Research Tips: How to Find New Private Funds By Ashley Dooley, GPC

Did you know that awards issued in response to requests for proposals (RFP) account for less than 1% of total foundation giving? Stated differently, 99% of private foundation giving is not done through an RFP process! Funders are out there. The biggest question is how do you find them?

If you are tasked with finding funds to support an organization’s mission, you better put on your research hat. Cause IQ reports there are more than 130,000 private foundations in the United States. By law, private foundations must give out 5% of their assets for charitable purposes each year. A foundation with $2 million in assets is obligated to distribute $100,000 to nonprofit organizations or other foundations that year.

The Internal Revenue Service requires these grants and contributions be made public on each private foundation’s Form 990 – an annual tax statement for tax-exempt organizations. A Form 990 is a nonprofit organization’s equivalent to an individual’s Form 1040 annual tax form. Form 990 tells you whom to contact if they accept unsolicited proposals, what information and materials should be submitted with your proposal, and any restrictions or deadlines. This is also the easiest way to view the names of organizations that the private foundations supported, the amount of the money donated, and the high-level purpose for the donation. All of this information is located in Part XIV of the foundation’s Form 990. There are several websites that provide quick and easy access to Form 990s, including Guidestar, Cause IQ, and ProPublica to name a few.

Corporate foundations like the Walmart Foundation or Best Buy Foundation are not held to the same expectations. Many corporate foundations are operated as a charitable giving program of the for-profit organization rather than a separate entity. In these cases, the for-profit can choose if they want to release their corporate giving to the public or keep it internal and private. This can make it more difficult to research corporate foundations. The best way to access information on corporate foundations is to check their website, read their annual reports, and/or contact their foundation director or a program officer for more information.

Another effective way to research foundations – private and corporate, charitable funds, and trusts is through paid subscription services. One popular service is Candid’s Foundation Directory. If you have never used the Foundation Directory, it is like a gold mine of data. This directory has so many nuggets of information (e.g., the causes they fund, where they give, giving levels, who is on their board, and how to apply) all in a concise, easy-to-read format. You can even access years of the foundations’ giving history and download it as a spreadsheet to sort and manipulate. Because Foundation Directory is like gold, Candid has a hefty subscription fee, which may be out of your price range. Thankfully, many libraries carry a subscription so you can access it while onsite in select library branches.

If you would like to learn more about methods of locating funding sources and techniques to learn more about specific funders, Assel Grant Services has two on-demand training opportunities: Grants 101: Researching Grant Opportunities and Grants 201: Prospect Research.

This blog post is aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills.

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

Skill 1.3: Identify methods of locating funding sources

Skill 6.4: Identify techniques to learn about specific funders

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