This blog is the second in a three part series that will focus on the tools you need in order to build a comprehensive grants seeking program. Today’s topic will outline a 6 step process to grants research.

You need to fund a project. But, first, you have to identify the right grantmaker for the project. Developing a set of project descriptions to guide your funding research can help with this process. With this information, you can also establish an overall grant strategy which will, in turn, guide you in setting up your grants calendar for the next 18 months.

Apply a Consistent Research Method

Adopting and consistently using a process is what makes all of this work. So start by preparing a description using the Grant Decision Matrix for each of the projects for which you need funding over the next year. Don’t forget to include general operating costs! Identify strong project keywords on your worksheet.

Once you have completed a project worksheet you need to run it through the six step grants research process.

1. Look for Government and Private Sources

Always look at potential government funding sources first, even if you don’t want government funding.

There are two key reasons for this approach:

  1. You identify government funding for your project. It is very likely that it will cover most – or all – of your project costs.
  2. You don’t identify government funding for your project. In this case, when you apply to private grant makers you can tell them with confidence that recent research indicates that, at this time, there are no government programs that will support your project. This demonstrates that you are transparent in your process and that you have done your homework.

Stop here, and take a moment to think outside the box!

Step back and review your draft budget. This can help you think about where you might look for product and service donations that may not have shown up on your radar so far. Look to vendors and businesses that you – or your community – use on a regular basis. You may find that local or regional businesses are willing to write a letter of introduction or support for your proposal, even if they cannot provide funding or donations for your project. Also consider the relationships between those businesses and state or national businesses. These connections could uncover some solid funding sources.

2. Review Background Materials

Save basic information such as deadline dates, average grant award, geographic focus, areas of interest, and types of support. Run this information through the matrix and add relevant dates and tasks to your calendar. Gathering this information can take a bit of time, so consider assigning this task to your fundraising committee. Much of this work can be done online, and it is easy to get a volunteer to help. Also research who has been funded in the past year and if project similar to yours has received funding.

3. Determine Questions

Generate some of your own questions for potential funders.

Plan to ask some of the following common questions as well:

  • Can they share with you the review process?
  • Should the proposal be written for reviewers with technical or non-technical backgrounds?
  • As a first time applicant, should you ask for a less amount than average?
  • Can they tell you the probable award announcement date?
  • What are the most common mistakes in the proposals they receive?
  • Are there unannounced programs or unsolicited funds available to support your project?

4. Create a Script

This is going to help you discover truly good sources.

As you develop the script, make sure you:

  • Do introduce yourself, your role, and one or two sentences about your organization.
  • Don’t ask questions about things they’ve already answered in their published materials.
  • Don’t give them a lot of information about your organization or project at this juncture.
  • Focus on their objectives and funding interest.

5. Contact the Funder

After completing your preliminary investigation and elimination of grant makers, make phone calls or send email inquiries. Alert the funder up front, that you have done your homework and have just a few specific questions to ask before you develop an application.

  • Don’t go off script!
  • If you are writing an email, make it short and easy for them to answer specific questions.
  • If you are calling, tell them exactly how much time you need, and stick to it.

6. Build a Strategy

After you’ve narrowed the field to the best possible set of grant makers, you’re ready to build a grant strategy.

Make sure your strategy for each project remains:

  • Goal-oriented. Your goal is to raise funds, so keep that goal in sight.
  • Fact-based. The facts behind your strategy have to be solid.
  • Flexible. The strategy is extrapolated from your facts and is based on assumptions about who can give you what and when. That means you have to remain flexible in your thinking. Consider multiple alternatives and entertain a range of scenarios.

Make sure to read the last installment of this series to learn how to build a powerful grant strategy.


Cynthia Adams has been a dedicated to helping nonprofits identify and secure the funding they need to do their good work for well over 40 years. Much of her early work centered on raising funds to help set-aside public lands in Alaska.

In the early 80’s she introduced the idea of building sustainable communities throughout the state, serving as the Executive Director of the Interior Alaska Economic Development Council. In 1990 she opened her first business, the Alaska Funding Exchange, which served as the testing ground for a larger, national business: GrantStation, which opened it’s internet doors in the fall of 2001.

Cynthia built this business because she believes that grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the funders and sound knowledge of the playing field. Her life’s work has been to level that playing field, creating opportunities for all nonprofit organizations, regardless of size or geographic location, to secure grant support.

Ms. Adams lives part time in New York City, and part time in Baja, Mexico. But her heart and soul are still in Alaska, where she and her husband keep a small 5-acre parcel and dry cabin in the Taiga forest 12 miles north of Fairbanks.

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