How to Find Grants for Nonprofit Organizations

Published March 13, 2020
Donation jar with heart

Running a nonprofit organization often means a constant search for funding to keep your organization's doors open and providing services. There are many ways to raise funds, and grant writing can be one part of a mix of strategies to bring in dollars to your organization.

Finding Grants for Your Nonprofit Organization

There are several types of grantmaking institutions that are available. Not all will fund your organization as each has their own area of focus. It's important when looking for grants to first know what you will be seeking funding for. Most grants are structured to fund a specific program, rather than provide general operating expenses. A few grantmakers will provide limited "seed" funding to help you get started. The best strategy is to have already discussed your project with your board, staff and even volunteers before you research funders, as this will help narrow down your search and you can use your time more efficiently.

Types of Nonprofit Grantmakers

There are many types of grants, but the most common are private grants from foundations and corporations and public grants from government organizations. You can also occasionally find grants that are made from other nonprofit organizations that are designed to go to a local community program or an organization working on a specific need. There are also "challenge" grants which usually are part of a competition and may be funded by private corporate, foundation, and/or nonprofit sources.

Private Grantmakers

Private grants are primarily made through foundations, corporations and corporate foundations. There are also foundations that are run by families which are usually small with limited funding, although not always. Community foundations are considered public charities and are usually run by several leaders in a given area, such as the Cleveland Foundation, and while they give out grants to local organizations, they also fundraise like a typical nonprofit. You can usually find information on grants from community foundations from the same resources that collect information from private grantmakers. There are a variety of resources you can use to search for grants from these types of funders:

Free Directories to Search

These directories offer free searches for grant-giving organizations:

  • The Guidestar website is a free directory of nonprofit organizations. You do need to create an account to use it. You can look up profiles on foundations as well as create a profile on your non-profit.
  • Subscribe to the Philanthropy News Digest's RFP Alerts, which alerts you to Requests for Proposals (RFP) and awards made across the United States.
  • Fundraiser Help's website has a list of some of the major corporate foundations that provide grants to nonprofits.
  • The Community Foundation Locator is an online search tool run by the Council on Foundations. You can search by state and by name for community foundations. The search gives you access to the contact information and website link for active community foundations.

Paid Searchable Directories

These directories require membership or subscriptions in order to search them:

  • GrantStation is a paid subscription service you can use to search for private foundations and charity grants in both the U.S. and Canada. A membership is $139 for one year or $189 for two years.
  • Instrumentl is an online "grant assistant" that matches your profile up with grant funding opportunities from private and corporate grantmakers. The fee to use the service is $75/month on an annual plan or $82 a month billed monthly. There is also a two week free trial period.

Directories With Free and Paid Options

Candid runs the Foundation Directory Online, which has an extensive database of private and corporate foundations, public charities and federal funders. You can purchase a subscription for the FDO Professional version for about $118 to $200 a month depending on your payment term or the FDO Essential version for between about $31 to $50 a month. The Essential version gives you access to about 103,000 grantmaker profiles and the Professional version gives you access to over 189,000 profiles as well as over 800,000 grant recipient profiles. The free version lets you search about 100,000 foundation profiles with limited search functionality. You should also check with your local library, as some have subscriptions for the Professional version available for free for patrons to use.

Tablet with chart and graph of United States

GrantWatch is a large online searchable database of foundation and corporate grantmakers. You can search not only on your program's cause but also location, deadline, and type of funding source. You can do a limited free search or pay for an upgraded account for as low as $18 a week to $199 per year.

Local Corporate Giving Programs

Your organization's board, staff and volunteers are also a source of potential grant information. If they work for a company that has a corporate giving program, ask them to contact their human resources department to find out more information. Having a board member or key staff or volunteer person on your project with a company relationship can help get your program more notice from funders.

Banks and Credit Unions

Speak to your local bank and credit union staff as well. Many small family foundations are managed by bankers and they will know of funders who may not have a website or publicly available information. Some major banks also have directories on their national websites of all the foundations that their staff manages. Three of the major ones are:

Government Grants

Grants from the government may come from federal, state, county, city or other local municipalities. There are several ways to find grants from public sources.

  • The Federal government runs the Grants.Gov website where you can search for grants from federal agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Endowment for the Arts. You can also sign up for their email newsletter that sends out alerts on new grant opportunities.
  • GrantWatch, mentioned above under Private Grantmakers, can also be used to search for federal, state and local government grants. The free search has limited capabilities, and the paid service runs from $18 a week to $199 per year.
  • GrantStation, also mentioned above, can be used to search for federal and state grants in the U.S. and in Canada. Instrumentl can also be used to search for state and federal grants in the U.S. only.
  • Your library is also a possible source of information about local grants. Speak to the librarian staff about resource they may have listing funding opportunities and local government offices that you can speak to.

Finding state and local government grants may take some more work. The best option is to contact the department of your government entity that relates to your chosen program to enquire about grant programs. For example, if you're planning to serve homeless families, contact your city, county or state's department of family services or social services. You can also contact your local representatives' offices which have staff who can assist you, such as the office of your city councilperson, county commissioner, state senator, U.S. senator or congressperson.

Finding the Best Grants for Your Organization

Searching for grantmaking institutions can be a lot of work, especially if you're new to the process. The more you narrow down your focus, the easier you will find your search to be. In addition to the many online resources, take the time to network with people in your community, including your board members, staff, and volunteers, as well as local bankers, public officials and librarians. These can all be excellent sources of funding opportunity information!

How to Find Grants for Nonprofit Organizations