on census tracts in their criteria. Keep reading below for more information on how you can find and use data on your service area.
3. Demographics of Service Area
Often the service area and the demographics of the service area are closely aligned in criteria. Grant applications may stipulate a nonprofit’s eligibility based on percentage of low-income populations served, percentage of housing insecurity within a given zip code, or income level of a particular census tract.
If you do not know the demographic information about your service area, the Census Bureau website is a great resource. It provides community data on age, income levels, unemployment, and other factors. It will be helpful in finding grant funding to have as much knowledge as you can about your nonprofit’s service area and its demographics.
4. Type of Funding
As mentioned in a previous section, there are many types of grants. Determine beforehand whether you are seeking funds for general operating costs or a specific project. Many grant applications will state explicitly what they fund and what they do not fund.
Some foundations may have several grant cycles: some for general operating funds and others for targeted projects. If you need money for rent and the electric bill, it's best to seek general operating monies. If you need dollars to expand a program or create a new initiative, you may seek project-based funding that aligns with your goals.
5. Date of Grant Cycles/ Disbursement of Funds
Acquiring grant money is often a lengthier process than many new nonprofit workers realize. Even when approved, monies often take weeks to months for disbursement. This means if you have a project slated for spring, applications will often be due the previous fall.
Expect for the grant process to take three to six months from the time of application to see a check for funding. Plan accordingly.
6. Overall Alignment of Missions
While it may seem like a basic concept, it's important to remember that when searching for grant funding, you should search for opportunities that align with your nonprofit’s mission. Also, keep in mind that whether it’s a grantmaking foundation, a government entity, or a corporation, each of these funders will have its own mission and also look for applicants that align with its model and values.
Many nonprofit organizations, particularly if they are struggling financially, get into a mode of “chasing money” rather than seeking out opportunities that truly align with their missions.
If you ever find yourself thinking “Well, we kind of do that” or “We sort of meet the focus areas”, then it’s probably not a good match.
Applications themselves will ask for compelling reasons why you are a good candidate and will challenge you to prove it with impact data.
For example, in the example above, the funder has a clear interest in funding projects related to the environment or education.
Click to find the best grants for your nonprofit from 12,000+ active opportunities.
Finding grant funding has become increasingly competitive. To save yourself stress and work efficiently, apply to only those opportunities that are a good fit to yield the best chances of approval.
Without effective and strategic prospect research and identification processes, you can find yourself going in circles, pursuing funders who simply aren’t a good fit.
Below we will guide through best practices on identifying foundation, corporate, and government grant opportunities.
How to Find Foundation or Corporate Grants
Much like the steps in finding grant money for nonprofit from good fit -funders, the search process begins with covering the basics.Here are a few guidelines to help you find foundation or corporate grants.
1.Know Your Organization’s Service or Geographic Area
If you are new to an area or new to working in the nonprofit realm, it’s helpful to get a pulse on the area and its community stakeholders. For example, most areas have philanthropic or family foundations who partially fund the community services of the region. A quick Google search will reveal many of these regional heavy hitters. Then you can start by going to specific websites to learn more about grant cycles and specific focus areas.
Here’s a screenshot from a Google search for grantmaking foundations in Omaha, NE. Even this quick search displays notable partners in the Omaha, NE community. It provides a mix of both nonprofit foundations (red arrow), a corporate foundation (yellow arrow), and even a database list of funding opportunities (green arrow). Score!
Want to see even more opportunities in your area? Browse Instrumentl’s database of grants and foundations. This comprehensive list allows viewers to search by state or focus area. Here’s a sample of available grants in Nebraska.
2. Know the Major Employers in Your Service Area or Geographic Region
Most companies have embraced the social responsibility component of private business by dedicating some funds for giving back to their communities. Large employers in the region have an investment in the area for good cause – they want to see an area thrive so they can retain their employees and attract new ones!
Identify large institutions in your area (banks/credit unions, colleges, hospitals, technology firms, grocery stores, and manufacturing companies) and check their websites to see if they have a “community” section or something similar where you can find information on potential grant opportunities.
3.Join Your Local Civic Association, Business Networking Group, or Nonprofit Association
In many areas, there is often a nonprofit assistance group or a civic group that may provide guidance for nonprofits and access to resources for funding opportunities. As nonprofits are vital businesses to any economy, your city or regional chamber of commerce or business development department may also have resources for grant opportunities.
Many nonprofit organizations forget that even though they are nonprofits, they are often also considered “businesses” and therefore may qualify for business assistance grants. An example is the small business relief grants that have been provided in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many for-profit businesses and nonprofits alike qualified for grant funding and were able to stay afloat.
4. Use the Library
Most people equate a library with just loaning out books. But today’s libraries are full of so much more - technological materials and resources, database access, and community knowledge. Many larger libraries have research librarians or other personnel dedicated to helping patrons find resources. Plus, library systems will often have licenses so that you can access grant databases for free, services that you would normally have to pay for. It only takes a few minutes to sign up for a library card and then the world is your oyster!
How to Find Government Grants
Many types of grant funding fall under the umbrella category of “government grants.” Think of them as any grants that are issued by municipalities, states, or the federal government. They can include focus areas like housing and urban development, agriculture, health care, education, business, transportation, and many others.
Government grants will often have more rigid criteria and formalized reporting requirements and a uniform application process. Some government grants are administered through government employees, and some are managed by contracted agencies. Here are a few tips on locating government grants:
1.Utilize the Grants.gov Website
Bookmark the grants.gov page and refer to it for federal opportunities. Government grants are posted to provide easy public access to information and deadlines. This site includes a list of grant funding opportunities that is searchable through region, category, and many other filters. It provides a summary of the opportunity, eligibility requirements, and due dates. The best part – it’s FREE!
2.Check Your State/ County/ and City Websites
States and municipalities will also post funding opportunities. Typically, a state government website will list both statewide opportunities and may even provide links to other local or regional possibilities. Pictured below is an example of California’s state grants database with its search capabilities.
3. Sign Up for Email Notifications or Newsletters
Who needs more email, right? But in this case, getting an email notification of a new government grant opportunity that just opened will help ensure potential grant monies don’t go by unnoticed. When you can do so, sign up to receive emails from your state, county, or city, or departments like Community Development and others that align with your mission and service area. After a while, if nothing is coming your way of interest, you can always unsubscribe.
We’ve covered some tips and guidelines that hopefully are helpful in your search for grant funding. Many of the resources discussed in the preceding paragraphs also provide help at no cost to your organization.
However, if you have exhausted your search efforts and still cannot find good matches for your organization, or you just do not have the staff bandwidth to search for grant funders, that’s where a tool like Instrumentl could help!
So, What Now?
We’ve covered some tips and guidelines that hopefully are helpful in your search for grant funding. Many of the resources discussed in the preceding paragraphs also provide help at no cost to your organization.
However, you may have come to the end of this section and feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of effort it takes to simply identify a good-fit grant opportunity. Have no fear! That is exactly why a tool like Instrumentl exists.
Grant databases or grant discovery platforms are key to the grant search and management process. In the next section, we are going to dive into six different grant databases that can help you in your search for good-fit funding.
Let’s dive in!
6 Different Databases for Grants
One of the primary methods for grant identification is through online databases and grant search platforms.
There are a variety of grant discovery platforms available online, each with different features that can assist your nonprofit in the identification of grant opportunities.
Let’s take a look at the key advantages and features of each!
Instrumentl is a comprehensive grant discovery platform that connects nonprofits to grants and funders tailored to the organization’s mission and objectives.
Unlike other grant discovery tools on the market, Instrumentl uses smart matching systems to match nonprofits with open RFPs that are well aligned with the organization, project, or initiative that requires new funding.
You can try Instrumentl and review its features yourself by opting into a 14-day free trial.
We think that Instrumentl is far and away the best grant identification tool for your nonprofit’s needs, but don’t take our word for it. You can check out a list of customer success stories here.
2. Foundation Directory Online
Foundation Directory Online (FDO) is one of the more established grant or foundation databases available to U.S. nonprofit organizations.
FDO is managed by Candid, an information service for nonprofit organizations and nonprofit managers to access educational resources, including webinars and trainings, and published reports on philanthropic sector news and trends.
GrantWatch is a grants identification platform that allows nonprofits and other grantseeking organizations to search a comprehensive database of over 27,000 private and public grant opportunities (including federal, state, and local government grants).
This article breaks down GrantWatch's value and can help you determine whether it’s the right choice for your organization.
4. Foundant for Nonprofits
Foundant for Nonprofits, formerly known as “GrantHub”, is a grants management platform managed by Foundant Technologies, a company that helps organizations leverage the power and support of the philanthropic sector through technology-based resources and solutions.
FoundationSearch is a grant discovery platform that has been available since 1995. For decades they have provided tools, resources, and guidance to over 13,000 nonprofit organizations.
FoundationSearch does come with a high price, so check out this comparison post with FoundationSearch explaining the differences between FoundationSearch, GrantHub, and Instrumentl to determine which one is the right investment for your organization.
GrantStation gives grantseekers the ability to pinpoint funders and opportunities.
GrantStation also provides resources to guide individuals and organizations through the grantseeking process, such as special conferences and an online blog that publishes industry trends related to grants and the philanthropic sector.
When it comes to comparing different grants search and management software, you need to ensure that you’re truly comparing apples to apples. Thankfully, Instrumentl has done the heavy lifting for you by comparing each of the top grant discovery tools by pricing, features, integrations, and more.
Finding grants can be a laborious process. With so many government institutions, foundations, corporations, and other grantmaking organizations to research, finding an opportunity that is well aligned with your project or organization can feel almost impossible.
Let’s review some of the key challenges you may come across in your work and ways to overcome them.
Remember, not every funder you will come across in your research will be a good fit for your organization. In fact, for a variety of different reasons, your organization may not even be eligible to apply.
Many will have very common eligibility requirements such as:
Applicants must have status as a 501(c)(3) organization
Applicants must have good standing with the IRS
Applicants cannot have explicit political affiliations or engage in lobbying
Applicants must be an organization, not an individual
Other common eligibility requirements are that applicants must serve a specific geographic area or region, or must serve a specific population. Some organizations will only fund one organization for a set amount of time and then are required to have a gap year, so even if you have received funding from a foundation frequently in the past, you may no longer be eligible.
Again, it is important to thoroughly research eligibility requirements for each funder separately. Each funder is unique and will have a unique set of requirements.
Communication With Funders
Winning grants and securing funds is not just a matter of filling out an application or developing a proposal. Some funders require strategic communication and a more collaborative process.
Many foundations and grantmaking organizations are eager to communicate with potential partners and offer up contact information on their website including telephone numbers and email addresses.
Once you have identified a funder’s contact information and have an idea of whether or not they are open to conversations, it is time to reach out.
Even for those who have a strong, well thought out strategy for outreach, communicating with funders can be challenging. When you find yourself hitting a wall with cold communications, consider other strategies for cultivating relationships.
Consider your existing network—does the funder you are pursuing have an existing relationship with other funders you work with or perhaps a member of your Board of Directors? Make sure to spend time learning how you can approach grant funder relationships to form meaningful partnerships from the start.
For grants professionals, the amount of deadlines you may find yourself coming up against can feel overwhelming. With many grantmakers assigning deadlines on similar days or during similar times, you may find yourself overwhelmed with keeping up with every deadline you come across.
It is also important to note that each funder is different. While some may have rolling or open deadlines and allow you to submit a proposal at your leisure, others have very strict deadline requirements and multiple deadlines for multiple steps in the proposal process.
For example, a foundation may require a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) and have a separate deadline for that and another deadline for the final proposal.
When searching for funding opportunities, keeping track of these things can be challenging, especially for nonprofits that are juggling several grants at one time. Thankfully, there are grant writing calendars that can help you stay on top of every milestone and deadline.
Why Instrumentl is the Best Tool for Finding Funders for Grants
Instrumentl is the grant management platform built specifically to bring grant prospecting, tracking and management to one place.
Once you create an Instrumentl account, you can create a project, which allows you to keep a saved grant search while also saving grants to individual Trackers.
Our unique matching algorithm will output good fit funders based on your project’s needs. In this example below, we’ve identified 109 matches for our Air Quality project:
Trackers replace the need for grant writers to keep Excel spreadsheets, as they let you manage all your grants in one place. Within these Trackers, you can create tasks for yourself or a team member, as well as store notes and documents year-over-year.
Tasks can be a great way to promote cross-team collaboration and create a replicable process when reviewing different funders for grants.
Aside from our Matches and Tracker, Instrumentl makes 990 reports easy to digest. We’ll help you identify key financial trends, such as the average and median grant amounts of a particular foundation.
You can even reverse search a past recipient’s funding history to identify even more good fit funders:
It’s for these reasons and many more that Instrumentl saves development teams more than three hours a week per team member and increases grant application output 78% within a year.
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Wrapping Things Up: Finding Funders for Grants
Finding grant funding is often a long process but a necessary and worthwhile one! Hopefully the tips in this article provided you with some resources as you begin (or continue) your grant search. The prize in the process is gaining the funding to keep up the work of your nonprofit’s mission and most importantly, those you serve.