Free Grant Research Tools You May Not Know About

by | Jan 24, 2024 | Development/Fundraising, Grant Research, Grant Writing

Grant research tools have become big business over the last two decades. Today, there are several competing paid databases you can subscribe to.

But not everyone has the budget to spend on a database and a staff member to navigate it. That’s where free grant research tools can come in handy. Luckily, there are more available than you might expect!


First, Make Sure You’re Grant-Ready

Grant readiness has many definitions, but here at Funding for Good we think of grant readiness in three stages:

1) Your governance, financials, and programs are in order.

Our grant readiness checklist covers all the basics that funders are going to ask for. This includes “attachments” like your 501c3 letter, 990, current year budget, and information about your core programs.

2) You know what you need to fund and by when.

Successful grant research starts with understanding and prioritizing your organization’s immediate and long-term funding needs. You also need to know the budget for those needs, the impact funding will have, and when you need funds in hand. Our guide to getting started with grant research covers this in more depth.

3) You have a strategic plan that guides your overall goals and funding priorities.

A strategic plan takes a long view of your organization’s mission, desired impact, and strategy to achieve that impact. This helps you communicate your vision more clearly and concisely with funders. Strategic plans also provide fantastic language about your organization that you can use directly in your grant applications!


The Grant Database Landscape

Candid is a powerhouse in grant research today and for good reason. In 2019, the Foundation Center and GuideStar merged to become a single nonprofit organization called Candid. For many years, the Foundation Directory was the main grant research database out there. It’s the one we’ve personally used the most over our careers.

While subscriptions for the Foundation Directory can be expensive, you can get free access by going to a local community access point (often local public libraries). For 2024, Candid is also offering a free annual Foundation Directory subscription for organizations with budgets under $1 million who update their nonprofit profile and earn a “Gold Seal of Transparency.”

When it comes to grant databases, Candid is no longer the only game in town, however. Other databases out there include GrantStation, Grant Finder from Inside Philanthropy, Instrumentl, GrantScape, GrantWatch, and Grant Gopher (which has a free membership level).

When selecting a database to use and/or subscribe to, keep in mind that what distinguishes a great grants database from a mediocre one is not all the bells and whistles and data visualizations. What matters is GOOD DATA.

How many foundations are in the database? Is the information accurate and recent? How much information on each funder is cross-searchable? How are grantmakers’ programmatic priorities determined and made searchable? Can you search by grants made to other organizations?

To get started, you can get free access to most grant databases, either through free trials or, as with the Foundation Directory, going to a community access point. If you’re able to set aside a week or two to immerse yourself in grant research, you can make a lot of progress with minimal added cost (besides your time, of course).


Free Newsletters

Many grants databases also provide free newsletters that can help you find funders, keep abreast of funding trends, and discover new requests for proposals (RFPs). Some subscriptions to start with include Philanthropy News Digest and GrantStation Insider.


Finding Government Grants

If you’re looking for federal, state, or local government grants, then is the place to go. They have a searchable database of current grant funding opportunities in areas like housing, education, arts, humanities, sciences, and more.

Keep in mind that federal grant writing is quite different from foundation grant writing. Because of the complexity involved in securing and administering government grants, some grant writers and grant managers specialize in this area.


Finding Local and Regional Grantmakers

For organizations whose work is very localized, family foundations, local community foundations, and regional grantmakers can be incredible funders and partners. As opposed to national foundations, these funders are much more familiar with community needs and are looking for local groups to support.

There are several ways to find local grantmakers without ever looking at a database. A simple online search using terms like “community foundation” and your state, city, or county, can reveal the names and websites of locally based foundations.

Also, check out the websites, annual reports, press releases, and event programs of other local nonprofits. Especially in event materials, organizations often thank their biggest funders.

You can also find information about regional grantmaker associations. To find associations in your area, you can start with the Council on Foundations and the United Philanthropy Forum. You can also try a simple online search like “regional grantmaker association” with your state or region.

These grantmaker associations may not always share the names of member foundations, but you can get leads by looking at board member affiliations, press releases, and other materials. For example, many board members of Philanthropy DMV, which serves grantmakers in the DC area, represent local foundations.


You Have Your Prospect List: Now What?

Once you have an initial list of funding prospects, your work is only just beginning!

You will need to delve into your prospects’ actual grantmaking practices (which may vary from their stated missions), check out grantmaking guidelines, see if they have any open RFPs, and find a way to make a connection. One helpful place to start is learning to read and gain insights from foundations’ 990s.

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