Ready, Set, Research! by Emily Hampton, MPA

Grants can seem like an easy way to fund our organizations. You just write a request and then the check arrives! This sounds much easier than meeting with individual donors, planning fundraising events, or coming up with a way to bring in earned income…right? Not necessarily. There’s a lot to think about when creating a compelling grant proposal, not to mention the potential tracking and reporting that comes along with that funding. And, depending on the amount of competition, there’s a high likelihood you will spend all of that time writing and the check will, in fact, NOT arrive. But there’s a way to maximize your grant writing time so that it’s less likely to be a waste in the end. On the front end, put that time into research!

“I’m a grant writer, not a researcher,” you might say. Well, if you don’t put the time into researching, your writing will be a frustrating and fruitless endeavor. As grant writers, fundraisers, development professionals, or executive directors, our tendency can be to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. But here’s the thing: your organization’s work is important. Whether you’re rescuing animals, protecting land, feeding people, or teaching children, you have better things to do than sit around putting words on a page for hundreds of funders who are not a fit for your mission. Being strategic with your time will allow you to not only save yourself aggravation and disappointment, but also spend your time where it should be – making positive change.

So, how can you be most efficient in your research? Before you begin, I want you to do one simple but crucial thing. I see the dollar signs flashing in your eyes and I want you to replace those with the faces of your clients. As you are researching the many funders in your area, your focus must be on the program needs and not just the money. Otherwise, as I’ve mentioned, you’ll be wasting your time writing for funds that you either won’t get because the funder isn’t aligned with your mission and current needs, or you’ll get the funds but they’ll be paying for something you didn’t need to begin with! This only creates more work and leaves gaps where the funds were truly needed. In summary, not all money is money you want. I know, hard to believe.

When you know clearly what your organization needs funding for, you can search using terms that fit that need/program. But where do you search?? Google knows all, right? Shockingly, a Google search does have its limits. Fortunately, there are many sites whose entire focus is helping you find those funds. Common places to look are Grant StationeCivisGrant Watch, and Grants Wire. You can also subscribe to receive email notifications of upcoming grant opportunities through sites such as the Grantsmanship Center and several of those I’ve listed. While these are all reputable sources and shouldn’t be overlooked, the site I’ve found to be most updated and complete is Foundation Directory Online. They have in-depth profiles on virtually every foundation in the country. The profiles include geographic emphasis, focus areas, contact information, deadlines, and how to apply. You can search based on a variety of advanced search options including location, area of interest, and type of funding such as capital projects or operating costs.

According to Foundation Directory Online, 90% of U.S. Foundations don’t have websites. And I can vouch for that after much time spent seeking foundation details! So, while it is not a perfect system, most often, Foundation Directory Online truly does have the most information available when researching a good funding fit. Unfortunately, the site is not free…but wait! You can access it for free at one of their partner locations, often a nearby library. You can go to and search by zip to see where the closest free access point is for you. And if you do have $120 or so each month to spare, it is likely worth the investment so you can access it from the office.

Along with using Foundation Directory, you may want to look up funders’ 990s on Guidestar (especially for those funders who don’t have websites) to get more detail on who they have funded in the past and the average gift size they award. And guess what! Foundation Directory Online and Guidestar recently merged! They are both operated under the name Candid, and – based on a conference session I attended with them – they are working diligently to make the resource more user-friendly and responsive to your needs.

With that, I’ll let you begin your research! Of course, there is much more to it, and many more valuable resources to explore such as for federal funding opportunities. But trust me, in order to save time for your important work, you will want to explore Candid first. And remember, search with terms that match the current need of your clients and organization rather than general pulls that lead you down a road to disappointment. And while you’re spending your time on this important task, don’t forget to track the details you find! A simple spreadsheet can be your best friend in funding research and ensure your discoveries are not lost in the end. And if you or your agency is struggling to make sense of Candid or would just like help with the general research process, we at Assel Grant Services are more than happy to discuss how we can help. Good luck!

GPC Competency #1: Knowledge of how to research, identify, and match funding resources to meet specific needs

Skill #3: Identify methods of locating funding sources

by Emily Hampton, MPA