How to Use the Foundation Center to Find Nonprofit Grants
During the past 60 years, the public has gained increased access to information about nonprofit funding sources. One milestone in this movement was the creation of the Foundation Center in 1956. Originally intended to collect information so foundations could learn about one another, the Foundation Center quickly became a leading source of information for grant seekers.
Foundation Center basics
The Foundation Center manages five libraries across the United States and a number of official cooperating collections within other libraries and nonprofits. It also publishes several directories in print and on CDs, along with online databases of information available by paid subscription.
If you can’t find a nearby Foundation Center branch library or cooperating collection, check with reference librarians at your local public library or nearby college and university libraries. These places often have copies of some of the Foundation Center’s materials. The books and CDs can be expensive for individuals, so if you can’t find them in a nearby library, consider purchasing a short-term subscription to the Foundation Directory Online.
The Foundation Center directories are dense with information, but each of them contains a helpful introduction and annotated sample listing to help you identify where you can find answers to your questions. The foundation’s website can also guide you with articles, webinars, and online tutorials.
The number of foundations in the United States grows and shrinks; currently, the estimated number is 110,000. Reading profiles of all of those funders is daunting (and a waste of your valuable time!). You want to find the best options for your organization and project, so what are you looking for when you use these search tools? You’ll begin by asking whether a foundation satisfies the following four criteria:
Geography: Does this foundation award grants in the area where your nonprofit is based?
Fields of interest: Does this foundation award grants in the subject area of your organization’s work?
Type of support: Does this foundation award the kind of grant you want?
Application process: Is this foundation open to reviewing proposals from grant seekers, or does it only give to preselected organizations? Some 50,000 foundations don’t accept applications.
If you answered yes to all four, good work! You’ve found an entry for your broad list of prospects. Strive to come up with a list of about 15 or 20 foundations.
If you find too few choices, broaden your search (for example, looking for funders in your state — not just in your city). If you find too many choices, narrow your options, perhaps by adding a keyword search. But, wait, first you need to be familiar with these search tools.
The center’s information and resources
The Foundation Center organizes its information in nine databases. If you’re creating your broad list of foundation prospects, you’ll be most interested in five of them:
Search Grantmakers: Brief profiles of foundations
Search Companies: Brief profiles of companies
Search Grants: Indexes of grants of $10,000 or more
Search 990s: Foundations’ 990 tax forms
RFPs: Announcements of foundations’ requests for proposals, inviting applications that address particular subjects or community needs
These five databases are incorporated into the Foundation Directory Online, and all are available to people who subscribe to the Professional version of that online tool. Some are incorporated into published directories and CDs. Here are the titles of some of the books and materials you may use if you’re not using one of the online versions of this data:
The Foundation Directory and the Foundation Directory, Volume 2, are books featuring brief profiles of the 20,000 largest foundations in the United States. Most profiles include several sample grants awarded.
The National Directory of Corporate Giving profiles more than 3,300 company-sponsored foundations and 1,700 corporate-giving programs. In addition to describing companies’ grantmaking programs, it describes their business products and identifies their subsidiary companies.
Twenty-five focused digital Grant Guides, produced as PDFs that you may purchase to download and print. These allow grant seekers to hone in on a particular nonprofit field (such as arts, culture, and the humanities or disaster relief and recovery). These guides describe actual awarded grants of $10,000 or more in each featured field.
The information contained in the Foundation Directory Online is updated weekly, and the Foundation Directory is published once a year with a midyear supplement. It’s great to have access to the most recent information with the online service, but you should use the tools that best serve your research style and are most readily available to you.
The Foundation Center’s resources aren’t your only options. Some states and regions publish their own guides, and some universities have excellent databases. Another research approach is to investigate who is funding other local nonprofits. Compile a list of organizations with a similar focus and search for their donor lists in their annual reports, newsletters, and 990s. This can lead you to funders that may be interested in supporting your organization.