Grant Writing 101 – Identifying Potential Funders

Welcome back for my next installment of Grant Writing 101. The last couple of posts we’ve been exploring grants eligibility – whether or not you or your organization is actually in the right stage of your career/organization life cycle to apply for a grant.

This week, I’ll walk you through how to identify potential grant funding, different resources for researching funders, how to “qualify” or verify that you fit the funder’s giving guidelines and priorities, and how to prioritize and track your grant application timelines. This will probably span more than one post.

How to Identify Potential Grant Funding

Prospect research is a huge sub-field within nonprofit fund development, with algorithms and formulas for calculating a donor’s potential giving capacity, giving timeline, and overall wealth. But there are many tricks and tools for the small development shop and individual artist to identify and research grant opportunities.

Grant Research Tactics

Grant Prospecting

Whether you use an online grant database like Foundation Directory, FoundationSearch, or GrantStation, or simply use Google to do a keyword search online, eventually you’ll end up with a list of foundations, businesses, and government agencies that might possibly fund your work or programs. When you get your list together, you’re going to want to validate or “qualify” your list.

It’s helpful to organize the information from each of your prospects in a table like the one shown below, so you can easily view and sort by the different qualifying data, including:

  • Funding priorities
  • Eligibility requirements
  • Average grant size
  • Other nonprofits and projects supported
  • Geographic focus of the funder’s support
  • Types of support (general operating, project, endowment, capital campaign, scholarships, etc.)

Check to make sure that your project falls under the funder’s specific funding priorities or giving guidelines. Most funders have this clearly listed on their websites. You don’t want to waste your time or theirs by creating a proposal that is outside their interests right from the start. (Screen grab from the Donnelly Foundation website.)

Carefully check the eligibility requirements for the grant opportunity in which you are interested in applying. To the right, we can see eligibility requirements for individual artists grants from the Illinois Arts Council, but funders also have specific guidelines for organization grants too, including number of years providing services and the current size of your operating budget.

Also make sure that the funder has an open submission process. Many foundations accept proposals on an “invite-only” basis. This means you will need a personal connection or contact to the foundation staff or board before you can apply.

Due dates will be of the utmost importance in prioritizing which proposals to apply for first and also to know if a particular funding mechanism (grant opportunity) will be available in time to complete your project. If a funding deadline is June 1, and your project needs funding by April, then that opportunity is not going to be the right fit for that project. Due dates are usually very prominently listed. Below you can see the National Institutes of Health’s grid for application due dates based on activity codes (aka funding mechanism/grant opportunity).

Additionally, you’ll want to check specific requirements by the funder on the geographic location that they support. Some funders only fund locally or regionally, while some fund nationally and internationally.

Make sure to check that the funder gives the kind of support you need. For example, if you are looking for general operating support and the funder only gives programmatic support, your proposal that you spent hours and hours perfecting will be quickly tossed out. This information can typically also be found alongside the funder’s eligibility requirements.

Finally, many funders these days keep open public databases on the grants they have made, meaning you can look up exactly who they’ve previously funded under any given opportunity and what kind of projects they funded. This is invaluable information into the mindset and preferences of the funder. You can also see what size grant they typically award so that you can tailor your proposal to request a grant that fits within their giving trends. You don’t want to request $50,000 if their average grant size is only $5,000.

When looking at past giving, also check how much of their past giving has been to the same organizations and how many grants they’ve made to new organizations. If 75% or more of their grants are made to the same group of grantees each year, then only 25% of their grants are for new grantees, and it can be exponentially less of a chance when you look at the amount of the grant awards given in each of those groups.

This is just an intro to basic grants prospecting and research. If you have specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. And in the meantime remember the first rule of fundraising! Ask!

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