How to Find Grants for Your Nonprofit

As a nonprofit, you need financial resources to fulfill your mission. Grants are one of the key components of a nonprofit budget strategy. Beyond the financial benefits, the grant process is also a great way to build exposure and credibility for your organization. Writing and submitting grants puts your mission and your project efforts out to foundations and grant makers.

In this article, we are going to outline how to find grants for nonprofits. We will explain how to search for grants with a list of recommended free and paid databases. We will also tell you more about how to find local, federal, or corporate grants.

By the end of this article, you should have everything you need to know to successfully find grants for nonprofits.

What are the 4 Common Types of Grants?

There are a number of different types of grants available for nonprofits. Knowing what each type of grant allows helps you target grants based on your nonprofit funding needs. Below we will tell you more about the four most common types of grants.

Capital Grants

The first type of grant is a capital grant. Capital grants provide funding for building structures, purchasing land or buildings, or other capital improvements. These grants are specifically designed to acquire, develop, or expand facilities and capital resources.

Operating Grants

Another type of grant is an operating grant. Operating grants provide funding for all of the costs associated with running your nonprofit. These grants are also often referred to as unrestricted grants due to their open-ended uses. These grants provide financial support for expenses required for day-to-day operations such as utility costs, rent, salaries, and other ongoing overhead expenses. These costs are often excluded from other types of grant funding, so operating grants can be quite beneficial in a nonprofit organization.

Operating grants are not as often available as other grant types, though many grantmakers are expanding their funding scope to include more operating grant opportunities.

Program or Project Grants

Likely the grant type you are most familiar with is a program grant. A program grant provides funding for a specific project. This grant requires an outline of project details, including articulation of a problem or purpose of the project. A program grant is the most restrictive type of grant because it requires you to spend the funds on the exact activities you outline.

Program grants are the most common type of grant because they tend to be the easiest for a grant maker to ensure mission alignment and accountability of spending.

Matching Grants

Finally, keep your eyes and mind open for matching grants. Matching grants are another common grant available to nonprofits. A grantmaker commits funds to match a fiscal commitment from the applicant. Each grant will specify the required match amount. As an example, if you were applying for a $100,000 grant that required a 20% match, you would be asked to contribute $20,000 to the project.

To learn more and see additional examples, check out our blog post about matching grants.

How Do I Get Started Finding the Right Grants for Me?

There are a few things to consider when you want to find grant funding for your nonprofit. You might start by looking at your grant readiness.

In order to know if you are a good fit for a foundation or grantmaker, be sure you have done the following before researching available grants:

1. Develop a clear mission statement: grantmakers are going to look to see that your mission aligns with their mission. This will be one of the critical features determining if you will receive funding, so make sure you have a solid mission outlined before looking for grants. Your mission statement can also function as a keyword repository to use to search for grants that target your work.

2. Have a budget in mind: you need to know your budget prior to finding additional funding. You should have your nonprofit budget firmly in grasp in order to know where and at what scale you need to leverage grant funding. Keep in mind that nonprofit budgets should only leverage grants for a fraction of their overall budget. Tracking and managing grants can be challenging without a clear budget picture.

3. Look at similar organizations: as a starting point in your research, look at your peers in your nonprofit industry. See if you can determine what grants they are utilizing to support their programs and operations.

Once you have these anchoring concepts in place, you can begin searching for grants. It is important to pay attention to the details of who grantmakers and foundations intend to fund. Only apply for grants that you qualify for.

The most common characteristics of grant funds are: geography, type of support, and mission alignment. Read on for more details.

Geography

Many grants are offered by foundations and organizations that target specific locations or regions. Often, this is an effort to support nonprofits that are local to their own operations.

A geography preference in a grant application can be a city, state, or a region. Grant opportunities with specified geographic locations are a strong starting point, as the pool of applicants may be reduced as a result of the more narrow applicant scope.

If a location is specified and you are not located in that area, you are unlikely to be awarded funds. Move on to the next opportunity.

An example of a grant with a location specification is shown below from a search in Instrumentl. Notice that the grant explicitly calls out the location of the grant and residency as California or Colorado.

Type of Support

Not all grants are awarded for the same funding purposes. Your financial needs are not singular, either. We described these common grants based on types of support in an earlier section. You may need operational, capital, or project funding. You might need a combination of those.

When you are searching for grant funding, be sure to consider looking for grants based on your specific type of funding needs. Conversely, do not apply for grants that specify types of funding and request funds for a different type of support.

Using the same example grant search result as before, notice the list of relevant fields related to the grant opportunity. If your nonprofit is outside these industries, you likely don’t meet the grantmaker’s requirements.

Mission Alignment

Your purpose in finding grant funding is to better execute your nonprofit mission. Whether they are operational, capital, or project funds, grants support your effort to provide services.

Similarly, the mission of a grantmaker will direct where their funds are awarded. As a result, you should look to find grants that share your mission. This may be articulated through specification of a type of nonprofit or a population served. Grantmakers may list that they are looking to fund nonprofits focused on medical research or those working on direct services to children.

While you can do basic search engine searches for any of these characteristics, you should also consider leveraging tools from companies like Instrumentl that match you with grants that fit your needs. It takes out some of the time behind finding grants and knowing if they align with your nonprofit. We will cover the best database tools later in this grant writing guide.

How to Find Local and Regional Grants for Your Nonprofit

Local and regional grants are a strong starting point for your nonprofit. While large, national or global organizations may offer enticing grant amounts, the pool of applicants will be proportionately larger as well. These applicants will also have a range of grant writing experience. So, if you are newer to grant writing or have a small existing donor pool, local and regional grants may be the place to start.

To find local and regional grants for your nonprofit, brainstorm a complete list of your local and regional organizations and potential grantmakers. Then, explore their websites to learn more about their possible grant funding opportunities. Many organizations have some level of philanthropic giving.

You should also engage with your local and state departments and find out what funding they may have available for nonprofit organizations. You can reach out to representatives within these departments and explore their agency websites to learn more. Focus on the departments that most closely match your mission. For example, if your nonprofit focuses on youth activities, you may want to start looking at the department of education or the department of human services.

Additionally, you can utilize your favorite web search engine and search for “{your state}+grants” or “{your city}+grants”.

You can see an example of a search for the state of Oregon below:

Finally, resources like our grant prospecting tools provide quick and easy filter options to focus your search on local and regional grant opportunities.

How to Find Foundation or Corporate Grants

When you have built up your grant writing efficacy you may consider broadening your search to foundations and corporate grants. There are a few ways to find foundation or corporate grants.

You can go directly to foundation or corporate websites to explore their potential grant funding opportunities. Similar to finding local and regional grants, you can start by brainstorming a list of foundations and corporations. Specifically consider those foundations or corporations that may mirror the mission of your nonprofit organization. Even large corporations like WalMart often have a philanthropic mission focus.

Most foundations and corporations will make finding their giving easy. These companies want to award grants. Explore their websites. Often, foundations will have information related to their giving right on their homepage. Corporations may list this information under an “About” page or other philanthropic-based link.

To jumpstart your search, we found this list of corporate grants for nonprofits. While not exhaustive, this gives you an alphabetical starting point to explore possible corporate funders. Each corporation includes a brief description of their typical funding aim. And, while not always exclusive to those areas of funding, should offer you perspective on mission alignment.

We will discuss grant databases later in this article as another strategy for finding foundation or corporate grants. Instrumentl’s smart matching algorithm makes finding corporate and foundation funding options much quicker and easier than searching across a number of organization websites.

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How to Conduct a Federal Funding Search

One of the largest grantmakers in the United States is the federal government. The federal government has 26 grantmaking agencies. You should be familiar with where to find federal grants and consider them an important part of your grant strategy.

Grants.gov is the cornerstone of conducting a federal funding search. All federal grants and funding available will be accessible from this database. A great introduction to finding federal grants is a short video from grants.gov providing an overview of their search engine. The video outlines the two ways to use their website to search for grants.

  1. Search bar in the top right corner can be used to search by keywords. A keyword search will take you to the main grant search page filtered by your entered keyword.
  2. “Search Grants” tab is located on the home page and will take you to the search grants page of the website. From there, you will be able to search for grants based on a number of criteria.

Use the filtering criteria on the left-hand side of their search database to target grants that best match your nonprofit.

Most online databases pull from the information provided by grants.gov. So, if you are looking exclusively for federal grants, searching grants.gov will be your most direct resource.

Online databases, like the one offered at Instrumentl, list federal grants as part of a broader all-inclusive list of grant opportunities.

The Best Free Grant Database Tools to Find Grants

Most foundations and grantmakers want to make sure you can easily find and apply for their funding opportunities. Keep in mind that the hope of these organizations is to get these dollars into the hands of nonprofit organizations with compelling missions and projects.

As a result, there are a number of free grant databases available. Using databases is one way to learn how to find grants for nonprofits. Here are a few of our favorite free databases to start your grant search.

Google: Yes, the search engine. As far as free search options go, your favorite search engine is a powerful tool. You can search for just about any keyword that relates to your nonprofit and add the word “grants” to explore what kind of funding may be available. It is quick and easy to begin your search efforts this way, and you may stumble across a few solid grant options this way.

While this is an effective way to find grants, it may not be the most efficient search strategy. One way to improve your use of time is to start with 10-20 keywords relating to your nonprofit rather than trying to come up with them while you are searching.

You can also explore Google.org. This is Google’s philanthropic sector and a place where upwards of $1 billion is focused on investing in community-driven nonprofits and social improvement efforts.

Grants.gov: For a more direct search effort, grants.gov offers a large repository of federal funding opportunities. The video provided in an earlier section shows grants.gov in action. It is worth repeating here, as this tool is a key component in federal grant searches. And, it’s free! This database provides you with the opportunity to explore all the federal grants that may be available to you.

Also consider signing up for the grants.gov mailing list to be notified of new grant opportunities.

Guidestar: Under a suite of tools from Candid, Guidestar is a free search database. This resource is a great option to find information on foundations and grant opportunities available. However, the information is limited within the free database and requires you to upgrade to a paid account for more robust search capabilities.

Grant Watch: Grant Watch is another resource that offers a free search option. You can filter by type of award recipient, industry, and location. It provides a good overview of the funding available by foundations.

The Best Paid Grant Database Tools to Find Grants

There are also a number of paid grant database options available as well. Often, paid databases offer auxiliary benefits beyond merely how to find grants for nonprofits. The following are some of the best paid grant databases and a brief description of what they include.

Instrumentl is the only paid grant database that offers a full suite of services from finding grants through tracking and managing your grant applications. Instrumentl is unique in bringing researching and grant matching alongside resources for grant tracking and management. This resource puts everything you need in one place.

Specific to finding grants for your nonprofit, Instrumentl offers quick 990 snapshots and smart matching features so you save time locating the right fit for your nonprofit. The interface is user-friendly and allows you to spend more time researching and less time having to learn how to use the platform.

Here is an example 990 snapshot. You can quickly see a foundation’s financial strength and the amount of giving they engage in. These snapshots also provide information on key people within the foundation and where they are located.

GrantStation offers a searchable database of available grants and basic grantmaker profiles. There are grant searches across charitable foundations, US federal and state agencies, and International opportunities. GrantStation provides a strong search database; however, they lack tracking or management capabilities similar to Instrumentl.

Many of our readers are members of a variety of other services. GrantStation is a partner with Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Grant Professionals Association. If you are a subscriber or member, respectively, your benefits include free access to the GrantStation database. It is worth noting to consider what subscriptions and other professional resources you have purchased and look to see if auxiliary services are offered such as this.

Foundation Directory Online by Candid is one of the most searched databases for available grant funding. Their search includes foundation profiles and information about funders. Additionally, they offer insight into recipients to track where funding from major foundations and corporations has gone.

Foundation Directory Online is a strong option for a searchable database as they cover all 214,000 US Foundations. This resource lacks cohesive grant management like that available in the Instrumentl platform, however. The user experience does not extend much beyond how to find grants for nonprofits and into other portions of the grant lifecycle.

While the above listed options are all viable solutions for how to find grants for nonprofits, there are a few features only available through Instrumentl:

  • Automagical deadline reminders and updates
  • RFP data connected to foundation profiles
  • Intelligent matching to RFPs and funders
  • Tracking with enriched RFP and funder info
  • Workflow for prospecting efficiently and storing your research
  • Insights on how to be successful when breaking into a new funder
  • Organization by project and saved searches
  • Reports with auto-created links to RFP and foundation summaries

Each of these features will build in ease and efficiency in how to find, track, and manage your grants. You can also compare Instrumentl to these and other paid databases to see how the features stack up.

Wrapping Things Up: The Ultimate Guide to Finding Grants for Your Nonprofit 

Grant writing is an ongoing process with many ups and downs. You will not be awarded every grant you apply for, but being strategic with how to find grants for your nonprofit can set you up for better chances. Diversifying your grant search will also provide your nonprofit with a broader scope of potential funding sources.

We are here to support you in your grant writing endeavors. In this article, we reviewed the most common types of grants; outlined how to find local, federal, and foundation grants; and provided a list of free and paid grant databases.

If you want to start your grant research process, try Instrumentl free for 14-days.

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