Searching for grant opportunities to support nonprofits is a challenging step sometimes.
In many cases the first question asked is, “What are the best grant research tools out there?”
Needless to say, Google, though useful for many research topics, is not the most appropriate tool for grant researching.
We are here to provide you with a comprehensive list of the different available tools that make a difference for a grant seeker when it comes to finding the grant opportunities that match their nonprofit’s mission and needs.
What are Grant Research Tools?
When your nonprofit depends on grant money to survive, knowing where to look for grant opportunities is absolutely necessary. Fortunately, we live in a technology led world and we don’t necessarily have to do grant research using old school tools like Google or exhausting internet browsing!
Let’s start with defining what grant research tools are and what they are useful for.
Grant research tools are online search databases used to search for grant opportunities using keywords to identify the most suitable ones.
There are many different tools available in the market that provide a grants database to assist you in identifying and researching funders to make tracking your results easier.
Essentially, grant research tools help grant seekers save time through proper guidance: they simplify the research process by allowing you to access relevant funders without having to sort through all the irrelevant search results.
When using grant research tools, you will likely be asked to input in the inquiry form the focus of your program, the population to be served, and the geographic location.
Your nonprofit is then matched with potential funders based on their areas of interest and history of giving, and you also receive information about their grant cycles.
Let’s dig deeper to see what grant research tools are the most recommended!
11 of the Best Grant Research Tools
Great news: we are here to tell you exactly what makes these 11 grant research tools the best based on the unique features each of them offers to grant seekers and the price (if any) for their subscription.
We will discuss the most useful tools for grant seekers and also share information on some free grant research databases…stay tuned!
Instrumentl is characterized by an intuitive and user-friendly interface that anyone can learn in an hour. The unique matching algorithm allows you to see good fit funders for projects you’re fundraising for in a matter of minutes.
When you create an Instrumentl account, you’re able to zero in your search based on criteria such as areas where your project serves, different fields of work, along with grant amounts and grant types.
Instrumentl‘s grant database includes opportunities sourced from corporate funders, federal and state grantmaking agencies, private foundations, along with community foundations.
The database is regularly updated with the most recent opportunities. Aside from showing you active grant opportunities, Instrumentl is also able to identify potentially good fit funders who may be invite-only or do not have websites but still have a history of giving toward causes like yours.
The Funder Matches tab empowers you to start building meaningful relationships with these sorts of funders.
If you only want to focus on grants that are open for submissions, navigate to the Opportunity Matches tab to review what Instrumentl’s algorithm has identified for you.
Essentially, Instrumentl provides an easy way to search for grants that align with your nonprofit or project through several criteria including keywords, filters, and specified deadlines (if needed).
The tool will always be looking for you once you set up a project that aligns to your project needs.
And once you have selected a specific funder, the database will synthesize the important eligibility criteria or relevant information all in one place. For example, you can spot key trends from a funders’ 990 to quickly identify whether or not they’ll be someone of interest to research further.
Relevant information is also available about Key People working at the funder’s organization that can help you get connected and land your next grant award!
Instrumentl offers a lot more than what we can cover in this post (blog, educational resources, etc), but here are five additional features that simplify grants:
New match alerts: automated updates on upcoming grant opportunities delivered directly to your email.
Robust project management: the ability to organize grant prospect lists including notes, tasks and documents on each opportunity.
Automated deadline reminders: never miss another deadline.
Custom reporting: easily create reports for your Board of Directors or Executive Director.
Recipient profiles: look up who has funded other nonprofits in the past to identify even more good fit funders.
What makes Instrumentl useful: reasonable price, intuitive interface you can learn quickly, intelligent matching and the other unique data insights such as openness to new grantees, multi-year funding trends, and reverse look up of who has funded certain nonprofits in the past. Loved by 1500+ nonprofits.
Who Instrumentl is for: nonprofits with operating revenue of at least 90K and 501c3 status, or grant writers working for a number of clients. Ideal for a grant professional who prefers a comprehensive tool that provides grant prospecting, tracking, and management in one place and save at least three hours a week.
Who Instrumentl is not for: nonprofits that are newly established with operating revenue under 90K or those who do not have 501c3 status. Grant writers without a consistent flow of clients to set up projects for.
Guidestar has merged with the Foundation Center to create Candid, but both entities still have separate websites.
Guidestar grants you accessibility to public IRS 990s and 990-PFs. While the 990 is the annual tax return filed by public charities, the 990-PF is filed by private foundations.
Report information about the funders’ giving history, what organizations they supported, a short description of the grants awarded, and the amounts disbursed are included.
Why is accessing the history of giving or the funder’s 990 so necessary for nonprofits?
This information is crucial if you are interested in determining how and from whom your competitors or peers are receiving funds.
The history of giving will also disclose what funders are supporting nonprofits that offer similar programs as yours.
This is awesome information to have on hand when you have to get started with creating your grant research list!
What makes GuideStar useful: free tool, accessibility of 990s and funder’s profiles.
Who GuideStar is for:experienced grant writers able to parse 990 reports as the main source of information for grant research or small nonprofits who cannot afford paid subscriptions. GuideStar is for you if your nonprofit wants to demonstrate your organization's commitment to transparency (through creating a Guide Star profile), and if you know exactly what you're looking for through 990s.
Who GuideStar is not for:nonprofits that need additional support with matching the best opportunities or grant management functionality. Essentially, if you are new to grant-seeking and need more guidance with clearer information already screened for you, GuideStar might be confusing.
The history behind this grant research tool is unique. It was created by Chad Kurse, who wanted to provide a friend with a free tool for searching for grant opportunities.
It is an example of Free Open Source Software (FOSS) that has made available the information contained in the public IRS 990s and 990 PFs of a huge list of funders.
The creator has decided to make it available to the general public as well.
As mentioned earlier, being able to read and analyze these forms allows you to learn precious information on potential funders’ trends and patterns.
Grantmakers.io allows you to discover more than 4.8 million grants available from the IRS 990-PF dataset, and includes the name of foundations, what type of support they provide, and the grant amounts awarded.
What makes Grantmakers.io useful: free tool, accessibility of 990s and recipients’ profiles.
Who Grantmakers.io is for:similar to Guidestar, experienced grant writers able to use the history of giving and recipients profiles as the main source of information for grant research and small nonprofits who cannot afford a paid subscription.
Who Grantmakers.io is not for:nonprofits that need assistance with matching the right opportunities or grant management functionality.
Grants.gov is a powerful tool for anyone seeking federal and state grants opportunities.
It centralizes the information on more than 1,000 federal grant opportunities offered by different agencies, while also providing relevant information and tools (such as the downloadable package that contains the required forms) thus facilitating direct contact with federal agencies.
Grant opportunities may be sent directly to your email through customized search or via RSS feeds of the opportunities as they are announced by federal agencies.
This specific (and free) grant database will allow you to find the best opportunities for your nonprofit, searching by keywords, type of funding, geographic focus, and more advanced searches over several categories, including agency and grant category/type.
The most important takeaway here is that Grants.gov simplifies the federal grants application process overall.
If you are planning on applying for federal grants we are sure you will appreciate some features such as downloadable and fillable forms, error checks, email notifications, and auto-populated data.
What makes Grants.gov useful: free tool, search interface with many filters to narrow down results, features that facilitate the federal grants application process.
Who Grants.gov is for: grant seekers, cities, organizations, and nonprofits interested mainly in federal and state grant opportunities.
Who Grants.gov is not for:grant seekers and nonprofits not pursuing federal grants.
FundsforNGOS is a fantastic grant database for nonprofits working internationally or not focusing exclusively in the US.
It offers both free content and a paid subscription. Without a subscription, it is possible to find recent grant opportunities organized by category.
FundsforNGOs also offers a free newsletter that includes information on new or recently released grant opportunities.
With the paid subscription ($49/year), in addition to being able to access their funder database, it is possible to attend classes and webinars and access relevant training materials!
What makes FundsforNGOS useful: low cost, availability of informative and educational tools.
Who FundsforNGOS is for:NGOs and nonprofits working internationally.
Who FundsforNGOS is not for:nonprofits and grant seekers looking for grants in the US and those who need help with matching the best grant opportunities and grants management.
Grant Gopher is a grant database that offers free basic searches for US-based organizations. If your organization has a tight budget and can’t afford a paid subscription to grant databases, this tool can be of help!
Essentially, Grant Gopher offers a simple search interface with a few limitations: you can’t include in your research more than two keywords and you will only be able to access the details of the first five search results.
Included in the free subscription is access to their newsletter that contains great information about open grant opportunities.
Grant Gopher offers you up to three grant searches with no registration. You can then create the Lite (free) account or the Pro (paid) for even more.
In addition, is it possible to download some samples of grant proposals (no more than five) available per certain funding categories; this can be especially helpful if you are a grant writer newbie!
With the paid subscription of $99 per year it is possible to access all of the opportunities listed.
What makes Grant Gopher useful: low cost, availability of downloadable templates.
Who Grant Gopher is for:grant newbies and small organizations with budget constraints for paid subscriptions.
Who Grant Gopher is not for:nonprofits that need to include more keywords in their research and grant seekers working on large volumes of grants that may require additional features. Grant seekers who want to quickly parse through the right opportunities for their organizations.
TerraViVa is an interesting grant database for those organizations working on projects to be implemented in developing countries with a specific focus on environment, energy, and management of natural resources.
Through their website it is possible to access funders profiles and a list of open grant opportunities with no paid subscription.
For an affordable $12 a year, it is possible to receive personalized email alerts on grant opportunities and gain access to a searchable database.
What makes TerraViVa useful: free tool, accessible funders profiles, and specific focus on environmental topics.
Who TerraViVa is for: NGOs, nonprofits and grant seekers working on environmental projects in developing countries.
Who TerraViVa is not for:nonprofits that seek funds for different types of projects and that need support with matching the most targeted opportunities and grant management.
Foundation Directory Online
Foundation Directory Online (FDO) can be accessed for free through 400 public locations in the US (such as community centers and libraries) called the Funding Information Network. An online search tool is available to find the location nearest to you.
A service of the Foundation Center, the Philanthropy News Digest (PND), provides news about philanthropy for which materials, newsletters, and RFP announcements are all accessible free of charge. PND's website lists requests for proposals (RFPs) organized by category.
FDO offers two types of subscription: the Essential and Professional.
The Foundation Directory Essential costs $399 annually (one time payment) or $49.99 per month with no long term commitment.
By subscribing to the Essential, you will be able to access a continually updated database with 100,000 funders (including U. S. federal agencies and state and local governments whose information is updated weekly).
It is relevant to note that, although you won’t be able to access the funders’ history of giving, you can access matches to the greatest number of foundations compared to competing databases.
The search interface is overall functional, allowing you to either search by specific keywords, phrases, or terms. It will also help you easily manage search results.
The Professional subscription is a bit more expensive: the annual payment is $1,499, but it is also offered via a monthly payment of $199.99 with no long term commitment.
Compared to the Essential, you will be granted access to 140,000 funders, their history of giving, and also see what Request for Proposals (RFPs) are currently open.
The results of your research can be downloaded or exported (via email, PDF or Excel).
When selecting a specific funder, you will be informed about their Board Members and Trustees so that you can eventually connect with them or find people in your LinkedIn network who can introduce you to them to start an initial conversation!
What makes FDO useful: different tiered plans, accessibility to funders profiles and additional features, easy exportability of research.
Who FDO is for:grant seekers and nonprofits working on large volumes of grants.
Who FDO is not for:nonprofits that need updates on RFP deadlines and funders profiles, updates on changes in funders priorities, smart matching to proposals and grantmakers, needs reminders, personalized research results, and grants management features (such as managing the grant pipeline, saved application responses, document library, organizing work by project) at a fair market price ($199 vs $162 offered by Instrumentl).
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GrantScape is a product of Thompson Grants: the company has great experience in grant management, compliance, audit, and grant development.
For grant seekers who are not purchasing additional services, the membership costs $29 monthly with an annual subscription.
The cost goes up to $158.25 per month if you subscribe to Thompson Grants 360, which offers additional features such as “Ask the Expert”, webinars, access for three users, new alerts and experts commentaries, and access to the grants compliance library .
To search for grant opportunities there are 54 categories available (with no subcategories) and the possibility of inquiring by relevant keywords.
The database includes about 8,000 foundations and more than 2,000 federal/ state grantmaking agencies. This results in about 4,000 open grant opportunities that are continuously updated and either searchable by deadline, available funding, or status (active or inactive).
GrantScape allows you to easily save and share the results of your grant research with your team, set up deadline reminders, and set up custom alerts for the specific search criteria of your interest.
What makes GrantScape useful: affordable cost for individual subscribers, easy search interface, additional features for grants compliance, and easy exportability of research.
Who GrantScape is for:grant seekers and nonprofits looking for different types (foundation, federal, government) of grants and need guidance on grant compliance.
Who GrantScape is not for: nonprofits that need grant management features such as tracking and reporting.
GrantStation is an interesting tool because it provides nonprofits with the opportunity to identify funding sources that are a match and access resources (blog, newsletter, webinars, conferences, development tools) that can help throughout the grant seeking process.
The membership may be sometimes offered at a discounted price of $149 per year in order to make it accessible to smaller nonprofits. The actual price is $699 per year ($1,258 for two years). Check out TechSoup for the deals GrantStation will often run with them.
It is included for free with a paid subscription to the Chronicles of Philanthropy or to the Grant Professional Association (GPA).
The most relevant feature offered for researching grant opportunities includes the opportunity to narrow down your research by 11 main program categories (each with many subcategories ranging from 6 to 27). It is possible to perform the research using specific keywords that will allow you to target specific areas of interest.
Their database includes about 9,000 faith based grantmakers, private foundations, community foundations, corporate foundations and contribution programs, federal and state grant opportunities, and association grant programs.
Their unique feature is that they have three different interfaces for International Charitable databases, the U.S., and Canada.
Unfortunately, GrantStation will inform you only about grantmakers that accept unsolicited requests, and does not provide information on past history of giving.
Essentially, the grant search provides the founder's name, geographic scope, and focus. You would have to study each profile to see if they are a match for your nonprofit.
Also you won’t be able to save or download your research results and will need to copy and paste a list of funders names with no detailed information on their profile. However, they recently added the GrantStation Dashboard, which enables subscribers to save and keep track of information about potential funders.
What makes GrantStationuseful: relatively low price ($58.25 monthly), basic search interface, different types of grantmakers, international scope, and online education.
Who GrantStation is for:nonprofits working also internationally or located in Canada, small nonprofits with limited budgets.
Who GrantStation is not for:nonprofits that need to export and personalize the research results to share it with a team, smart matching features, to access funders profiles, and to use grants management features.
Grant Forward started as the grant search database that replaced the Illinois Researcher Information Service (IRIS) search engine.
Its search interface allows you to add many keywords and narrow down your research using a variety of filters (status, applicant type, deadline, amount, grant type, citizenship etc.).
The unique feature that Grant Forward offers is access to more than 190,000 grant opportunities and information not only about grants, but also sponsors, pre-solicitations, and the award winning grantees.
The annual subscription cost ranges from $1,000 to $4,400 depending on the size and type of user (students or employees). Luckily they offer a one month free trial so you can determine if their services are worth the price.
Some other features include the ability to search by keywords or profiles, the option to exclude specific grants from the search, additional filters for the research (i.e. include / exclude enhancement of filters), “view history” of your grant research to keep track of the opportunities you already viewed, and editing in profiles (to add / delete / edit publications to better tailor your preferred researcher profiles).
What makes Grant Forward useful: tiered plans, easy search interface, different types of grantmakers including sponsors and pre solicitations, additional features to personalize the research results and online education.
Who Grant Forward is for:medium to large nonprofits or consultants working with large volumes.
Who Grant Forward is not for:nonprofits that need additional features for grant management and tracking.
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How to Use Grant Research Tools Effectively
Now that you know what is available, you may be wondering, “How can I effectively use grant research tools?”
It is very important to not only be aware of the best grant research tools out there but to also know how you can make the most of them!
1. Keywords: the best way to use grant research tools is by being familiar with searching by keywords that mirror the goals your nonprofit pursues using both broad and narrow terms. It should be easy if you “ know your why”.
Be prepared to clearly spell out what you seek funds for in a few powerful “words” that describe your programs, so that smart matching can take place.
Who are the beneficiaries?
Where is the project carried out?
What is the focus of your program?
If you are seeking funds to support a nonprofit research institute specialized in data science based in Chicago, you will probably include keywords such as “data science”, “Chicago”, and “data integration”. Similarly, if your nonprofit helps women in Mozambique cope with poverty and inequality you might type “women”, “Mozambique”, and “empowerment”.
Here is an example of how you might use your location and keywords to set up a project on Instrumentl:
2. Approach the interface with ease: don’t get confused if you are not so familiar with grant research tools! Overall, the vast majority of them have generally intuitive search interfaces from which you can input your inquiries by criteria. Some of them even offer an “advanced research” feature that will allow you to include multiple criteria.
In general, stick to the tools where you’re able to learn the core functionality within an hour. Tools that aren’t intuitive will become time sinks in your grant researching process.
3. Screen the list: don’t panic if the research gives you thousands of results! You will realize that almost all grant research tools will prioritize in the list (at the top) the funders that can be the best fits.
Tools like Instrumentl can be helpful here since we’ll curate the matches list for you as opposed to just showing you every broad opportunity under the sun.
Below you can see the 164 opportunity matches Instrumentl has found for this Food Delivery project.
4. Look at the big picture: pay attention to the additional relevant information such as 990s, Board Members, most common grant amount awarded, funders’ areas of interest, geographic focus and preferred population. It will help narrow down your research in an efficient way!
If you’re using Instrumentl, you can go through the 990 report to check out multi-year trends such as a foundation’s openness to new grantees:
1. The Council on Foundations’ website allows you to research at no cost Community Foundations through a map. It is very important to highlight that Community Foundations are public charities with the primary role of supporting a geographic area, largely through the facilitation and pooling of donations for community projects.
2. Pivot is a grant database specifically designed for researchers. To subscribe, in fact, you have to be affiliated with a research institution. Grant research can be performed either by scholars or matching faculty.
Subscribers can search for funding opportunities and view matching faculty from their own institution or from outside or search for a scholar to get information on matching funding opportunities.
Available on their website is the Foundation Map created by Candid, which features a variety of options such as map view, chart view, list view, and constellation view.
The different tools show funding trends and allow for comparisons of funding by subject areas over time (Charts) and funding relationships (Constellations), where the blue bubbles indicate foundations and the red bubbles grantees.
Through the advanced search subscribers can type in a particular location/area of interest to find foundations or recipients in a specific region and/or who work on specific issues. Grant research can be done by keywords and additional filters such as organization name, awarded amounts, grant years, population, and type of support requested.
Wrapping Things Up: The Best Grant Research Tools
We truly hope you enjoyed our breakdown of just some of the best grant research tools and additional resources to be considered when researching grants.
It has been quite a journey but it was worth it.
Overall, make sure you fully understand the process of searching for grants opportunities by keywords and available filters.
Many tools, including Instrumentl, can help you stay on the lookout for all the information that gives you a snapshot of your potential funder’s history of giving, exploring their areas of interests, common grant award, and finding Key People that you can contact!
If you are seeking grants to support your nonprofit, don’t hesitate to get started with some of these powerful grant research tools, and try out some free trials to find the tool that works best for you!