Researching Potential Funders: Tools for Prospect Research

The last post focused on the resources you should assemble before you start researching potential funders.

In this post, we’ll move to the next step. Once you are clear on the project or activity to be funded, know how much funding you need, and have identified who will do the work, you are ready to start researching potential funders.

When you start to research funding opportunities, ideally you'll have the budget to pay for a subscription to a funding database to help you with your search. There are free options for funder research. However, paid tools are the way to go if you want access to the most comprehensive listings.

Below are profiles of six databases for foundation research and one government-sponsored database for U.S. government grants.

The foundation databases range from free to more than $1000/month. The databases content similar content, but vary in their focus. Some target an academic clientele while others are oriented more toward nonprofits. Which database will work best for you will depend on your budget, whether you want to be able to save your search results, and if you are interested in government grants or just foundation funding.

Prospect Research Tools for Foundations

If you want to research private foundations, subscribing to a donor database is going to be the most efficient way to conduct prospect research. Depending on the database, you'll find information on private foundations, corporate philanthropy programs, and sometimes even government agencies. The databases usually include descriptions of foundations and their funding interests and eligibility requirements. Many databases also provide links to each foundation's recent IRS filing (form 990).

If you decide to use free resources for your prospect research, some options include using a search engine such as Google and plugging in your keywords (project type, geographic location, etc.) and the words like “donor," “funder,” “philanthropy,” or “foundation" to see what comes up. Next, you'll need to follow the links to each foundation to review its website to determine if it has potential.

The advantage of a subscription database over Web-based research is that a paid database will give you most, if not all, of the information you need to decide whether a foundation could be a good fit so you do not have to vist the foundation's website or third-party resources.  Most databases also allow you to save your refined search results so you can return to them later, which is something you cannot do when using Google.

In addition to using donor databases, you can identify promising funding sources by examining the annual reports and IRS filings of nonprofits that do similar work to your own to see where they get their funding.

Six Funding Databases to Consider for Foundation Research

Foundation Center's Foundation Directory Online: The Foundation Center offers both free and paid content. The free content includes brief profiles of approximately 90,000 foundations. The profiles include the foundations' funding interests, year-end assets, and total giving. The free version is helpful if you have the name of a foundation and you want to get a quick idea of what it funds. The paid version of Foundation Directory Online is what you'll need if you want complete profiles of foundations and the ability to conduct searches and store data. There are three annual subscription plans ranging from $399 for one license to $1499. The Foundation Center says in its promotional materials that the Foundation Directory Online is the only resource you'll need to find foundation funding, which may very well be the case. However, there are several other options to consider.

Foundation Search: FoundationSearch is similar to the Foundation Center's premium version of Foundation Directory Online. The FoundationSearch database contains approximately 120,000 foundations and includes the funders areas of interest, giving trends, and past grant recipients. FoundationSearch does not list subscription prices on its website, so it is not possible to compare its pricing plans with the Foundation Center's. You can call FoundationSearch at 1-888-538-2763 for more information.

GrantSelect: GrantSelect's database includes government funding opportunities and foundation grants. GrantSelect advertises its searchable database as appropriate for "nonprofits, universities, research institutions and community organizations." GrantSelect offers two subscription levels. For individuals, the rates are $150/3 months or $495/year. For institutional subscriptions, you need to contact GrantSelect for a quote.  It is worth noting that GrantSelect markets its database to public libraries, allowing library patrons to access it for free from library computers.

Grant Forward: Grant Forward has been around since 2012 and targets academic institutions (of which it boasts 125 subscribers). It lists funding opportunities from both foundations and government agencies. Some of its features include a well-designed, attractive interface and the option to have new opportunities delivered to your email inbox.  Grant Forward updates its database twice a week, which makes it one of the most up-to-date grant databases (some databases only update monthly). Subscriptions range from $19/mo. for individuals to $1500 - $3000/mo. for institutions.

GrantStation: GrantStation is a very affordable donor database at $149/year. If you subscribe to the Chronicle of Philanthropy (individual subscription is $79/year), you can access it for free as a subscription benefit.  GrantStation lists private foundation and government grant sources and includes links to federal and state agencies. GrantStation can get the job done, and for newly formed nonprofits the price is right, but it would be difficult to rely on as your only resource. Unlike the premium databases listed above, GrantStation doesn't offer a way to save your search results.

NozaSearch: NozaSearch is a Blackbaud company. The subscription is not cheap. It costs about $900/year (or $99/mo.) for one license. Blackbaud offers a "free" foundation search option, but this only gets you the IRS form 990s of the foundations, which you can also get for free through the Foundation Center or Guidestar. NozaSearch allows you to search on donations by individuals as well as  foundation giving, which makes it an attractive for organizations trying to develop an individual giving campaign. Blackbaud advertises NozaSearch as the "largest database of charitable donations. " You can see a demo of the product at https://www.nozasearch.com/VideoDemo.aspx.

Prospect Research Tools for Government Grants

If you are interested in U.S. government grants, the only place you really need to go is www.grants.gov. Grants.gov is a U.S. government website that lists grant opportunities from 26 federal agencies. Because it is government sponsored, this is a free resource. Be aware that if you type “government grants” into Google you’ll see lots of ads for non-government affiliated websites that say they are the resource for government grants but actually are private sites offering fee-based services. To make sure you land on grants.gov, type "grants.gov" directly into your search bar, or, if using Google, make sure you land on a ".gov" website.

Grants.gov allows you to look up funding opportunities a few ways. You can look up opportunities by federal agency, by category, or by eligibility. You can also set up alerts to have opportunities meeting your search terms emailed to you.

Once you identify the federal agencies that are a good fit, it's always good to visit each agency website in addition to looking at their postings on grants.gov. Although many times the agency websites will direct you back to grants.gov, sometimes the agency websites post additional information about grant opportunities and application guidelines.

Next Step

In the next post, we'll cover how to track your search results and move to the next stage of the prospecting process, which is deciding which opportunities to pursue.