Grant managers at nonprofits “take a reactive approach to finding funders,” said Barbara Floersch, executive director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. A funding need arises, and staff members scramble to find an appropriate grantmaker for the situation.
“That’s typical, but it’s not the best way to develop a robust grants portfolio,” said Floersch, who challenges nonprofits to think about funder research in a strategic, proactive way.
Researching grantmakers shouldn’t be crisis-instigated or something you tackle in response to a specific funding need. A proactive approach requires that you assess the universe of private grantmakers (foundations and corporations) and government funding programs, identify those that are the best fit for your organization’s work, build relationships, and only make the ask when the time is right.
1. Prioritize Funding Needs. Study your organization’s strategic plan, assess the funding situation of each program, and work with administrators to prioritize funding needs. This will result in clearly identified program and operational categories you can use when researching funders.
2. Do the Basic Research. Use top-quality databases to identify grantmakers and government programs that might be a good match for your work. Consider geographic preferences, topic-area interests, and typical grant levels.
3. Do a Deeper Dive. Basic research will turn up lots of interesting funders, but sorting out those that are a good fit requires a deeper dive. Check the tax returns of private funders to see what projects they’ve funded and in what amounts. Check websites and databases to determine the same for government programs. Study websites. Do Google searches for news releases and reports. A private foundation that supports youth services in your area may only fund Boys & Girls Clubs. If your organization isn’t a Boys & Girls Club, don’t bother. If a promising government program has only made grant awards to large universities, your small nonprofit probably shouldn’t waste its time.
4. Cultivate Relationships. Just because you’ve identified some great prospects doesn’t mean it’s time to submit a grant request. Identify the people involved with the targeted funders and work to build relationships with them. If the funders are nearby, attend events where you know the people will be. Invite them to your organization’s events. Ask if they’d be interested in receiving your newsletter. Check out connections that board members or volunteers may have with the funder contacts.
5. Make a Good Ask. A funder may stay on your radar for a while before the right time arises for a grant request. But if you’ve done deep research, and if you’ve had the good fortune of getting to know the people involved, you’ll have a solid understanding of what grant request is most likely to succeed. Continue networking and relationship building, but only request a grant when the time and the topic is right.
Grant seekers who are deliberate, methodical, and strategic in their approach to funder research, and to grant requests, are much more likely to succeed. ©Copyright 2017 The Grantsmanship Center.