How to Find Funders for Grants


Amelie Heurteux


Customer Success Manager at Instrumentl

Reviewed by:


October 30, 2021

Last Updated:

February 7, 2024

Nonprofit organizations have two essential jobs. First and foremost, they are tasked with carrying out their mission. Second, they are faced with finding the necessary funds to do so! Even the best causes need money to be able to carry out their work.

Acquiring funding is a crucial responsibility to ensure sustainability and yet, can be a nonprofit’s biggest challenge. In this article you will learn how to successfully find funders for grants that are a good match for your organization.

The Ultimate Find New Funders in Your Backyard Playbook

4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Looking for Funders

Before you embark on a search for grant funding, assess if you're ready to start pursuing grants.

Grant funders will ask for pertinent pieces of information about your organization. This includes mission statements, organizational history, program description, impact data and financial records, among other things.

Below is a checklist of helpful pre-inquiry questions.

4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Looking for Funders

1. Does your organization have a clear mission statement or project idea?

Many new or developing nonprofit organizations try to seek funding before they have a clear mission statement, service area, or purpose. Or some may have a well-established mission, but then only have “ideas” for programs or projects which may not be clearly related to their organization’s mission.

Not having a clear outline of your project or program is one of the biggest initial hang-ups for nonprofits before they even get started with the funding process.

Refer to your organization’s strategic plan or engage your Board of Directors in the grant process and get on the same page about your organizational needs and the programs you’re seeking funding for. This will prepare you for the grant search ensuring you use your time efficiently.

2. Are you seeking general operating funding or money for a specific project?

Most nonprofits need money for organizational overhead – rent, utilities, staff salaries, and technology. These are all the essentials which keep an organization afloat. The umbrella term for these items is “General Operations Expenses.”

Grants for general operating allow for a more liberal use of funds and have broader reporting requirements.

Some grants will fund general operations, while others will be project specific. Program specific grants will usually have more stringent criteria and will also require more detailed reporting on how dollars were used to fund the project.

3. How much time do you have to look for grant funding? Do you have it marked in your calendar?

Searching for grant opportunities takes time.

The search process will (and should) take time, especially at the onset. Assess how much time you realistically can spend on looking for grants.

Carve out a day and time in your calendar each week. Many organizations erroneously view finding grants as an afterthought – a “nice to have” but not a “need to have.” Acquiring grant funding is an important part of building a diverse revenue stream. Take time to devote to the search process.

4. Do you have a budget for grant research tools?

While there are many free resources to help find grants and evaluate funders, there are also grant research tools that are much more efficient and accurate in sharing the most up to date information.

Using tools built to make grant prospecting more efficient will save you and your team time and give you a better chance of winning grant funding.

Let’s dive into the grant search process and how to get started.

6 Considerations To Make When Searching For Potential Grant Funders

6 Considerations To Make When Searching For Potential Grant Funders

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when faced with the prospect of finding a grant for your nonprofit. There are so many opportunities. Here are 6 things to look for when assessing which grants are good fits for your organization:

6 Considerations To Make When Searching For Potential Grant Funders

1. Understand The Priority Funding Areas Of Each Funder You're Considering

A grantmaking foundation or government grant will usually outline several focus or priority funding areas in their criteria. For example, they might list “economic rights and justice”, “food insecurity”, or “education.”

This makes it easy to assess whether your organization or project fits into their focus area.

When using a grant database like Instrumentl to find grants, you'll use keywords to search for and narrow down opportunities. This will help you narrow down good-fit grant matches.

Understand The Priority Funding Areas Of Each Funder You're Considering

2. Service Area

Like the focus areas described above, many grant opportunities will target specific geographic areas and only those nonprofits serving the specified area will be eligible. Foundations or municipalities will often use a county or a zip code to provide guidance for the service area requirements.

Service Area

An important note – many times the criteria refer to where clients are being served, not necessarily where the organization has their home office. Or vice-versa! Some applications will utilize the home location of the organization, regardless of where they provide services. Government grants will often rely on census tracts in their criteria. Keep reading below for more information on how you can find and use data on your service area.

3. Demographics of Service Area

Often the service area and the demographics of the service area are closely aligned in criteria. Grant applications may stipulate a nonprofit’s eligibility based on percentage of low-income populations served, percentage of housing insecurity within a given zip code, or income level of a particular census tract.

If you do not know the demographic information about your service area, the Census Bureau website is a great resource. It provides community data on age, income levels, unemployment, and other factors. It will be helpful in finding grant funding to have as much knowledge as you can about your nonprofit’s service area and its demographics.

4. Type of Funding

As mentioned in a previous section, there are many types of grants. Determine beforehand whether you are seeking funds for general operating costs or a specific project. Many grant applications will state explicitly what they fund and what they do not fund.

Type of Funding

Some foundations may have several grant cycles: some for general operating funds and others for targeted projects. If you need money for rent and the electric bill, it's best to seek general operating monies. If you need dollars to expand a program or create a new initiative, you may seek project-based funding that aligns with your goals.

5. Date of Grant Cycles/ Disbursement of Funds

Acquiring grant money is often a lengthier process than many new nonprofit workers realize. Even when approved, monies often take weeks to months for disbursement. This means if you have a project slated for spring, applications will often be due the previous fall.

Determine when you need the funds and make a timeline to work on getting grant funding.

Expect for the grant process to take three to six months from the time of application to see a check for funding. Plan accordingly.

6. Overall Alignment of Missions

While it may seem like a basic concept, it's important to remember that when searching for grant funding, you should search for opportunities that align with your nonprofit’s mission. Also, keep in mind that whether it’s a grantmaking foundation, a government entity, or a corporation, each of these funders will have its own mission and also look for applicants that align with its model and values.

Many nonprofit organizations, particularly if they are struggling financially, get into a mode of “chasing money” rather than seeking out opportunities that truly align with their missions.

If you ever find yourself thinking “Well, we kind of do that” or “We sort of meet the focus areas”, then it’s probably not a good match.

Applications themselves will ask for compelling reasons why you are a good candidate and will challenge you to prove it with impact data.

Overall Alignment of Missions

For example, in the example above, the funder has a clear interest in funding projects related to the environment or education.

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See Who's Funding Nonprofits Like Yours

If you are wondering who is funding nonprofits like yours, whether it is nonprofits that you currently partner with or even your competitors, you can use Instrumentl’s “Recipient Profiles” to reverse search these nonprofits to complete  the following:

  • Research their funder list in the past awards received section
  • Review any active funding opportunities
  • Analyze their 990 insights

If you currently use Instrumentl, we are assuming you have already created your project and have set up your matches. If you have not done this, you can follow steps 1-3 here to set up your matches and tracking in Instrumentl. Then you can complete the steps below to find funders.

Review Your Grants Using Quick Search

Now that you have set up your matches, you can begin reviewing your grants, which are divided into three categories:

You can see all of your matched grants on your main page in Instrumentl, which resembles an email inbox. To begin your reverse search, you will click once into the “Quick Find” box on the left.

Review Your Grants Using Quick Search

Now that you clicked the “Quick Find” box, you can look up the nonprofit that you want to search so you can see what entities gave this nonprofit funding. 

Filter Search to “Recipients”

You want to make sure you filter your search to only “Recipients” so you don’t also get a list of funders. In our example, we first looked up the “Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.”

Filter Search to “Recipients”

Now you can click on the recipient’s profile and scroll down to “Past Awards Received” to see who has given funding to this nonprofit. 

Our example shows past awards received from 2017-2023. We clicked on 2022 for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and found an impressive 136 potential funders!

Past Awards Received

Instrumentl will give you the following information in your “Recipient” search:

  • A list of funders who have given to your chosen nonprofit
  • Where the funders are located
  • How much they gave in that particular year 
  • The purpose of that grant

You will see the above data in all of the respective years that the nonprofit filed their 990 report. 

Click URLs for More Information

If you want to learn more about a particular funder, click on their name for more information on them.

Click URLs for More Information

You can click on any of the links to immediately go into the funder profile to see if there are any active opportunities, along with important information from their 990 insights.

Review Active Opportunities

The first thing you want to look for in this section is whether or not the funder has “Active Opportunities” because these are active award opportunities in which the funder is accepting applications.

NOTE: If there isn’t an “Active Opportunities” section, that means this funder doesn’t have any at this point in time.

Review Active Opportunities

The “FUNDING OPPORTUNITY” section will give you valuable information about the grant, including:

  • An overview and details about the grant
  • The amount, if specified
  • The funder’s website
  • Their application period
  • Eligibility and ineligibility requirements 

Save Your Funding Opportunities

If you are interested in a funding opportunity, you can save it to your “Tracker” section directly from that reverse search by clicking the red “Save” button.

Save Your Funding Opportunities

You can then choose which project you would like to save it to (if you have more than one) and also whether you are “Researching” the grant or you are in a stage of the “Applications” or “Awards” processes.

“Applications” or “Awards” processes

Further Analyze the 990 Report

You can still analyze a funder’s 990 reports even if they don’t have any active award opportunities. In this way, you can review the following information:

  • Contact information
  • Key people
  • Key financial amounts
  • Grant amounts
  • Past grantees
  • Whether they are open to new grantees

Save to Tracker

If you would like to save this funder, you can bookmark them to your “Tracker” using the purple “+Add New” button.

Save to Tracker

Just assign this funder an opportunity name, assign it to the respective project, choose the status, and then click the purple “Save” button. That way, this funder will be saved ad hoc to your tracker.

assign this funder an opportunity name

You can repeat these processes by researching different funders listed in the “Recipient” section who have opportunities, and who you would like to save for later.

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How To Find Invite-Only Funders For Your Nonprofit

Now we’re going to show you how to find invite-only funders for your nonprofit. These could be smaller family foundations that may be invite-only or foundations that don’t even have a website.

Funder Matches vs. Funder Opportunity Matches

When you’re in Instrumentl, review “Funder Matches,” which are funders who have given to your specific field of work and have a history of giving in your counties. However, they may not have posted a funding opportunity. The main difference between “Funder Opportunity Matches” and “Funder Matches” is:

  • Funding Opportunity Matches have active Requests for Proposals (RFPs) in the Instrumentl database, so they have a clear way to apply or contact them. They are matches to grant opportunities that are available to the public, which means anyone using Instrumentl has access to them.
  • Funder Matches help you find good-fit foundation funders that may not be visible otherwise. These matches are a good start to building a relationship with and include invite-only funders or funders who don’t have websites.
Funder Matches vs. Funder Opportunity Matches

Funder Matches” don't have public opportunities with a grant portal open on the Internet, but you can find them using Instrumentl. That way, you can find matches that have given to your field of work in the past or in your counties.

Filter “Invite-Only” if Necessary

If you click on the Filter area, you will see where Instrumentl allows you to filter  “Invite-only” funders.

Filter “Invite-Only” if Necessary

Understand Why You Matched With Funders

By using information from the funder’s 990 report, Instrumentl will show you why you have matched with these funders by showing:

  • Grate percentages to new grantees
  • The grant amounts they have given
  • The fields of work they have given to
  • What state and counties they have given in

These funders are always going to be private foundations or public charities, so they’ll always have 990 insights available.

Understand Why You Matched With Funders

This is where you can also find the funder’s key people to see if you or your board members have any connections. You can also see if they accept applications.

funder’s key people

Look Up By State

You can use the search bar to look up a state to filter matches that are only based in your state. For our example, we searched “Pennsylvania” and found that 59 of our 108 Funder Matches were based in our state.

Look Up By State

Save to Tracker

You can save any Funder Matches directly to your “Tracker” by clicking the Save button.

Save to Tracker

Then, you can choose the appropriate project, and the status of the funding opportunity, write in any notes, and document the funding opportunity deadline.

choose the appropriate project, and the status of the funding opportunity, write in any notes, and document the funding opportunity deadline

Because these Funder Matches are not active RFPs, you will want to focus on relationship-building and look into how to build connections with these funders. 

Wrapping Up: Finding Funders for Grants

Now that we’ve broken down each step to find funders for your nonprofit, we hope you see how much easier, faster, and more efficient Instrumentl is to use compared to alternatives in grant research. In particular, our database will show invite-only funders that are hidden from other search options.

And, with the 14-day free trial, there is no risk. Try it out and see if Instrumentl is right for your nonprofit. That way, you can use Instrumentl risk-free to identify solid grant prospects by following our step-by-step process.

Once you land a potential funder, find some grant writing tips and best practices by checking out this article: How Many Grants Should I Apply For?

Amelie Heurteux

Amelie Heurteux

Amelie Heurteux, a Customer Success Manager at Instrumentl, works day in and day out training nonprofits and grant writers how to efficiently prospect new funders and streamline their grant tracking and management processes.

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