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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Greener

Grants Research Made Easy

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

Where do you find grants?

Today I’m highlighting a few tricks in grants research. Why? Because finding best-fit grants can be difficult, even expensive.

The good news is that finding them can also be easy and free. No, you don’t need to pay for a database subscription. Maybe later. For now, make sure you’ve tapped into these resources, which, might lead you to results even better than grant dollars.

A surprise scenic view at George C. Manitou State Park, Minnesota. Always on the lookout for beauty, for metaphor.

1. Know what’s across the street.

Sometimes in our noble efforts to secure the perfect grant from impressive grantmakers, we fail to see basic funder relationships right across the street. How well do you know the community giving guidelines of nearby businesses? How well do they know your organization?

Most corporations have a philanthropic arm. Think: US Bank, Family Dollar, your local drug store, State Farm, your town’s car dealership, Walmart, the local electric company. Heck, use Google Maps to start listing businesses in proximity to your nonprofit. Get familiar with their giving priorities. Scour their websites for pages that sound like “Community Giving” or “Our Impact.”

You’ll find grant opportunities, scholarship programs, donation request forms, employee volunteerism, or in-kind gifts. Follow-up your research with a real live handshake with a business representative. Local management can clarify for you what they actually do. Maybe their giving program has been rather inactive. Maybe they just signed the final check for this grant cycle. Or, maybe they’ve never heard of your nonprofit… Yikes. Let this be the first step in a mutually-beneficial partnership.

2. Look to nonprofits doing similar work.

Who are the nonprofits that are doing similar work to yours? Who funds them? If they’ve received a grant, it is likely that they’ve had the runaround doing research, just like you. Look over their annual reports, pay attention to who sponsored their latest event, and review past announcements of grant-funded projects. There’s a good chance that their funders have giving priorities aligned with your nonprofit’s mission. Take note.

The bigger picture: if you don’t already have a relationship with nonprofits doing similar work to yours, at best, you’re missing out. At worst, your isolation from other agencies is damaging your likelihood of not only getting a grant, but also truly achieving the long-term impact you want to see.

Partner agencies are not your competitors. They’re on your team. They need your expertise, you need theirs. Consider how you can take the next step in working together: shared data tracking, improved referral workflows, collaboration in evaluation strategies. Joining forces nurtures a trusting relationship, establishes yourself in the community, and may even pave the way for a collaborative grants project for which you would otherwise be ineligible. Check out the Collective Impact Forum for more ideas.

3. Head directly to 990s.

An IRS Form 990 (or a 990-PF or 990-N) is an annual tax form required to be filed by most tax-exempt organizations. While they look intimidating, you don’t have to be a tax expert to navigate them. The form gives an overview of a public charity’s or private foundation’s contact information, governance, and detailed financial information—including a list of grant awards. “Isn’t this information on a funder’s website?” Sometimes. Depends on the funder. If you want to streamline who to contact (or whether you might already have a connection) and whether your organization aligns with their priorities, look at what’s implied in a 990.

Where to find these? Every tax-exempt organization’s Employer Identification Number (EIN) is public information. If it’s not listed on their website, do a Google Search. Then, plug that number into the search field on the platform. There are databases out there to help you filter through 990s, but many have limited access. If you’re comfortable scouring the forms yourself, head directly to the IRS platform.

4. Befriend your local librarian.

You realize that libraries are usually part of a larger system with access to all kinds of databases? Make the most of these. Most libraries have subscriptions to research databases for on-site use. Ancestry research, peer-reviewed journals, encyclopedias, searchable archives, and… foundation databases. Ding ding ding.

If you’re in a small town, there’s a good chance your local library staff have well-established connections with local nonprofits and funders. The success of a rural library has much more to do with its connectedness to community needs than the circulation of books. Library staff can point you to valuable resources and meaningful community connections. Plus, it feels pretty amazing when the librarian knows your name and begins checking out books to your account faster than you can pull out your keychain library card. If you’re not a patron of your local library, become one!

If, after all this, you can justify the cost of a using a paid database, check these out. Many have free-trial options, or some are included/discounted with a subscription to a professional network (such as the Grant Professionals Association or Minnesota Council of Nonprofits).

Don’t have time? Does doing research make your head spin? You’re not alone.

Let’s talk. I help nonprofit folks by doing the research dirty work for them, plus guidance in practical next steps.

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