When most people think about applying for grants, they imagine sitting down at a desk, rolling up their sleeves, and knocking out twenty pages of content. Writing compelling proposals is a crucial part of the process, but it is not the most critical step, nor is it the first step. Grant writing is the paint and brush, but for the process to be successful, you need to have a canvas.
The first step in the grant writing process is research. Applying for the right grant is just as important as any other aspect of the cycle. For example, foundations have stringent requirements about whom they will fund, what type of funding they provide, and the geographic focus of their philanthropy. If you disregard those specifics, you will not have success.
Research saves you time so that you don’t spend hours working on a grant that fails to meet all the requirements. There is no point in writing a proposal for funds to support a food pantry in Idaho to a Foundation that only supports Animal Shelters in Kansas.
You may even come across a grant opportunity that directly relates to work that you are engaged in; however, if the foundation funds a specific area that you do not operate in, you won’t be successful. For these reasons, research is critical.
Knowing where to look when conducting foundation research will make all the difference. If you open up Google and type in “nonprofit grants,” you are going to become overwhelmed quickly. Accessing the right database makes the process more comfortable and more productive. Luckily there are research tools available to you to help you find the best grant opportunities. However, there may not be as many as you think and that is a good thing. The comprehensive grant databases listed below contain information on hundreds of thousands of opportunities. What that means for you is that you can visit these sources and find lots of funding opportunities.
Grant databases such as Foundation Directory or Grant Station make searching for appropriate grants easy. With these databases, you can search for foundations that match your specific needs and see a list of several possibilities. These databases contain search filters that allow you to narrow the list by nonprofit or for-profit, national or state, types of funding, and areas of focus. You can also search for keywords.
You can narrow the search as much or as little as you prefer. For instance, you can search for federal agencies that provide funding for children, or you can search for foundations whose focus area is Boise, Idaho, and who fund endowments for organizations that serve Deaf artists. There are benefits to both approaches. Sometimes it is helpful to get an idea of the breadth of the sector; other times, it is beneficial to evaluate who funds your niche audience. One helpful feature of these databases is that you can search for funders from various categories. For instance, you can search for US Charitable Foundations, US Federal Agencies, US State Governmental Agencies, and even international groups.
Grant databases cost money. However, if you can’t afford the subscription fees, there are still ways that you can access these research tools. Check the database’s website to find local libraries that hold a subscription or contact your local academic institution to see if you can conduct research there. Or even make friends with another nonprofit and see if they will let you do some research in return for a trade of some sort. Also, make sure to check your local nonprofit association, for instance, members of the Michigan Nonprofit Association receive free access to Grant Station. There are many reasons for your organization to join its local nonprofit association, and resources like Grant Station make the membership fee pay for itself.
Another way to research without paying subscription fees is to change up your search engine approach. Searching for “education grants” or “Start-up funding” on Google will lead you down a rabbit hole of links. Instead, search for foundations in your area and then make a list of their funding priorities. Local funders are much more likely to support your work than national funders, especially at the beginning of your grant-seeking the journey. Through the process of learning more about your local resources, you will begin to build relationships with meaningful social capital in your area.
Federal Grant Research
The primary source for information on federal grants is www.grants.gov. Here you will find a listing of all the current grant opportunities as well as a wealth of data regarding how to apply for federal grants. A few areas of the website to pay close attention to for new grant writers is the “Search Grant” page, which lists all the available opportunities, including the agency that is administering the funds and where you can find more information.This search function is similar to other grant databases in that you can filter results to match your program area.
Another area to know about is the “Grant Terminology” page under “Learn Grants.” Federal grants have specific terms and phrases that you will need to understand. If you come across a word that you are unaware of the meaning of, check the terminology page for more information.
State grant opportunities are also listed on grants.gov however you can also conduct research locally to find out more information. Call your state-level department to inquire about opportunities. For instance, if your project focuses around housing then call your housing authority to find out if they have any new leads on grants. If they don’t have any more information than what is currently listed on grants.gov ask if they have a mailing list you can join to receive up to date information on new opportunities.
After you identify a list of prospective grantors, it is wise to go one step further. Websites of granting organizations carry a wealth of information. First, learn as much about the grantor as possible. Are they the giving arm of a corporation? Or, possibly, they are a community foundation. Maybe they a private family foundation or civic community development enterprise? These are essential things to know about any grantor because they will inform the application process and approach.
Next, make sure to pay attention to the list of giving priorities for each prospect. The grant database may note that a foundation supports journalism projects. Still, you may find on their website that they only support print-media, these are essential pieces of information to garner.
Websites are also perfect places to learn more about a grantor’s giving history. Often prospective funders will list recent projects that they funded. This information will help you understand the types of organizations that receive funding. For instance, you may learn that the vast majority of the organizations financed are educational institutions. If this is the case, you are probably less likely to secure funding as a for-profit or grassroots nonprofit.
In addition to learning about the types of projects funded by a grantor, you should also be able to get an idea for the typical gift amount. This information is helpful because you don’t want to ask for significantly higher or lower dollar amounts than what an organization tends to award. Some grantors will not fund projects below $50,000, whereas others give out micro-grants. You don’t want to waste your time asking for $375,000 from a funder that awards one, $10,000 grant per year.
Lastly, a grantor’s website will offer helpful information about how to apply for their grants. You will find out if they expect you to send in a paper copy of the proposal or if they want you to submit everything through an online system. You will also learn whether they have a strict format or template that they want you to use or if they are less specific about the structure of your proposal. Paying attention to these details is important.
If you or the organization you are seeking grant funds to support are new to the grant writing world, then a smart approach is to start small. Funders pay attention to who else is supporting your work because having outside support and a track record of successful grant management means that you can be trusted. Therefore, if you need $400,000 to start a new project, but have never received grant funding before, then instead of looking for funders who award that amount, start with grantors who allocate smaller amounts.
These smaller grants may be easier to obtain, and when awarded a grant, a funder will often send you a digital copy of their logo for you to use in your promotional material. They may also produce a press release that you can share on your website or social media accounts. Promote the new and fruitful collaboration in as many places as possible to encourage larger funders to support your work.
If funders know that your organization can be trusted to steward lower amounts of money, then they will likely trust you with more significant amounts. Additionally, the locally funding world is small; the Program Officers of different organizations probably know each other and may discuss your group at a conference or networking event. This type of free advertising is priceless.
Research is the canvas for any successful grant; it is the basis for all the steps moving forward and the necessary action to identifying potential funding prospects. Spending the time to conduct careful research saves time in the long run because it helps you avoid applying for grants that don’t match your project.
Grant databases are the best place to begin your research, and there are many ways to access grant databases made to fit any budget. However, after compiling a list of potential grantors, it is always crucial to check out that grantor’s website to learn as much as you can about the types of projects they fund and the process for applying.
If you want to improve your grant statistics, you need to start at the beginning. Paying attention to the research portion of your grant process, you will save time and money.