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How to find the perfect grant opportunities for your nonprofit

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

Have you ever said to yourself “I applied to a grant someone forwarded me, but no success? How do I find the right grants?” or “We keep applying for grants, but never have any luck. What should we do?”

If this sounds like you, it might be time to take a more proactive approach to finding grant opportunities. Prospect Research or "grant sourcing" is the process of identifying funders and targeted grant opportunities that meet your program needs.

At the beginning of every contract or year (for my long-term clients) I work with a nonprofit to create a list of priority funding areas and program needs. I use this simple “Project Outline” document to capture the program info. The project outline captures:

  • Project Purpose (why the program exists)

  • Project goals (what you hope to change)

  • Project activities and outputs (what you hope to do)

  • Project outcomes (what you hope achieve)

  • How much money you need and major expenses (i.e. staff, marketing, etc.); and

  • How the money will be used (capacity building, operating expenses, general operating support, etc.)

Once I know what I am working towards, I start the grant search using this 4-step process:

1. Recon the Competitors: I use sites like and Foundation Directory Online (FDO) to see which grant makers have supported similar organizations, especially those serving the same geographic area. There is a great chance that those same grant makers are interested in supporting your organization, too.

2. Conduct a Targeted Search: Using free and paid databases like FDO, Grant Station, Grant Watch, and Instrumentl, I enter in search criteria (what I am looking for) using the filter feature. Read each funder’s profile and ask yourself:

  • Is your mission compatible? Does your program help solve a problem they want to solve?

  • Do you serve the same population?

  • Do you meet the eligibility test?

3. Recon the Grantmakers: After I have a working list I visit each funder’s website to learn about the application process. If it seems like a good fit, I use the IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search at / to review annual giving, average number of awards, and grant amounts which can be found on the IRS 990 tax form.

4. Leverage the Network: Once I have created a comprehensive list of best matches, I keep an eye out for new opportunities by scanning my state’s grant website, Philanthropy News Digest, signing up for listservs, and staying engaged with professional associations, like Grant Professionals Organization.

If the funder seems like a match after your research, email or call the organization to determine eligibility and their interest in your project.

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