Today, I will describe the purpose and general process of grant research. I hope this guide will be helpful for beginners and novice grant-seekers to find the right grant opportunities for their nonprofit.

When I first started in the grant and fundraising field, it was a bit overwhelming discovering quality grant opportunities for the organization I worked for. In the United States alone, there were 86,203 foundations in 2015 funding grants totaling $62.8 billion. In addition, there are over 900 grant programs offered by the 26 federal grant-making agencies and 2,981 corporate foundations in the United States. Not to mention, the hundreds if not thousands of state and local government grant programs distributing grant funding for a plethora of subjects, causes, and needs. During this layman’s guide, I will be breaking down this topic with an overview and helpful tools and tips for beginners and novice grant-seekers to find the right grant opportunities for their nonprofit.

In general, the concept of grant research is relatively simple. It’s the process organizations go through to identify grants they qualify for before starting the application process. Grant prospect research requires utilizing comprehensive approaches to thoughtfully identify the best grant opportunities that best match your organization’s needs based on several (often complex) elements. A simple breakdown of the grant prospect research process entails two common parts: The first part is researching various foundations, corporate and government grant cycles, and giving histories. Secondly, managing your organization’s applications for each grant-making institution. The former is an exercise online research by identifying a list of grant-making institutions that might give to your organization and identifying the types of organizations they’ve funded in the past and with what size grants. The latter is about tracking and managing data. Prospect research is the first required step toward identifying the funders that fit your organization’s needs.

For example, let’s say you have a project or program that needs funding for natural habitat restoration–you would do a Google search for “foundations that give grants for environmental programs”-- where you’ll see a lengthy list of grant opportunities. Having an extensive list is fine, but ideally, you want to narrow it down by refining your search terms. Such as “environmental grant programs in Michigan” or “organizations that fund brownfield clean up.”

Now that you understand the basics of grant research, let's get more in-depth on the tools and resources to successfully secure your grant!

Data and Information Collection

The first step in securing grants is to identify the needs of your program(s) and the organization.

“To know thyself is the beginning of all wisdom” - Aristotle

But most importantly, in my opinion, you need to know and understand the needs of the population and the community you serve. One of the primary goals of successful prospect research is to find prospects whose priorities are well-matched to your current needs. Grant prospecting requires you utilizing comprehensive approaches to thoughtfully identify the best grant opportunities that match your organization’s needs based on several (complex) elements.

With that being said, here are some other important things to consider in this step of the research process that will save you time and frustration and uncover the best prospects for your needs:

  • Create your needs list

  • Identify the cost associated with each need

  • When do you need the money in hand?

  • What is the program/project geographic focus?

  • What is the organization’s total operating budget?

  • Who has supported the organization in the past?

  • Who has declined a proposal in the past?

Start Your Research

At this point, you’re ready to begin your research with your list of needs and lots of other information that will expand your search. You will understand what you’re looking for in order to build out your list of search criteria. Having your information and data at hand will help you to narrow down prospects significantly.

Grant research tools and resources

Since thousands of businesses and nonprofits apply for grants each year, some tools of the trade are quickly accessible and can make your life a lot easier. Don’t forget to do your due diligence, but these tools can help ease some of your concerns about finding grants.


  2. Online directories

  3. Small Business Development Centers

  4. Nonprofit and corporate foundations

  5. Your local library

  6. Tax records such as IRS 990 forms, are an essential source of information on past grantees, the overall budget, granting capacity, and the value of past grants. Several helpful sites can show you how to find the relevant data in a 990 form

Tools for Managing the Grants Cycle

As you begin to assemble information about prospective funders, you’ll need a place to house it. Smaller organizations with limited budgets and nonprofits just starting their grant research may find spreadsheet applications like Microsoft Excel or Google Drive terrific low-budget options for managing foundation prospect lists. Most donor management databases let you manage your list of foundations just like any other giving prospect. Many can track the RFP and proposal dates, the status of your proposals, and your proposal workflows.

Why Go Through All this?

As you can see, grant research can make or break your fundraising efforts. Organizations that take the time to do their grant research and planning typically win more grants because they can choose the proper grants at the right time. Successful grant writing starts with successful grant research to find the prospects whose priorities are well-matched to your current needs.

Organizations that have done their grant research and planning have the following qualities:

  • They have identified grants and funding opportunities that align with their mission and programs/services. There isn't an expansion of their mission or created/modified programs and services just to fit grant requirements or funder priorities.

  • They have developed a strategic approach to selecting the grants they’ve applied for.

  • They have developed a grant calendar or schedule to stay on track with upcoming deadlines and tasks associated with grant applications and reports.

  • They have a clear understanding of how much money they need to raise from grants when it’s needed and what each grant will be used for.

  • They are open to stop working on a grant proposal when they realize they aren’t ready, not as great of a fit as they initially thought, or can’t prepare a quality grant proposal by the deadline.

Here are some bonus tips on what to watch out for to keep your prospect research on track:

5 Common Oversights of Grant Prospect Research

  1. Not being as thorough as you should

  2. Not correctly understanding the funders’ interests

  3. Misinterpreting the funder’s eligibility criteria or requirements

  4. Not paying attention to the type of application to be submitted

  5. Requesting the wrong amount


Effective grant research is a task that takes time to become proficient at. In this beginner’s guide, you learned much of what you need to get started. Having the right strategy, plan, and tools will make your activities easier to manage.

Before you start your first research, leave a quick comment to let me know your favorite tip from “The Beginner’s Guide To Grant Research” or share tell me your favorite tip or trick to finding the right funder match. If you need more in-depth, individualized help with your prospect research, you can book a consultation with me here at

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If you’ve been in the fundraising business as long as I have, you’ve spent considerable time finding creative ways to prove your organization is a perfect match for prospective funders. Often I’ve been tempted to write “please just give us the money” in a grant application. Sweet and to the point, right? Obviously, you know that won’t get the results you’re seeking for your organization. Even when you've done an outstanding job of researching which funders you should approach for grants, it's difficult to be certain that your organization and a funder are a good fit.

There is an effective tool that you can use to get your foot in the door with a funder that won’t take nearly as many hours as writing a full-blown grant proposal.

It’s called the letter of inquiry (LOI) or letter of intent. These mini-proposals are a lot like trying out for a role in a play or movie. It's a quick way of finding out if you’re a good fit with a funder without investing a ton of time submitting their rigorous grant applications.

When grantmakers or foundations request an LOI, typically, they’re looking for a concise explanation of your organization or project that will make them eager to give you a grant. Some prospective funders may send your org an invitation to submit a full grant proposal after reviewing your well crafted LOI, while others might even find enough info from your pitch to render a funding decision. This means a great LOI might win you funding for your project more quickly than you expected.

Here are 6 great reasons you should master the skill of writing an LOI:

  1. Many times a funder will request a letter of interest or letter of intent before a full proposal will be accepted from an applicant

  2. They are commonly the first opportunity for you to make a great first impression and build relationships with grantmaking staff

  3. An LOI gives a funder the chance to quickly review a project idea and determine alignment with their funding priorities, saving you both time if it’s not a fit

  4. It gives key industry players a glimpse of your exciting new initiatives, increasing brand awareness

  5. The LOI development process forces you and your organization to think ahead and realistically assess the organization's capabilities and plans

  6. Submitting your LOI often puts you on the funders’ mailing list, ensuring you will receive any future addenda, changes, and modifications for that particular grant, including deadline changes

If you’ve read this far, chances are you’re starting to believe in the power of the LOI. Ready to start crafting your next great LOI? Keep reading to learn the building blocks you’ll want to incorporate.

Typical Elements of an LOI


The introduction acts as the executive summary. It usually includes the name of your organization, the requested amount, and a description of the project. You can also include the qualifications of project staff, a brief description of the evaluative methodology, and a timeline showing key milestones.

Organization Description