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How to Determine the Best Grant Prospects for Your Nonprofit

It’s time to take your nonprofit’s broad list of prospects in hand and find out more about each of them to best arm yourself for seeking grants. See what you can discover from the following sources:

  • Websites and annual reports: Some foundations (approximately 29 percent of them) produce websites or printed annual reports with detailed information about their grantmaking guidelines and grantees. These websites and annual reports can be particularly helpful for grant seekers. They often include brief statements or introductory letters from the foundation’s leaders that provide insight into a foundation’s philosophy or its current direction.

    You can find announcements of new annual reports in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, explore printed annual reports in some libraries, or call the foundations and ask to have the reports sent to you.

  • Blogs and tweets: Some foundation leaders post blogs or tweets about their work and grantees. Some have Facebook pages. You can find their social-media identities through their websites and “follow” or “like” them to get ongoing updates.

  • Form 990s: Foundation 990 forms may be the only place to find a list of sample grants for a small foundation or a list of every single grant a particular foundation has awarded. Foundations are required to make their three most recent 990 or 990-PF reports available to the public. Many of them do so by including them on their websites.

    Other places to find 990s include the Foundation Center, NOZA 990-PF Database, and GuideStar websites. Some state agencies also provide online access to 990s. Finally, you can request a photocopy of a foundation’s 990-PF either in writing or in person. The foundation may ask for a reasonable photocopying fee.

    A 990 is the type of tax form filled out by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or public charity (such as a community foundation), and a 990-PF is the type of tax form completed by a private foundation.

    Approximately half of the foundations in the United States don’t review grant proposals from organizations that are unfamiliar to them. They only give to nonprofits chosen by their trustees or staffs. To identify these foundations, watch for the phrases “no unsolicited proposals” or “gives only to preselected organizations” when reviewing the “limitations” sections of their profiles.

    If you’re searching with the Foundation Directory Online, you can avoid wasting time on such foundations if you use the “Search Grantmakers” feature and check the box next to “exclude grant makers not accepting applications.” If you’re searching through 990 and 990-PF documents to find a possible funder, check Part XV, Question 2. Foundations that don’t accept unsolicited proposals will check a box here indicating that practice.

    A foundation’s 990 may be the only place you can see a complete list of grants, but PDF files for the nation’s largest foundations are enormous. Downloading a 990 from one of the larger foundations is not recommended. Reviewing 990s or 990-PFs is more useful when you’re studying small foundations whose grants lists may not otherwise be available.

  • The foundation’s contact person: If a foundation listing includes a contact person and phone number — and if it doesn’t say you shouldn’t call — feel free to call that person to confirm information and ask any questions you may have. However, do so only after you’ve read as much as you can find about that foundation. This way you can be focused, clear, and knowledgeable as you seek additional information.

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