The Definitive Guide to Finding Grant Funding for Your Nonprofit

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Regardless of the mission, location or size, all nonprofits need the same thing: funding.

Without money to fund your good works, you won’t get much accomplished. Fundraising campaigns and events can move the needle, but they can only raise so much money.

At some point, you’ll need to seek grants to fund your mission, and winning grants takes a proactive approach. Keep in mind that grants are a long-term strategy. They won’t put money in your nonprofit’s bank account quickly.

Why? Because grants require research and planning. You must identify the right funder for your specific program. Remember, grants don’t fund general operating expenses. They fund specific programs, so identifying the right grants for your specific social programs is tantamount to your success.

How do you find the right grant funding opportunity for your nonprofit? We’ll tell you.

What types of grants are available?

There are ample grants available to nonprofits. Rarely will a grant opportunity arrive in your inbox, tied up with a pretty ribbon and a link to a user-friendly application. Instead, you must seek out opportunities yourself.

While there are many types of grants, we’re going to categorize opportunities into three primary buckets:

  • Federal grants
  • Foundation and corporate grants
  • State and local grants

Federal grants

As the name implies, federal grants are awarded by the federal government. With more than 900 funding programs given by 26 agencies, the federal government is the largest grant-maker in the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services awards the most funding of any federal agency with 29% of the total.

Federal grants go to nonprofits as well as states, tribal governments, academic institutions, research labs and even small businesses. These grants usually come in big dollar figures. According to GrantStation’s 2021 State of Grantseeking Report, the largest median individual award was $400,000, and 44% of grant recipients surveyed listed the federal government as their primary source of income.

Foundation grants

Foundation grants are awarded by private foundations, philanthropic trusts, community foundations, civic groups, religious organizations and corporate grant-making entities. These grants usually come in smaller dollar figures than federal grants. The median award in 2020 was $50,000. Therefore, nonprofits often seek support from multiple sources to fund their mission. Fortunately, foundation grants are generally easier to write than government grants and often require less grant administration.

State and local grants

States and local entities provide a good deal of funding to nonprofits. Some of those dollars may be pass-through money from the federal government. In other words, the feds give a state a grant to divvy up among front-line service agencies. The same holds true for local governments. The state may give counties or municipalities grant money to distribute on a hyper-local level.

According to the 2021 Grantseeking Report, 29% of respondents listed the state government and 17% listed the local government as their largest funding sources. The largest median award for state government was $105,000 and $45,000 for local government.

Where to find grant funding

In a perfect world, a single source would aggregate nonprofit grant opportunities from all grant makers. Alas, it’s not a perfect world. You’ll need to do some homework.

Finding federal grants is your source for identifying federal grants. The massive database lists opportunities from all federal grantmaking agencies. Each grant-funding notice includes instructions on how to apply, deadlines, program guidelines, grant officer contact information, and everything else you need.

The database is searchable by agency, posted date and closing date, opportunity number and keyword. The search function can be wonky. Keyword searches often don’t return what you’re seeking. You may need to get creative with search terms and search in multiple ways. It also means if you subscribe to a saved search, updates may be unreliable.

For example, if you operate an after-school program and enter the search term “after school,” you are likely to get grant opportunities from a wide variety of agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the Department of State, neither of which are germane to your mission.

Another option is reviewing the Federal Register daily journal each and every day to find newly announced funding programs. But it’s usually around 800 pages long. Even if you have nothing better to do, it would be a tedious task.

The best way to stay informed about new federal funding opportunities is by subscribing to our weekly Grant Round Up email newsletter. We sort new opportunities and remove the clutter so you can see what’s available at a quick glance. The Grant Round Up arrives in email inboxes every Wednesday so you always have a user-friendly list of federal funding opportunities.

How to find foundation grants

Foundation grants are little trickier to find. There are a few databases that maintain a reasonably comprehensive listing. The Foundation Center Directory Online (FDO) is the oldest, but there are new players like Instrumentl, Grantscape and Grantstation. All are fee-based, meaning you must pay for a subscription to access the funders’ info.

FDO is the most attractive option since many public and university libraries maintain subscriptions and give patrons free access to the database. FDO has a searchable listing of the public entities that offer subscriptions so you can find one in your area.

Going directly to the source can also help you find foundation funding. Corporations often have links to their foundation or grant-making entities on their websites or you can search for a company name followed by the word “foundation” or “philanthropy.” It takes a little elbow grease, but you might stumble along opportunities from companies like Bath and Body Works, Petco, Ben and Jerry’s, or Target.

You can also look to banks to find foundation funding. Banks that serve as trustees for family foundations and philanthropic trusts often list the grant opportunities online. For example, Bank of America and Well-Fargo each identify the grant-makers they serve.

Where to look for state and local funding

State or local funding is the most difficult to find. States like New York and municipalities like Atlanta maintain a clearinghouse of grant opportunities. But most local and state governments don’t. What’s more, local entities vary widely in how they publicize grant opportunities. Seek out the state and local resources available, if they exist for your area, and establish procedures or routines for monitoring them regularly. If newsletters or alert services exist for your state or local funders, subscribe to these resources.

In most localities, grant-making processes are not well-publicized or as transparent as you would expect. Overcome this obstacle by networking and building positive relationships with state and local grant-making agencies. Attend conferences and events hosted by pertinent potential funders, such as state departments of education or economic development.

When attending these events, truly network with the agency’s personnel and establish rapport. Don’t just show up to be seen. Make inroads with the people who control the funding. Doing so may win you a personal email from a staff member about an upcoming grant opportunity.

Along the same lines, it’s important to cultivate relationships with elected representatives who allocate funding. From the local level and higher, elected officials can be an invaluable resource and source of grant funding opportunities. At a minimum, subscribe to their email lists and follow them on social media.

Research the grant maker before applying

Think you’ve found a match? Dig a little deeper before you start writing. You may have discovered a grant that’s perfect for your organization, but you should perform due diligence before devoting time to preparing an application package.

Start by looking at grantmakers’ 990 IRS tax forms. This will show you what types of programs they fund and where the programs are located. You may also identify patterns in their funding cycles. For example, a foundation might alternate the geographic locations of funded organizations each year.

You can find 990s in several places. FDO offers a fee-based service, but you can also find searchable databases at Guidestar, Propublica and others.

It should go without saying that you need to read the fine print in any funding announcement to ensure your organization is eligible to apply. You’ll also need to filter out invite-only funding opportunities.

Get grant training

When you're certain you've found the right grant for your organization, get the training you need to write the application. Our self-paced grant writing course teaches everything you need to know about writing grant applications for governmental and private funders. Learn more and start doing more, better, today!

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