How to Identify Grant Funder’s Criteria

Finding a funder for your grant requires research. After you locate information on a foundation or corporate funding source, you need to quickly scan its profile to determine whether you have a perfect match. A perfect match means that you fit the funder’s organizational, geographic, and programming criteria and that the funder provides the kind of funding you need in an amount to make an approach worthwhile.

You can’t persuade a funder to change its award guidelines or funding priorities; you’re the one who has to do the changing to fit the funder’s funding criteria. If you can’t change your program or project, that particular funding source isn’t the best one for you. In that case, simply keep looking for a better match.

Every resource that lists funding sources presents the information on the funder in a generalized profile format. When you look at a funder’s profile, you can scan some specific information fields to determine whether reading about this particular funding source is worth your time. Focus on the following fields:

  • Limitations: Look at the limitations field first. Your organization may be eliminated before it can even get to the starting gate. Does the wording in this section eliminate your program or project? If so, move on to the next funder’s profile. If not, move on to the next critical information field.

    Typical limitations you may see listed in the grant maker’s online profile include

    • Specific geographic giving area (countries, states, and counties)

    • Restrictions on who it funds and what it funds

    Most mainstream foundation funders don’t award grants for religious purposes, to individuals, or for capital projects (building construction or renovation or major equipment purchases).

  • Purpose and activities: Every foundation and corporate giver has a purpose statement, located at the beginning of the funding profile. Does the funding source’s purpose statement reflect your organization’s values? Do any of the activities that the funder prefers to fund match activities that your organization is or will be undertaking? If not, read no further. Move on to another funder’s information profile.

  • Fields of interest: Does the program area that you’re seeking grant funds for match with any of the funding source’s fields of interest?

    Keep in mind that the language you use to describe your program may not be the language the funder uses to list its fields of interest. Think of your program area in broad terms and generic categories. For example, say you need grant funding for a program that will tutor and mentor at-risk elementary school students after school and on the weekends.

    You probably won’t find terms/phrases such as tutoring, mentoring, at-risk, or after-school in the funder’s fields of interest entry. Rather, you may find terms such as education (K–12), elementary education, public education, private education, and youth programs and services. The second list is broader than the first.

  • Types of support: What types of activities does this funder pay for? If you’re trying to erect a new building and the funder lists only general operating support, conferences, and seed money under types of support, this funding source isn’t the one you want to approach with a construction project.

    Even if this funder isn’t willing to support the type of activity you’re currently seeking funds for, save the funder’s information if you think it may be willing to support some other aspect of your organization.

  • Previous grants or grantees: Have any previous grants been for projects similar to yours or in your project area? Getting a funder to award grant monies in a state where it hasn’t previously awarded grants is difficult. If a funder has a track record for previous grants in your state or previous grants for projects similar to yours, the door is open to receive your funding request.

    You can search by location of foundation or geographic limitations to help narrow your search.) However, if these aren’t the circumstances you face, you may have to e-mail or call the funder to determine whether proceeding with a funding request is worth your time.

  • Amounts of grants previously funded: Does your guesstimated project budget fit into the range of prior grant awards? Use the funder’s prior grant-making amounts to gauge where your request should fall.

    You never want to request a grant amount that exceeds the top grant awarded by the funder — that strategy’s a bit too risky. If you’re looking for $100,000 and the largest grant awarded was $5,000, you need to find multiple funders for your project.

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