Comparing Grant Research Databases

by | May 24, 2024 | Development/Fundraising, Grant Research


There are lots of articles out there comparing grant research databases, but most are just lists of features. They don’t tell you how different tools stack up with hands-on use. Which databases are easy to navigate? Which ones are clunky? Which ones save you the most time and make grant research the most efficient?

To find out, we asked the professional grant consultants in our consulting community which tools they use most and why. Here’s what we learned.



The big winner among professional grant consultants is Instrumentl. One consultant shared that,

“I’ve used Instrumentl, CauseIQ, Foundation Directory, and GrantStation. Instrumentl is hands down my favorite! Instrumentl is so much more than just a grant/funder database. They have really upped the technology.”

Here’s what grant professionals like most about Instrumentl:

  • Great data and highly intuitive interface. Ease of use was a consistent theme. Grant researchers reported being able to find the data they needed when they needed it. Plus, bonus tools like the grants calendar and tasks (see below), were intuitive to set up and use.
  • Automated grant research updates. One grant researcher described the magic of being able to set up a grant research project—using keywords, geographies, and other factors—and then letting Instrumentl run ongoing searches for you. He explains that “Every week I get an email that says ‘you have 10 new grant prospects that match your project.’” He then goes in and reviews and categorizes each prospect—for example, to research more, not a match, or already submitted—to create a living grant pipeline.
  • Good for visual learners. Grant consultants appreciated how information is presented in a way that makes it easy to quickly grasp the content and make a plan. For example, the presentation of foundations’ 990 financials, including past grantees, was “easier to digest” than in other databases.
  • Grants calendar and tasks features are a major value add. Grant consultants rave about the built-in grants calendar and tasks tools that enable Instrumentl to be more than just a research database. With calendars and tasks, organizations can actually manage their grants pipeline within Instrumentl, streamlining what can otherwise be a more cumbersome process.
  • Customer support and training resources. According to our grant professionals, Instrumentl’s customer service is “responsive and has a warm personal touch.” They also report taking advantage of the “great educational resources and trainings, too.”

As of May 2024, pricing for Instrumentl starts at $179 per month.


Candid’s Foundation Directory Online (FDO)

The Foundation Directory Online (FDO) is one of the most popular grant research databases out there. It’s been around for decades. With high-quality data, it’s helped countless nonprofits find grant funding.

Here are some pros and cons our grant consultants shared:

  • Great data. According to our grant consulting experts, FDO and Instrumentl have comparable data quality. However, FDO can allow you to get a bit more nuanced, drilling all the way down to the Congressional District level for funding prospects. Sometimes, FDO funder profiles also include copies of their actual grant application questions.
  • Many nonprofits have been using FDO for years. If conducting grant research feels daunting, using a more familiar tool can make the process easier.
  • Free access at libraries nationwide. FDO’s biggest benefit is that it can be accessed by anyone free at libraries across the country. If your organization is on a tight budget or just getting started fundraising, this can be an incredible resource. You can find locations online at Candid’s website.
  • Less functionality for the price tag. Many of our grant consultants reported having switched from FDO to Instrumentl in recent years. The main reason was ease of use, with grant professionals reporting that FDO can feel “congested and frustrating,” with lots of clicking back and forth to get the data you need.

FDO offers annual and monthly pricing plans. As of May 2024, annual plans for the full database or “professional” level cost $1,599. More flexible monthly subscriptions cost $219.99 per month.

FDO does offer an “essential” plan at a lower price point, but it includes fewer grantmakers and far less data overall, which will limit its usefulness.


Cause IQ

If you’re looking for more customization of data and more detailed searches (such as going down to metropolitan statistical areas), then Cause IQ may be a good option for you. However, our grant professionals report that it lacks the functionality of other platforms, such as creating grant calendars and tasks.

Pricing for Cause IQ varies based on how much data you want access to and the desired nuance. There is a free subscription option, which has limited functions but may be attractive for startup nonprofits. The Core Subscription starts at $199 per month or $999 if paid in an annual payment.


Grant Gopher

For those on a tight budget, Grant Gopher offers a $9 per month subscription as well as a more limited free option. Note that Grant Gopher does not include 990s, so you will need to find those elsewhere for further research.

While Grant Gopher’s data is much more limited compared to other tools reviewed here, it may still help you find grants for your nonprofit especially if you are just getting started.

If you’re on a tight budget, check out our roundup of free grant research tools.


Which Grants Research Database Is Right for You?

Choosing a grants research database is about more than just a list of features or the monthly price tag. What you’re looking for is a reliable partner on your grant fundraising journey. You want to be able to find the data you need when you need it. And you want it to fit into—or even improve—your workflow.

So when you’re choosing a grants database, start by understanding your organization’s grant needs and the gaps in your current tools—and then find the database that adds the most value for you.

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