Is Foundation Directory Online Worth It?

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Published:

October 5, 2022

Last Updated:

May 27, 2024

For years, Foundation Directory Online (FDO) was the only grant prospecting tool, but this is no longer the case. 

That’s why many are asking, “is Foundation Directory Online worth it when you’re looking for the best value grant discovery platform?

Spoiler alert: We’re not convinced

In this article, we’ll take a look at FDO’s: 

  • Top features
  • Price plans
  • And Common user reviews

These evaluations should help you make an informed opinion about Foundation Directory Online and whether it’s the right choice for your organization. Let’s jump in!

What Are Some of Foundation Directory Online's Key Features?

FDO Features for their Professional plan

Back when it first began, in 1956, the Foundation Directory was available as a printed resource only at public libraries, affiliated universities, or college libraries.

With the dawning of the internet, it only made sense to put the directory online.

Things changed again when the Foundation Center and Guidestar began negotiating a potential merger in 2012. The merger finally occurred in 2019 under the new brand “Candid.”

Let’s take a closer look at some of the features Foundation Directory Online offers grant seekers today.

Prospect Research and Finding New RFPs

FDO offers information on:

  • Private, family, and independent foundations
  • International foundations
  • Corporate foundations
  • U.S. Federal funding entities
  • Public charities

These funder profiles include key contacts, average amounts of grants made, and links to the funder’s IRS 990 tax forms. Charts and a heat map are also provided, as are links to funder websites (when available). 

FDO recently added a list of open RFPs to its website, though they are limited. You can search broadly using its “philanthropy” filter, but it can be time-consuming to sort through the results. 

Grant Tracking

The My FDO Dashboard offers some tools to track grants, including access to saved searches, favorites, tags, and alerts. You can also keep track of the tasks associated with prospecting and applying for grants.

Collaboration

FDO isn’t cloud-based, so while it allows multiple users, users cannot collaborate with others on their team. The lack of collaboration features can be time-consuming to work around and could lead to some frustration, especially in a large team environment.

Reporting

While FDO allows users to export search results into a spreadsheet, there is no automatic report generation feature. The closest thing to a reporting feature is in My FDO which allows users to pull information regarding the grantmaker’s name, assessment, location, number of grant proposals submitted, the value of proposals funded, and the user’s last activity.

Other Resources

Candid, a mash-up of Guidestar and Foundation Directory Online, also publishes Philanthropy News Digest, an emailed newsletter. They also have a blog and offer free and fee-based classes. These can be helpful, especially to a less experienced grant writer.

So, is Foundation Directory Online worth it? Let’s take a look at FDO pricing plans for more insight.

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Foundation Directory Online Pricing Plans Examined

Price Tag

To get the most out of the Foundation Directory Online users must have a paid subscription. FDO offers several pricing tiers, each outlined below.

Foundational Directory Online Essential

The most affordable tier is Foundation Directory Online Essential, which provides access to only 111,000 funders’ data. The fee for one user is as follows:

Foundational Directory Online Essential

The Essential level includes:

  • Access to funders’ IRS 990 tax forms
  • Suggested other funders similar to those you searched for
  • The ability to search by location, funding focus, assets, name of funder, or name of key personnel
  • Access to My FDO dashboard allowing tracking of funders, tasks, and contacts
  • Access to other Candid resources

FDO Essential is best for sole practitioners and small nonprofits.

Foundation Directory Online Professional

Foundation Directory Online Professional

The Professional version of Foundation Directory Online comes with all of the above plus many more bells and whistles, including:

  • More than 242,000 grantmaker profiles
  • Searchable 990s and 990-PFs
  • 2.2M+ recipient profiles
  • More than 1.2M contacts
  • My FDO dashboard
  • Data on nearly 2.5M grants
  • Interactive maps and charts
  • Comprehensive information on federal grants
  • Corporate foundation grant opportunities

Because of the higher fees, FDO Professional is designed for a multi-user environment of up to 10 people, such as a small college advancement services shop, or small grant writing consultancy.

With both tiers, prices go up depending on the number of users.

Foundation Directory Online Enterprise

If you have more than 10 users (think a large university with a robust prospect research team) Foundation Directory Online offers a customized Enterprise plan. 

Their website does not provide details on the pricing, but given the high price of the Professional Level plan for 10 users, one can imagine that the Enterprise version costs more. FDO Enterprise does not have additional features than Professional; it simply offers more seats. FDO may also offer Discount Codes.

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Foundation Directory Online User Reviews

Online reviews from real people reveal that many people still rely on Foundation Directory Online as a good grant discovery platform.

For those who use FDO, these are the things they like about the platform:

  • Availability of RFPs
  • Ease of reviewing IRS 990 forms
  • Listing of similar funders

But others, such as the reviewer below, believe the site’s redesign has spoiled the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX).

The most frequent objection to FDO is the cost, followed by the user experience, and FDO’s matching algorithms which sometimes don’t work well resulting in conflated search terms. For instance, a search for funders giving to organizations in Virginia Beach will bring up funders with the words “Virginia” or “Beach” in their entity’s title.

Is there a Better FDO Alternative? Instrumentl Examined

If you’ve read this far and you’re thinking FDO doesn’t fit your budget or lacks some of the tools you need, you might be wondering about other Foundation Directory Online alternatives.

Meet Instrumentl.

Founded in 2014, Instrumentl provides nonprofits with a seamless solution for grant discovery and research, collaborative grant management and reporting, and grant tracking—all in one place.

Instrumentl offers all of the services that FDO does, plus more—all with a user-friendly interface.

Here’s a breakdown of a few of Instrumentl’s top tools.

Prospect Research and Finding New RFPs

Instrumentl automatically searches RFPs based on information in your profile or for your specific projects thanks to its smart matching tool. Users also get email alerts of new matching opportunities.

Instrumentl’s comprehensive database lists more than 18,000 active grant opportunities and over 400,000 funders, including:

  • Private, family, and independent foundations
  • International foundations
  • Corporate foundations
  • U.S. Federal funding entities
  • Public charities

Thanks to Instrumentl’s Smart Matching features, finding good-fit funding opportunities has never been easier. Simply enter in your nonprofit’s mission, location, and funding needs, and Instrumentl will match you with a list of curated grants that align with what you’re looking for. 

From each of your grant matches, you’ll also be able to click into the Funder’s 990 Report to learn more about their:

  • Average grant size 
  • Past grantees 
  • Geographic giving preferences 
  • Openness to new grantees 
  • Funding by NTEE code
  • Key People
  • And more

Instrumentl’s 990 snapshots show you where a foundation has awarded grants in the past and for how much. 

With Instrumentl, you can also see how open a funder is to new grantees, helping you evaluate your chances of securing funding. 

These Advanced Funder Insights streamline prospect research and make it easy to quickly identify grants that are worth pursuing.

Grant tracking

Instrumentl isn’t just a prospecting tool—its features cover the entire grant lifecycle. 

Once you save a grant within the platform, it will be automatically saved to your Grant Tracker. Within this tracker, you’ll be able to: 

  • Manage deadlines 
  • Assign a status to each of your grants (e.g. “Researching” vs. “Planned”)
  • Assign tasks to your team
  • Store notes and documents

Everything is organized and easily accessible in one place, allowing you to navigate the grant application process seamlessly with your team.

Grant management

Instrumentl also makes it easy to manage all of your grants once they’ve been awarded. You never have to worry about missing a reporting deadline or progress report again. 

Within the Awards tab, you’ll be able to see:

  • The names of each of your awarded grants
  • How much they are for 
  • The grant period for each 
  • Their status 
  • When the next report is due 
  • Who is responsible for that report 
  • How much funding you’ve been awarded in total vs. how much you’ve received 

There’s a lot that goes into grant management and maintaining compliance with your funding. Instrumentl makes it easy to keep on top of your different awards and their requirements by consolidating everything in one intuitive dashboard.

Collaboration

Finding, winning, and managing grants doesn’t happen in a silo—which is why Instrumentl was designed with collaboration in mind. 

Your team can collaborate seamlessly within the platform so that everyone is on the same page and nothing gets missed. You can assign tasks to specific members of your team, allowing you to create a better system of accountability and keep your team performing at their best.

Reporting

Instrumentl also makes it easy to create a variety of reports for your organization’s stakeholders—whether it be your Director of Development, Board, or Executive Director. 

With the click of a button, you can report on funders you are researching, awards won, tasks, and more, making your team’s KPIs transparent.

Bottom line: Instrumentl offers more features than FDO and provides solutions to cover the entire grant lifecycle. With Instrumentl, you don’t have to use other tools or switch between fragmented spreadsheets—everything from active RFPs, funder profiles, tracking tools, awards breakdowns, reports, and more—is available in one place for your whole team to access.

Which Grant Management Platform Will You Use?

So, is Foundation Directory Online worth it? It’s a decent tool, but there are better alternatives available.

Many nonprofits and grant writing consultants subscribe to multiple foundation research platforms—but with Instrumentl, there’s no need to. Sign up today for a free, no-obligation 14-day trial and compare the difference for yourself.

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl is the all-in-one grant management tool for nonprofits and consultants who want to find and win more grants without the stress of juggling grant work through disparate tools and sticky notes.

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