Finding grants is on the mind of most every fundraiser.

After all, grants are a great part of an annual fundraising plan.

Having a full grant pipeline means funding for programs, projects, and equipment for your nonprofit.

According to Giving USA, U.S. foundations give away millions in grants to deserving nonprofits every year.
finding grants
But here’s the bad news: hundreds of thousands of nonprofits are applying for those grants.

The number of nonprofits has grown tremendously. Today, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. alone, not counting the ones in other countries.

What this means is you have a lot of competition.

You can’t afford to waste time on grant opportunities that aren’t a good fit for your nonprofit or the programs and projects you need funded. 

You must find your best opportunities.

I remember the first time I tackled grant prospect research. It was over 20 years ago, and the Internet was in its infancy, so there were no foundation websites to explore. We had to purchase big volumes of the Foundation Directory to review foundations. Fun times!

When I got my hands on that book, I thought I’d found a goldmine! Here was all the money I would ever need – no need to do any other type of fundraising.

At the time, I didn’t understand the importance of building relationships with funders or that there was not an endless supply of money to go around no matter how strong my case for support. After a few rejections and follow-up phone calls, it didn’t take long to realize this was not as easy as it looked.

Eventually, I learned all about finding grants and how to recognize a good grant opportunity for my nonprofit.

Now I share with you what I figured out the hard way. Let’s start with the top 6 questions to ask yourself when you’re researching grant prospects and finding grants.

1. Where do they fund?

finding grantsMost foundations have specific geographic areas they want to fund.

Even foundations that fund nationally often have certain areas of the country or world they are interested in. And it can change from year to year when they re-evaluate where they want to have an impact.

If the foundation’s guidelines are not specific, look through the funder’s 990s at The list of grants awarded almost always includes the city and state where the awardee is located.

Is there a pattern? For example, if a foundation is consistently giving grants to one nonprofit in your community, then the interest is probably in that nonprofit and not that community. More than likely, the nonprofit has been singled out by a foundation Board member.

If they give to a variety of nonprofits in your area, then that foundation is a better possibility.

The takeaway? Make sure that the foundation you’re considering gives in your area.

A geographic match is essential to finding grants.

2. What kinds of programs do they fund?

Next, find out if the foundation you’re considering cares about your cause.

Do their priorities include the issue you’re trying to address? Are they, like you, interested in making a difference in a specific area like homelessness, animal welfare, economic development, K-12 education, etc?

Often, foundations will list their areas of focus on their website or in their grant guidelines. If not, look up their 990 and see who else they’ve given to. If you find organizations working in the same niche as your nonprofit, that’s a good sign. You’ve probably got a shot at getting a grant.

If the foundation funds in your geographic area and is supporting solutions for the problem you are working to solve, keep digging into the guidelines. Otherwise, move on to the next prospect.

3. What types of grants do they make?

As you’re looking for grant opportunities, make sure the foundation you’re considering awards the type of grants you need for your program or project.

Every foundation is different and they all give different kinds of grants.

Evaluate each foundation to see if they give grants for operating expenses, salaries, equipment, capital or capacity building. Some will give only toward programs but not salaries. Others will give unrestricted money. The deeper your research, the more you can uncover exactly what you’re looking for.

If the foundation you’re considering doesn’t provide the type of funding you’re looking for, move on.

4. How much do they give?

finding grantsAsking for the right amount is critical in finding grants and getting them.

It’s not hard to figure out how much a foundation is likely to give to your nonprofit.

Sometimes they’ll say on their website or in their grant guidelines what their average grant is. Or they’ll mention the range they typically give. That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t give more, but larger grants tend to go to nonprofits who have a strong relationship with the foundation or a foundation Board member.

Take a look at the foundation’s 990. What is the range of grants they gave for the year reported? If you are a first-time applicant, choose an amount lower on the range. The largest grants often go to previous grantees and those that have established relationships with the foundation.

Don’t shoot for the moon and ask for the entire amount of your project. It’s unlikely that one foundation will want to fund the whole thing. Many foundations want to only give a portion of what you need because they know that when you have multiple donors or foundations giving, it actually creates stability for your nonprofit.

Study the information you can find about how much they give and make your decision based on that.

5. When do they give?

Many foundations have specific grant cycles with specific deadlines during the year. Some might give only once and others may give quarterly.

Some foundations have no deadlines and you can apply any time throughout the year.

For each foundation you are considering applying to, see if the foundation has concrete deadlines. Is that deadline for a full proposal or do they ask for a letter of inquiry first?

Once you know what the deadlines are for the grants you are considering, you can create a Grant Deadline Calendar to help you stay on top of what’s due and when it’s due.

Another thing to consider in finding and getting grants is the timing for your project. Will grant funding be available in time for you move forward with your project? If not, you might need to look elsewhere for funding opportunities that match your needs.

6. Does my nonprofit have an inside contact with a foundation staff or Board member?

finding grantsAs you’re finding grants, remember that a personal contact can be the single biggest factor in whether you get a grant or not.

Always ask your nonprofit’s Board members and key donors if they know someone connected with your grant prospects. Because they just might.

And that relationship might be the connection you need to get your application moved to the top of the pile. Or it might give the foundation a bit more confidence that your nonprofit is trustworthy and can handle the grant well.

The Bottom Line in Finding Grants

Finding grants (and getting them!) is harder than it looks.

It’s best to find opportunities that are a hand-in-glove fit for your nonprofit’s funding needs.

Sending a blanket request is a waste of your time.

So, take the time to research foundations carefully, answering these 6 questions, to find those that are worth pursuing.

You’ll be on your way to getting more grants in no time!