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The Beginner’s Guide to Grant Research: Finding the Best Fit for Your Nonprofit Organization

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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