How to find funders (even when it feels like looking for a needle in a haystack)
Unfortunately, it is rare for a funder to come knocking down your organization's door demanding that you take their money (but wouldn't that be a fantastic world??).
There are currently almost 90,000 foundations in the US, and that is not including all the local, state, and federal level grant opportunities or the corporate sponsorships that are available. This means that there are a lot of organizations to sift through when trying to find the handful or so who are interested in funding 1) the programs you offer, 2) in the geographic location you offer them, 3) to the populations you support, and 4) at the funding level you need.
When looking for funders it is important to keep in mind that a little extra up front research can and will save you hours of lost time in the future by otherwise applying to funders who are almost sure to be a hard no.
Once you have determined your organization or program's grant readiness and have decided to move forward, there are a number of resources you can use to find funders:
Candid (formerly Foundation Center and GuideStar). Two of what I consider to be the most useful sites for potential funder research have joined forces to become one super-resource! Both of these sites list funders' 990s and provide information about how to approach the foundation. In my experience, Foundation Center is more useful when using the paid version. If your organization does not have the funds to pay for a subscription, you can easily access the paid site at their centers or at libraries and schools around the world (find one here). On a side note, the Foundation Center provides amazing trainings and webinars on a variety of topics - including how to find funders.
Grants.gov is the definitive site for federal governmental funding opportunities. They offer a number of free trainings and tutorials on how to use their site. Their online search tool allows you to sift through current and past Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from most federal level departments.
Local and state government websites. State, city, and county level governments often have funding opportunities that are listed on their websites. You can usually sign up to be notified via email about future opportunities. This often requires checking the websites of individuals departments that align with your work (i.e. Transportation Department, Department of Education, etc.) and signing up for their specific emails as well. For example, here in San Francisco and you provide financial counseling for low-income populations, you may want to check out the Mayor's Office for Housing and Community Development as well as the Office of Workforce and Economic Development.
Your Community Foundation's website. Your local Community Foundation has their finger on the pulse of philanthropic activities in your community. They may even act as an intermediary accepting proposals on behalf of area foundations. Check out their social media sites, blog, and their news or media page on their website. They will often broadcast local giving opportunities and recent sizable grants from area foundations and corporations.
Websites and 990s of other nonprofits doing similar work. Many nonprofits list their funders on their websites or in an annual report. If there are other organizations in your area that are doing similar work, check and see who is funding them.
News outlets. Large gifts are often advertised in newspapers and on news channels. Use a search engine and type in a few key words about your type of serve and 'grant' and see what pops up.
Using these sites, you can start to narrow down the options and create a database of potential funders. The process of searching through these sites will take time. I usually recommend setting aside a chunk of time (anywhere from 20 - 30 hours) each year to devote to an intensive search, and then reserving a handful of hours each month doing quick checks for updates.
In my next post I will describe how to use the information on these sites to determine if they are a good fit for your program or organization. In the meantime, explore the sites and try out some of their tutorials. Most are very user-friendly and designed with new users in mind.
How about you? How do you search for funders? Comment below to share any other resources that are helpful in your quest to find funders. Happy hunting!