Before you even start writing grants, it’s important to seek out the best possible opportunities for your nonprofit. Each grantmaker – whether a governmental agency or a family foundation – has their own worldview that informs their approach to making grants. Some focus on the environment, with specific goals of preserving endangered species, or cleaning up after oil spills. Others run homeless shelters, fund after school programs, or provide medical services to underserved communities.
So one of the first steps, before you even write a grant, is to simply matching your nonprofit’s programs, activities, and goals with certain grantmakers. And the way to do this is through extensive grant prospect research.
Most grant prospect research takes place on the Internet. Many grant writers use subscription-based databases like The Foundation Directory Online from the Foundation Center – this is the single most comprehensive database of foundations and corporations and allows a user to search more than 140,000 entries by location, size, subject area, and more. By carefully adjusting these search terms, you’ll find a strong list of potential prospects.
From there, these prospects need to be whittled down into the strongest matches. You can do that by clicking on each entry and reading more about the grantmaker. You can also find contact information, grant application guidelines and deadline information, 990s, board information, and see whether they have a website to learn more.
It’s important to read through all of this information carefully and thoroughly. It can take a lot of time, but that time investment will pay dividends if you identify the best funders to approach. Writing a grant is time consuming, too, so the more heavy lifting you do at the prospect research phase, the more time you’ll save later on by not sending applications to funders that don’t align with your work.
Be on the lookout for information on the funder’s worldview. They may have detailed guidelines buried in their 990, for example, or written out in detail on their website. You can—and should—contact the grantmaker to learn more about what they’re funding and get questions answered before you apply. And by reading up on past grantees, you can gain insight into what they’ve funded in the past and how much money they typically give per grant. All of this informs your approach, and without this careful research, you’re flying blind when it comes to writing the grant.
Beyond prospect research, find out what else it takes to be successful with grant writing.