5 Tips for Finding the Perfect Grant Funder


Ever wonder where organizations find those granting organizations who provide funding for their mission year after year? Like good detective work, it requires that you know where to look and what to look for.

These tips, drawn from nearly 30 years of grant writing and research experience, should help put you on the right track for finding the foundations and corporations whose interests match your mission and needs.

  1. Use the right tools. A lot of databases exist that can help you search for grant funds that meet your needs. You can search for free using Google or Guidestar, but you will pay in the time you spend digging through the data that you receive. Grants.gov offers a free service but only lists government grants. Pay services also exist such as FC SearchFoundation SearchBig Database (the last 2 come from the same company), GrantWatchGrant Gopher and Grant Station.

    My company just recently launched the Foundation and Grant Directory – Quad City Region, a database exclusively for organizations that serve clients in the greater Quad Cities area (Scott, Rock Island, Muscatine, Henry and Mercer counties). This database brings the functionality of many of these sites together in one easily searchable place. But don’t just believe me (though you can!): do your homework. The prices and functionality of these databases vary significantly. Look to see which has the types of funders with a potential interest in YOUR organization at a price you can afford.

  2. Widen your search parameters. The broader you make your search parameters, the more potential funders you will find. Always narrow geographically (based on your location or those of your clients), type of organization, and type of funding. Too many potential funders? Try to exclude those who only fund preselected organizations or who do not accept unsolicited proposals. Try to narrow based on assets or amount funded. In my estimation, if an organization only grants a few thousand dollars per year and my organization does not receive any of that, I have a slim chance of breaking into their funding, probably not worth my time. Likewise, how much time do I want to invest to receive a $500 grant?

  3. Look at logistical considerations. Once you have a decent number of potential funders in your search results, start to ask yourself logistical questions:

    • Can I meet their deadline? Due in two weeks, you have a lot on your plate, and you have barely started to plan this program? Skip it for this year and put it in next year’s pile.

    • Will the funding arrive in time? People often overlook this part of the deadline. If you need the money to launch your program in July but their board meets in October, you need to put them aside … or think of them to fund the program in the second half of the year.

    • Will they provide enough money? This is tricky because most funders do not like to provide 100% of the cost of any project. But if they give maximum grants of $1,000 and your program needs to raise $100,000, will they see 1% of the total cost as meaningful? More importantly, do you really want to write 100 grants to raise the full amount? (Or more realistically, 200-300 grants to have 100 successful ones!) I doubt it. Focus on funders who will provide a greater percentage of your total cost.

    • Will they fund a project as small as mine? Again, few organizations think about this, but some funders have a floor or lower amount on their funding. Just like you don’t want to manage a lot of $1,000 grant donors, they don’t want to track a lot of smaller grantees. Imagine granting $1 million in grants in $1,000 increments! Some also want to have a larger impact than an organization can usually provide with $1,000 grant. That’s not to say you do not have an important program, but they may want something that impacts more people or a larger geographic area. Think partnerships or pilot study to see if you can make this work.

  4. Look at who they have funded in the past. While not a perfect indicator, past performance certainly demonstrates where they put their money. They say they fund in your state, but do they really and do they in your area of the state? “Illinois” often means Chicago, very different than funding more rural areas of the state. The organization’s 990s (available for free through Guidestar and as a link in many of the databases mentioned in Tip #1) list ALL of the grants they have provided in a given year (by law). Scan these to see what percentage of their grants go to organizations and projects like yours in your geographic area and how much they tend to invest in these organizations.


  5. Call the funder to discuss your project. Many grant seekers miss this critically important step. Guess what, grantors are people too and developing a relationship with them can improve your chances of success. Do your homework before calling; never call to ask “what do you fund?” Instead, call to say “I see from your 990 that you have funded XYZ in the past. We have a similar program here at our organization. Can I tell you about it and see if this might fit your current priorities?” Through your conversation, you learn more about the nuances of their guidelines and priorities while they learn about the great work you do. Worst case scenario, they do not have an interest in your project but you just saved yourself countless hours slaving over the application and worrying about the decision and can invest that time in an organization with a greater likelihood of success. And, if they do not fund organizations or projects like yours, ask them if you they know any organization that does. I have received great leads this way.

Want to learn more about how to determine if you have the right funder for your organization and project? Download our FREE checklist called “Determining Funder Fit.”