“Where do I look to find grants for my nonprofit?”
It’s a burning question so many nonprofits have, and to be honest, I can’t say that I blame them!
Getting grant funds is REALLY exciting!
For one, it’s usually a lot of money. Think about it: what could your nonprofit do right now with a $5,000 check?? (I bet a few different things just popped in your mind, didn’t they?)
Also, getting a grant means a funder places value on your nonprofit and trusts you’ll put their money to good use. Knowing this makes you stand a little taller and gives you a boost of confidence – and that’s something we all need occasionally.
Conducting research to find grants and funding opportunities is definitely the place to start if you want to be successful at getting grants and separate yourself from the strugglers.
It can be tricky, though, AND time consuming if you aren’t sure where to look…and your time is valuable.
To get the most out of your efforts, you need to know what you’re looking for and how to look for it. That clarity will save you a ton of time and effort.
So, before we dive into where to look to find grants, let me give you a few tips and tricks to help get you started down the right path and make your research more fruitful.
What You’re Looking For
Before you start researching to find grants, it’s imperative that you know what you’re looking for.
Answering these questions helps you get ready to go after grants, especially if your nonprofit is new, young, or small.
- Create a list of needs. Before you start researching, make sure you understand what you need funds for exactly. To do this, sit down with your leadership team and program folks to generate a list of needs for the upcoming year. Include things that are very specific to programming, like supplies, materials, and mileage for an existing program or startup funds for a new program. Also think about costs that are more general to the organization like funding your overhead. Keep brainstorming until you can’t think of anything else you might need money for.
- Prioritize your list. Once you have your list of needs, figure out which ones are the most important. Perhaps there are a few items that rise to the top of the list? Or maybe your Executive Director wants you to focus on certain ones? How ever you choose to prioritize, just be sure you understand which items come first.
- Determine costs. Next, put some dollar signs to those costs. While it’s important to know what you need to fund, knowing how much you need to fund is important too. Don’t guess how much supplies or staff will cost – do the research to find out exactly how much you’ll need to pay for everything.
- Rough out timelines. When do you need to have the money in-hand? This is important because the grants process can take a lot of time – from research and pulling together your submission to awaiting notification and then getting the funding (if approved!), this could take weeks or months. You’ll want to pad your timelines to account for this. If you need money next week or next month for a program, a grant is probably not the best option for funding.
How to Find Perfect Grant Opportunities
Once you have an idea of what you need to fund, what it will cost, and when you need the money, it’s time to find the perfect grant opportunities for your nonprofit.
Not every funder will want to give you grant money, so it’s important to refine your research so there’s a high probability that the grants you choose to apply for are a good match for your needs.
1. Know which funding you need – There are grants out there for things like programs, general operations, project, and capital – but not all funders award all of these. Some focus only on program and project support, while others may offer general operating support (these are not as common, though). Get clear on the type of funding you are seeking. Perhaps it’s a program grant to cover costs of running your homelessness program. Maybe you need grants to carry out a specific project you’d like to complete like building a playground for your domestic violence shelter. Or maybe you’re looking for general operating support so you have money to help pay monthly bills.
2. Use the 3-Way Fit Test. The ultimate goal of grant research is to find funders who are highly likely to fund your work. How do you do that? Use our 3-Way Fit Test to begin weeding out leads that don’t need to be on your prospect list because they’re simply not a good match.
Here are 3 ways that your program/project can match a funder’s interests. You need a “yes” to each one before adding that funding prospect to your final prospect list and your grant calendar.
- Geographic Fit– Funders typically choose to support nonprofits located in certain geographic areas. This may be a city, region, state, or country. When researching, if you find they don’t fund the area you serve, you’re not very likely to get a grant….so I wouldn’t consider them. But if they like funding nonprofits in your city, for example, it could be a match!
- Programmatic Fit– Consider a funder’s mission, goals, and areas of interest and make sure that what your nonprofit aligns with these. Otherwise, you’re not likely to get a grant. Let’s say you run a youth development program, and you find a funder whose priority is youth. It could be a match!
- Philanthropic Fit– Find funders who want to give away the type of funding you’re looking for, whether it’s programs, projects, general operating support, capital, or something else. If you need money to expand a program and they provide grants for program development, it could be a match! But if you’re looking for general operating funds and they only give grants for programs, you might not be so lucky.
3. Get to know the funder – Take time to really dig into the funder’s information to learn what types of nonprofits they like to fund. This is one of the most important keys to being successful with grants. Determine whether or not they’re a “hand-in-glove-fit” for your nonprofit’s funding needs. Look at who they’ve funded in the past by reviewing their IRS Form 990 (you can find these for free on www.Candid.org, formerly GuideStar.org) – this is always a revealing place to start. Also, don’t forget to review their grant guidelines, eligibility criteria, and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) if they have a website.
4. Make connections – After reviewing the information above, reach out to the funder and ask any clarifying questions if doing so is permitted by the funder (and they’ll explicitly state this in their guidelines or on their website).
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- What is an appropriate ask amount for a nonprofit who has never been funded by your foundation?
- What is your process for selecting who you fund?
- I’ve reviewed your website but would like to confirm: Are the submission instructions you’ve listed accurate or have there been any recent changes?
The answer to these questions not only give you more clarity about the funder, but also get you started with a relationship. Sometimes that one phone call can give you a leg up when it comes time for the funder to review grant proposals.
So now that you know a little bit more about what you’re looking for and how to look for it, let’s dive into where you’re going to find grants and funding opportunities without spending a ton of money to do it.
Where to Find Grants for FREE!
Beginning your search for funders can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are numerous free tools available online to help with prospect research. Here are 5 of our favorites.
1. Online Grant Research Databases
Grant research databases can help you narrow down your search and with a keyword search, you can find the funders best suited for your nonprofit. Here are a few of them.
Candid’s Foundation Directory Online Quick Start is a fast, easy-to-use tool that offers you free instant access to 100,000 U.S. foundation profiles. You can look up information by name, Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN), location, and even keywords. Candid was recently formed when GuideStar and Foundation Center merged together.
If you’re looking for deeper, more extensive grantmaking information, Candid’s Foundation Directory Online database provides access to over 140,000 foundation and corporate donors. This is a subscription-based service, but there’s a way to use it for free – through their Funding Information Network. This group of 400+ organizations – libraries, community foundations, and other nonprofit resource centers – offer you a way to access it from their location.
And if you need help navigating Foundation Directory Online, their Handy FDO Guide offers tips, best practices, and video tutorials. They offer free webinars to learn more too.
- Grant Gopher is for U.S. based organizations only. Their “Lite” version offers you access to grantmakers in their database currently accepting applications. You can search by state, county, program area (animal-related, education, housing/shelter, etc.), or keyword.
If it’s Federal grants you want, check out grants.gov. (They even have a mobile app – woah!) Their database is completely free to use, so all you need to do is set up an account to get access. They also have lots of helpful information if you want to learn more about Federal grants.
I make it a point to subscribe to several email newsletters to stay on top of the newest grant opportunities available. Here are some of the ones I read:
- fundsforNGOs is aimed at increasing the sustainability and capacity of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across the world. They offer tons of online resources, many of which are free. Although the grantmaker database they have isn’t free, signing up for their newsletter is! And you’ll get one every week with new ideas and information.
Candid offers their Philanthropy News Digest RFP Bulletin. (Click on the link and scroll all the way to the bottom to sign up.) Each Friday, you’ll receive information about a few upcoming deadlines and new Requests for Proposals (RFPs) posted within the week.
GrantStation Insider is delivered to you every Thursday. You’ll get the latest information on grantmakers and upcoming deadlines categorized by national, regional, and Federal funding opportunities.
For our international friends, check out the GrantStation International Insider. It’s delivered monthly and is categorized by international, Canadian, Canadian Government, and Federal funding opportunities.
If you create an account with Grant Gopher Lite, you’ll be added to their email list and receive Free Weekly News! This sampling of funding opportunities available in their database shares both national and regional grant leads.
Don’t forget to sign up for newsletters from funders that are on your radar. These can help you stay in the loop on their latest goings on and deadlines. Not every funder offers a newsletter, but for the ones that do, you’ll love getting inside info and advance notices.
Many banks have their own giving programs and foundations. But did you know they also manage foundations too?
Sometimes, private and family foundations will hire a bank to handle their philanthropic business, taking the burden off their Board of directors.
For the banks listed below, you can search online to find the foundations they service. If you find one that’s a good fit for your nonprofit, you can apply through their grant portal (conveniently located on the same website). As you’ll see when you click on the links below, the banks offer tools on their website that are set up like databases – enabling you to search the foundations by state or program area (health, human services, etc.).
Wells Fargo Philanthropic Services offers grant opportunities to nonprofits nationwide. As with any of these three bank sources, be sure to review a foundation’s guidelines before applying.
Bank of America’s Philanthropic Solutions manages more than 150 foundations, primarily in the following states: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Vermont and Washington.
J.P. Morgan’s Private Banking Foundation Finder is focused nationwide.
4. Search Engines
The resources I’ve shared so far are really comprehensive, and you can spend hours combing through them – which is not a bad thing if you’re truly focused on finding grants and funding opportunities that are a GOOD MATCH for your nonprofit.
I usually conduct about 10 to 12 hours of research for our clients and come up with about 14 or so prospects that align well with and match their needs.
One of the easiest free tools to find grants is through a search engine like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.
When you use one of these, focus on using keywords or key phrases that include the type of thing or program you’re wanting to fund (art, horses, mentoring programs, etc.) and a location where the money will be used.
The more refined you make the search, the more relevant results you’ll get.
So, search for things like:
- Grants for youth programs in Connecticut
- Grants for domestic violence nonprofits in Salt Lake City
- Capital grants Detroit
- General operating support grants Auburn, AL
- Health care grants Orange County, CA
See how that works? Now, you may not find as many leads as you do with searchable grant databases, but there may be a few gems you uncover that can turn into funding for your nonprofit. It’s happened to be before – plenty of times!
In fact, I came across a really good prospect not long ago when looking for grants for environmentally-friendly volunteer service projects for a client. I’d exhausted my searches of grant databases and the banks, and I’d looked back through all the newsletters I keep. But when I searched on Google, I had something pop up about an AARP Community Challenge Grant. Upon closer review, it was a great good fit for the client! Had I not done a quick internet search, I would never have found this opportunity.
By the way, using Google Advanced Search can help you narrow down your search, too. It prompts you to plug in more detailed information than you would with Google’s simple search bar, and then you can refine your results by language, region, and more. So, don’t forget about this tool when you’re doing internet searches!
5. Word of Mouth
Never dismiss the effectiveness of spreading the word!
Your Board of directors and volunteers can be a wealth of resources when you start doing grant research. While every lead they send your way may not turn out to be a solid prospect, it doesn’t hurt to ask – does it?
To help them be the most help to you, let them know you’re putting together a list of potential funders you’d like to research to see if they’re a good fit for your nonprofit and your needs. Ask your Board and volunteers if they have connections with foundations, corporate foundations, etc. who might be interested in funding the type of programs and projects you do. If one of them does, ask if he or she would be willing to introduce you to his or her contact. (Of course, you’ll also want to confirm for yourself that the lead is a good match for your nonprofit before you get too excited.)
And be sure your Board member or volunteer understands that you’re not asking them to put pressure on their contact or try to influence them in any way. You just want them to make a connection because that alone can make the difference in whether or not you get a grant.
The Bottom Line
Knowing where to find grants is critical if you want money to pay for programs and projects.
Being strategic about research makes all the difference in the world. Knowing where to look and what you’re looking for will minimize wasted time and maximize the number of best matches for your nonprofit.
And THAT will increase your chances at getting grants for your nonprofit.