7 Steps to Finding Funders for Your Grant

Save Time with a System

Looking for organizations that might fund your grant can be overwhelming. Cut it down to size with a system. 

First, choose one or more directories.

Almost all research for funders is done online now. At the end of this article, you'll find a list of some of the best sources with links to their websites. Some of these are free but most require a subscription.

You can also tap into the Foundation Center's Funding Information Network (interactive map and listing). These are free information centers in libraries, community foundations or other nonprofit resource centers. They will have access to the Foundation Center's database, plus a basic collection of publications.  

Looking for a government grant? Check out our Guide to Finding Government Grants for Nonprofits

Once you've located a source,  follow these steps, suggested by the authors of Winning Grants, Step by Step. Buy on Amazon.

Identify your search criteria.

Researching a grant.
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Your criteria can include keywords, subject matter, geographic area, target audience, gender, race, ethnicity, and any other parameters that fit your interests. Make a list in advance so you can refine and focus your search easily.

Use the subject index of each directory to find your subject/type of support.

Check list of criteria for a grants search.
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Choose  your subject areas and the type of support you want, such as new program, capital, general operating, etc. Your strongest prospects will be those foundations and corporations that have an interest in one of your subject areas and that fund the type of support you are seeking. 

Look for funders located in your geographic area. They will be hot prospects for you.

Don't neglect small family foundations in your area. They are often more amenable to funding local causes than are large, national foundations.

Learn all you can about a prospective grantor.

Matching your nonprofit to a grantor's goals is most important when deciding where to send a grant application.
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Study all the information on each prospect you identify so you can determine just how good a match your organization and the grantor will be.

Matching interests is the most important aspect of finding a good prospective funder. Many grants are rejected because they just don't align with the funder's goals.

Visit prospective grantor websites to learn even more.

Checking potential funder's websites for current information is an important step in grant research.
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Once you have developed a list of likely funding sources, visit their websites to get to know them. Look at their annual reports, success stories of previous grants, staff biographies, and anything else they are sharing with the public.

Check out their current guidelines. These change frequently and often have not found their way into the online directories. Do your best to find the most current information.

Use the information to craft a proposal that "speaks" to each individual funder

Each grant proposal must be as unique as a red umbrella in a sea of black ones.
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With all of this information, you should have a good idea of how to target your proposals for each funder, in the language its program officer will likely be attuned to.

You will also have a sense of how much you can reasonably request from each funder. It is important to make each grant proposal unique. Do not just put together one proposal and send it to everyone.

Create a prospect grid or spreadsheet.

A spreadsheet or grid will capture all of the information from your search for funders for your grant.
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Your prospect spreadsheet should include: 

  • every prospect you have identified;
  • the program of your organization that most closely aligns with each prospect's funding interests;
  • your proposed request amount;
  • deadline dates;
  • and any other pertinent information.

If you target local foundations, let your board take a look at your prospect list. It's entirely possible someone has a contact at one of those foundations.

Online Resources for Your Grant Research

Internet search
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 The Foundation Center

The Foundation Center is the best resource for almost anything related to funding by foundations. The "Foundation Finder" allows you to look up very basic information on foundations free of charge. You can also subscribe to The Foundation Directory Online. This comprehensive database provides foundation funding priorities and past grants. Several subscription levels give access to over 100,000 foundations, corporate donors, and public charities. The Foundation Directory is truly the gold standard for databases and is well worth a subscription.


If you want to apply for federal government grants, Grants.gov has to be your first stop. This U.S. government website has lots of useful information for nonprofits, including announcements of federal grants. Using the database is somewhat tricky. Before you go there, read 4 Steps to Finding Government Grants for Nonprofits.


Guidestar provides information on all kinds of nonprofits, including foundations. You can register for free and use the advanced search capabilities to find the 990-PFs of foundations.

The Grantsmanship Center

This site is a treasure of information about grants: getting them, finding resources, writing grant proposals. My favorite part of the site is the Funding State by State. There is a map of the U.S. where clicking on a state brings up links to top grantmaking foundations, community foundations, corporate giving programs, and the state website homepage.

Community Foundation Locator

The Community Foundation Locator is sponsored by the Council on Foundations. The website displays a map of the U.S. where you can click on your region to pull up a list of its local community foundations and links to those foundation sites.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The Chronicle is an excellent source of news on the foundation and nonprofit world, and there is a grants database. You do have to subscribe, however, to access the database. There are a limited number of articles available for free.

BIG Online

A for-profit resource, BIG Online provides online and telephone assistance for navigating the various tools on its website. Also offers online classes to learn more about the features of its extensive database, which contains the 990s of many funders. Don’t underestimate how much useful information you can find just on these tax returns.


GrantStation allows grant seekers to identify potential funding sources for their programs or projects and mentors them through the process. The site maintains a searchable database of active requests for proposals, federal grant deadlines, online tutorials, and many webinars. You must join the site for full access although a few features are free.


Instrumentl puts nonprofit grant search on autopilot. Nonprofits provide basic information about their programs and projects and Instrumentl matches them with relevant funding opportunities and helps to manage their process. A paid subscription promises to save dozens of hours and thousands of dollars that you might otherwise spend tracking down the best leads.