Project Research Success: How to find Grants

by | Aug 28, 2019 | Development/Fundraising, Grant Research

Does grant research seem overwhelming?

Do you struggle to determine where and how to find foundations that want to fund your current needs? Project research success depends on various factors.

Grant research is not as simple as sitting down and searching for one keyword, phrase, or type of funding. Just like grant writing is not as simple as sitting down and putting words on paper.

Wouldn’t it be great if project research success were that easy?

Successful grant writing begins with successful prospect research. Finding the foundations whose priorities are well-matched to your current needs is the result of successful prospect research AND planning.

The burning questions most new grant writers have is, ‘how to effectively conduct grant research.’

Some folks wait for grant opportunities to fall in their lap or pop-up in their inbox. Project research success happens when grant writers go out and search for the opportunities that match their needs. Then they create a plan for writing, submitting, and managing those proposals.

Project Research Success in the world of grants is all about planning. Specifically, planning ahead. We tell folks to start planning and researching a year before you need the dollars in-hand. Did you know it can take 6-9 months to secure grant dollars? That means you should to identify your needs. Estimate dollars required for each cost and set a timeline for when you require money in-hand. You need to research prospects and build relationships with foundation staffThen you work on and submit proposals. You may need to wait on determinations and then follow the foundation’s guidelines by signing contracts or writing letters requesting the dollars, etc. THEN, you get your money.

Today, let’s break down the grant research piece of this process.

Effective grant research is a task that takes a while to perfect. There are some simple steps you can take prior to starting the research process that will save you time and frustration, as well as uncover the best prospects.

 Consider incorporating the following items into your grant research process:

1.  Identify current needs – Meet with program/project staff and generate a needs list for the next 12-months. Be sure to meet with your organization’s leadership as well. Some items may be for the overall organization.
2.  Prioritize the needs list – Determine with your leadership which items are needs versus wishes, and what items take priority over others. This will help you establish a focus for your research efforts.

3. Identify the cost associated with each need –  Not only is it important to know your needs, but you must know how much they cost. It is very difficult to successfully identify prospects when you don’t know how much you need them to support. Many foundations list restrictions on award amounts, percentages of project costs they will fund, etc. If you start research without this data, you will not be able to exclude prospects whose parameters are outside your need.

4. Establish a timeline for when you need the dollars in-hand – For each need you identify, you also need to know when the money has to be in-hand. This helps you evaluate grant deadlines, when grant proposals are reviewed, and when dollars can be expected. Some foundations will allow you to pay yourself back if you spend money before the check arrives from a foundation. Many will not. This is a question you need to ask prior to submitting a proposal. If the dollars won’t come in time for the project and you can’t pay yourself back for the expense, should you apply for the funding? Probably not.

5. Identify the program/project geographic focus – In order to determine which prospects might fund your project, you have to know your service area. It is one city, county, multi-county area, region of a state, a state, national? Once you determine this information, you can even search by foundations who fund organizations in those specific areas. *Note there is a difference in service area and impact area. Be sure you are able to identify both.

6. What is the organization’s total operating budget – Do you know the organizational operating budget of the groups for which you are writing grants? When researching foundations, many have limitations based on operating budget. Some may say they only support organizations with operating budgets of $250K or less. Other organizations support if there is an operating budgets of $1 million or more for example. If you don’t know the budget, how you can determine if these foundations are a good fit?

7.  Who has supported the organization in the past – It helps to know which foundations have supported the organization in the past, so there is not a duplication of results. Additionally, with that list, you can research when they last they gave and for what amount. Furthermore, you want to know what program(s) were funded and if your group is eligible to apply again or not. 990-PFs are helpful for locating this information.

8.  Who has declined a proposal in the past – Just as important as knowing who funded your group, is knowing who declined to fund, and why. Maybe a proposal was declined, but your group was encouraged to apply again the following year. Maybe a proposal was declined because it was a bad match, but now you have a better match. Perhaps a proposal was declined because the organization wasn’t a good fit for the foundation.  Knowing all of this information will help determine if you should or should not reach out to a foundation again and follow up on a new proposal. Many times this information gets lost in staff transitions. Especially for groups who are not working with donor software and tracking these types of notes. Too often this kind of historical knowledge leaves with the staff who knows it.

9.  Who does similar work – Try to identify two or three nonprofit organizations that do similar work to your organization, as close to your region as possible. Then, go out and research who funded those organizations in the past. You can cross-reference the funding organizations for these folks and see who has funded you and who has not. The ones that have not might be a great fit for you if they have funded similar organizations in your area.

Grant research is a lot of work. If you prepare ahead of time and get the answers you need to be successful, you might be surprised at how much you can find and how quickly.
If you still feel like you need some help with grant research, or you just don’t have the time to do it yourself, check out our Grant Research Package. Fall grant season is upon us. If you need a pro in your pocket to find the foundation’s that want to fund your work, let us simplify your life.



Happy researching!

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