How To Find Grants For Your Nonprofit Or Charity (The Basics)

How do you fund your nonprofit or charity? Do you rely solely on donations, or do you diversify with fees and grants?

Grants, which are essentially large donations given to support your organization, are an important source of income for many nonprofits and should be incorporated into your yearly fundraising plan. Some experts suggest that nonprofits and charities use grant money to cover around 20% of the budget.

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You may be like many people in the nonprofit world who are unfamiliar or intimidated by the grant process. It’s possible that you’ve heard stories about the many hours it takes to get all the paperwork together, the tedious wait times, etc. But, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be difficult if you take the time to properly prepare yourself and your organization.

So, let’s start with the basics, including how to find grants that align with the needs of your nonprofit. While there is no golden formula, I’ve outlined some of the basics on how to find grants for small to medium-sized nonprofits.

1. Establish A Budget For The Grant Money

Don’t fall into the trap of just applying for funds without knowing exactly what you plan to use the grant money for. In fact, the chances of securing grant money for an undetermined expense is highly unlikely.

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When finding grants, the first step is to outline the project you need funding for, and then determine exact amount you need to fund said project. Make note of the following:

  • What are the details of the project/expense you need funded? Why is this necessary for your organization to continue your work?
  • Outline staff time, services, other administrative costs, supplies, travel, etc. associated with the project.

Use this information to create a line-by-line budget that includes every dollar you intend to request and ultimately using grant money. That way, you know what type of funding you are looking for.

2. Use These Search Engines

There are hundreds of millions of dollars in grant money available to nonprofits working within every single sector, from poverty relief to religious groups. The key is finding grants that match the unique needs of your organization, and these generally come from two main sources:

  • Foundations or Corporations
  • Government (Federal, state, local)

There are a large number of great grant search engines available online that will give you access to both foundation and government grants. Here are three of our favorites:

  • Foundation Center: This is the primary online source for grants available through private foundations, corporate foundations, and other nonprofits that accept grant proposals. The search capabilities on this site are user-friendly. According to Sarah Cortell Vandersypen, CFRE, many public libraries or community foundations will offer access to the full version for free.
  • Grant Watch: For both government and private foundation grants, Grant Watch is a good search engine to use. Nonprofits and charities of every size will be able to find grants that match their needs.
  • Organizations interested in applying for federal grants will find this website relatively easy to navigate.

PRO TIP: “Start local. Community foundations work with local donors to fund projects that support community needs. Building relationships with community foundation officers will help identify possible grants or Donor Advised Funds that fit our mission. By engaging these officers, inviting them to see programs or meeting your staff and volunteers, better equips them to promote your organization with potential donors/funders.” –Adam Clevenger, CFRE, Loring, Sternberg & Associates

3. Match The Grant Criteria

Once you found some grants that you are interested in applying for, don’t make the mistake of meeting a mere handful of a list of grant requirements. Take the time to look at the grant criteria to make sure you meet every stipulation. After all, the short amount of time you put into finding the right grant for your nonprofit could save you a lot of time and money down the road.

“Tip #3: Take the time to look at the grant criteria to make sure you meet every stipulation…” tweet this

Grant criteria vary drastically depending on the type of funding you need. For example, requirements for government grants differ from those of private foundations and other nonprofits. This Guide to Grants for Online Fundraising and Crowdfunding details 4 common types of grants, which are:

  • Grants to cover program expenses
  • Funding that supports operations
  • Research grants for academics and researchers
  • Matching grants based on an organization’s own fundraising results

Keep in mind that one of the main things you should be looking for is the type of grant you need. If you need to fix a part of your office space, then you’ll be on the lookout for operational and capital expenses. For program development and to expand the services your charity provides, focus your attention on program expenses.

PRO TIP: “You’ll want to research your local community foundation, family foundations, and corporations. Google will be your friend. What are their funding priorities? Deadlines? Typical grant award? I am also a big fan of benchmarking against other like organizations. If you’re a theatre group, look at who else is funding performing arts in your community.” Sarah Cortell Vandersypen, CFRE, Philanthropic Partners

4. Have Your Documents In Place

Funding agencies ask for varying documents, depending on the type of grant you are looking for. However, there are some documents that you’ll need to submit with almost every grant, including:

  • Strategic plan
  • Mission statement
  • Tax forms (including Form 990)
  • Clean, well-researched data on the project

A prepared grant writer will have all of this documentation in place well before they start looking for grants to apply for. If you’re unable to procure a required document before the application deadline, then it’s best to skip over that particular grant and continue your search.

As a side note, don’t forget to do a quick search for your organization on Charity Navigator and Guidestar and spruce up any old or missing information to secure a high-level standing for both sites (1-4 stars on Charity Navigator, bronze through platinum for Guidestar).

PRO TIP: “Foundations and even corporate foundations continue to press organizations to demonstrate impact of their programs. They are no longer comfortable just giving out money or counting participation as impact. Organizations must clearly think through how they will measure outcomes before they think about applying for a grant. Outcome measurement requires a certain level of skill, without it, an organization risks future funding.” –Adam Clevenger, CFRE, Loring, Sternberg & Associates

Ensuring that your nonprofit has enough resources to operate is a never-ending job. But chances are, there are grants out there that match your nonprofit’s needs. Use these basic tips on how to find grants for your nonprofit and try your hand at searching and applying for grants that you are qualified for, or hire a freelance grant writer to do the heavy lifting for you. When all’s said and done, you may find this fundraising technique to be an effective and worthwhile way to fund impact around your cause.

Now, get searching!

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Do you have tips on how to find grants? Share your experiences and suggestions below.

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