Where to Find Grant Opportunities
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“Obscurity is a bigger problem than money,” states Grant Cardone, and this could not be truer when it comes to finding grant funding sources. If funding sources are hidden away in some obscure world to your nonprofit, then this becomes the main root of not having any grant money. If you cannot find the sources that hold the money, then you will never be able to tap into the funding.
Now notice that I stated that it might just be obscure to your nonprofit. It does not mean that the funding source only publishes grant announcements on page 515 in a hardcover outdated book in an old dusty library. This may have been the case pre- and early-Internet days, but it is not the situation today.
I remember back in 2005 I would drive down to the Foundation Center in Washington DC to access international funding sources. This was after driving a few hours in traffic and paying exorbitant parking fees. That was when the Foundation Directory Online had only their national Foundations published online, so if I wanted to find out about international organizations I would have pour over thick books with, at many times, outdated information. As much as this was an inconvenience at least I was in driving distance to one of Foundation Center’s five brick and mortar locations.
Today’s world is very different as there is an overwhelming number of grant databases online to the point that grant research can be a bit overwhelming. Even though access is prevalent there are some new gatekeepers blocking access to grant opportunities. These gatekeepers are either monetary or technical. The monetary gatekeepers are that many Foundation databases only allow access to grant opportunities to paying members. Therefore, accessing Foundation funding sources can be pricey if you enroll in membership clubs. Technical gatekeepers exist in techie hurdles on federal sites requiring logistical steps of system numbers filed through complicated processes, frequent password changes, and upgrades in software.
A side note on the technical hurdle is that a new step in accessing grants.gov for starting entities accessing the System for Award Management is that you now are required to have a notarized letter. This is due to the recent cyber hack in March 2018 into the System for Award Management, otherwise known as SAM. This database is the federal government’s vendor base and to submit a federal grant or to apply for a contract you need to be entered into SAM. The latest news is that there was a person giving fake notifications of award from the federal agency of the Administration of Native Americans. The person sent a realistic-looking letter to individuals notifying them of a grant award, and then asked for personal and banking information. Federal agencies will not ask for personal or banking information by phone or email as it goes through a federal procurement process. Federal agencies will also publish the grantees on their website.
Where is the best place to find funding sources? It depends on the type of grants you are looking for. We did cover the different types of grants in the previous episode of 025 What Is a Grant? Today, let’s look at where to find the grants and over the course of this series on “How to Find Grants” we will go into depth about how to utilize each of these platforms to find the best fit funding sources for your nonprofit. Yes, by the end you will become a grant researcher ninja.
Federal Grants and Contracts
Let’s start with federal grants. When researching federal grant opportunities the big daddies are Grants.gov and the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA). Grants.gov is a federal online search engine located at - you guessed it - www.grants.gov. This is a great platform as it captures federal grants, has great search engine tools, and is where you will also need to submit your federal grant application.
In 2018, Grants.gov now requires you to submit grants through their hosted platform called Workspace. This is integrated into Grants.gov and requires you to upload (or fill out online) all necessary documents in submitting a grant. If you have not used Workspace yet think of it like a hybrid Google doc. I actually really like it as you do not have to send your grant narratives, budgets, and so forth through email threads where different people may be working on the grant at the same time and suddenly there are two versions. Workspace allows for working on documents either online, or you can lock the feature if you download a version to work on so nobody else can access it while you are working on it. The other really cool feature is that once you fill out a grant through Workspace it will populate some information for you on your next grant. That’s pretty cool.
We will go over Workspace and Grants.gov in more depth in a later article, but we are referencing this now as a place to look for federal grants. You can enter in terms in the search button to find grant opportunities or you can search by categories, geography, federal agency, and so forth. If you find yourself just not having the time to jump on Grants.gov every day to check for funding opportunities, a cool function is that you can subscribe to an automated email alerting you to certain grant categories that you select. Very cool.
On Grants.gov there is an area to learn about grants, search grants, apply for grants, an area for grantor support, forms, ways to connect, and support.
The CFDA can be found at www.cfda.gov (although in the near future it will move to beta.SAM.gov). The CFDA is:
“is a government-wide compendium of Federal programs, projects, services, and activities that provide assistance or benefits to the American public. It contains financial and nonfinancial assistance programs administered by departments and establishments of the Federal government.”
This is a great website as it enables you to find out more about the various federal agencies and which ones publish grants and funding opportunities that meet the needs of your organization. According to their website:
“The primary purpose of the Catalog is to assist users in identifying programs that meet specific objectives of the potential applicant, and to obtain general information on Federal assistance programs.”
This is true. Information on CFDA includes programs, agencies, regional agency offices, and general information. Search terms include Keyword or Program Name, Assistance Type, Applicant Eligibility, Use of Assistance, Beneficiary Eligibility, Deadlines, Date Modified, Date Published, and several other options of narrowing down grant notices.
I do not find CFDA as user-friendly as Grants.gov, but the information about the federal agencies is more robust.
This website is arguably catered more to for-profit companies. FedBizOpps.gov is where the federal contract opportunities are published in the amount greater than $25,000. Why would nonprofits want to access this website? Well, you possibly have business arm set up to earn income for products or services. This would be a great way to actually earn profits that could then fund those pesky nonprofit operational or construction costs that are so hard to get covered under grants.
There are several ways to use this site and search for potential government contract work. You can access the search engine of www.fbo.gov to locate potential contracts for supplies or services. FedBizOpps includes the following search terms: Solicitation Number, NAICS Code, Dates(three days up to sixty days posted), Procurement Classification Code, and the Federal Agency.
How FedBizOpps differs from Grants.gov and CFDA is that FedBizOpps publishes solicitations for government contract work. Even though there are services that fall under this scope, it is for work that directly benefits the federal government. Whereas Grants.gov and CFDA showcase grant opportunities that fund other organizations to carry out the goals of the government within the community. Sure, this also benefits the government, but usually more indirectly. For example, the federal government has a goal to reduce poverty so will award grants through grants.gov to nonprofits organizations or city governments to provide services that enable people to get out of poverty or services to prevent poverty. In comparison, solicitations published on FedBizOpps might be for a small business to construct buildings on a military site or to provide graphic work for a federal agency.
Federal Agency Websites
Most federal agencies also publish grant notices on their agency website. This is more time-consuming to sift through various websites to find grant information, which in most cases refers you to Grants.gov to apply for the grant but can be more enlightening. For example, your nonprofit might only need to focus on several federal agency websites that have funding priorities in your nonprofit’s field. In this way you do not have to look at every single federal agency website. One very relevant reason to go to federal agency websites is that oftentimes they will post previous funding, which organizations received funding, what they received funding for, and how much funding they received. This gives you a really good idea on the trends of the agency. Information on the specific mission and goals of the agency will also be posted on their website. This can be helpful when writing your grant as you will have a better understanding of the agency.
Foundations are a little trickier when it comes to grant research as these oftentimes come with price tags to access the information.
GuideStar is a fantastic database as the free membership gives you a lot of information about both nonprofit organizations and Foundations. This information includes: address, phone, website, and contact information; revenue and expense data for the current year; balance sheet data up to five years; form 990s; annual reports; full listing of board of directors and CEO. This information will help you find nonprofits similar to yours and to find out where they are getting their funding, how much funding they are getting, and what types of projects they are funding. It will also allow you to find various Foundations and to look at their 990s to see how much funding they give annually, to which organizations, and for what types of funding. You can find GuideStar at www.guidestar.org.
Foundation Directory Online
The Foundation Directory Online is the big mama of Foundation research under the Foundation Center. This is the place that has access to information on more than 140,000 Foundations and includes excellent graphs and easy-to-use tools. The search engine for Foundation funding includes subject areas, geographic focus, population served, organization name, and location. The main drawback to Foundation Directory Online is that there is a fee for membership. The basic membership starts around $39 per month upwards to $150 per month.
Foundation Directory Online might be the dominant database out there for Foundations, but that isn’t to say there are the only ones. There are many different grant databases including the Christian Foundation Directory, Grant Gopher, and a myriad of others. Typically, they are not as robust as either Foundation Directory Online or GuideStar, but they may offer more customized searches specific to your nonprofit and be more affordable.
Doing a Google search for specific Foundations is absolutely fine, as well. Even if you find a great Foundation on Foundation Directory Online or through GuideStar, I still recommend checking out the Foundation’s specific website for up-to-date information. Furthermore, you will be able to familiarize yourself more with the branding and mission of the Foundation by checking out their website.
Social media is another great way to check out what the latest happenings are with Foundations. Pick some of your favorite Foundations and follow them on social media to see the most up-to-date information concerning grant opportunities. Furthermore, follow other nonprofits that you want to model or that are like yours, but may be in other geographic areas, to see what they are doing for a fundraiser, what grants they are winning, or other innovative ways of developing partnerships or meeting the needs of their beneficiaries.
There you have it. These are great ways to access all grant opportunities. Throughout this series we will dive into each of these areas to show you how to optimize your searches, find the best-fit funding sources, and to ultimately save you hundreds of hours of research time.
As always, send me an email if you have any grant writing and/or funding questions!
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