How to Find & Prioritize Qualified Grant Prospects

//How to Find & Prioritize Qualified Grant Prospects

How to Find & Prioritize Qualified Grant Prospects

In our work with global NGO leaders, we’ve noted a few things that keep our clients awake at night:

  1. Weak pipeline of new major funding sources;
  2. The organization is in an ongoing cycle of urgency in fundraising;
  3. Not enough hours in the day or clones to get everything done.

While we don’t have any secrets for squeezing more hours out of your day, we do know how to tackle the first two: a weak pipeline and a cycle of urgency.

For many of our clients and others in the nonprofit sector, foundation and corporate grants are an essential part of their funding mix. That means one of the most valuable assets for a development director is a robust pipeline of funder prospects. While there are many tools out there to find grants such as Foundation Center, these tools are often priced far above what is reasonable for nonprofits with modest budgets.

So how do you find qualified grant prospects for your organization without typing “grants” into Google? We’ve adapted some of the grant prospecting strategies we use to find quality funder prospects for our clients, to give you some best practices you can use today.


  1. Start with who you know.

Make a list of any funders in your space that you have heard of or that you think on the surface may be a fit for you. While all global health funders, for example, are not equal, these funders are the low-hanging fruit in terms of prospecting.

  1. Use your peers.

Make a list of 3-5 organizations that are similar to yours in mission, issue and/or geographic area. If you aren’t sure of who these might be, try looking at the websites of some of your current funders to find out who else they are funding. Once you have the list, explore the website of each of these organizations and see if you can find their funder lists, often under “partners” or “supporters” or as part of annual reports. If a funder has funded an organization similar to yours, the chances are higher that they share your vision and will fund your organization. Add any funders that seem relevant to your list.

  1. Utilize free resources. 

While Foundation Center is an investment for most nonprofits, many local libraries have subscriptions to Foundation Center that you can use, free of charge. Especially if your mission only lends itself to a very small pool of funders, it may be worth a trip to the library to use this powerful tool.

Inside Philanthropy is another one of our favorite resources. While it’s not completely free (they have a limit on how many pages you can view/month), IP has a fantastic database of funders for most major issue areas, and even profiles of large individual funders like former Wall Street executives or celebrities.

There are a surprising amount of compiled funder lists online, especially if you are looking for more general types of funders. A quick Google search of “South America funders,” for example, may yield a few pre-compiled lists of funders.

  1. If you’re still stuck, Google!

 Keep your searches targeted by making a list of keywords related to your work, then try searching those keywords one at a time + “foundation” or “funder” or “grant.”



Once you have a pretty robust list of funders, you’ll need to filter and prioritize which are actually a fit for your organization, and which of those are most worth your time and energy.

  1. Compile the basic facts for each funder.

For each grant prospect, we like to take down the following info:

  • The funder’s mission or overarching goal
  • Their areas of interest
  • The list of things they do not fund (capital campaigns, etc.)
  • Which geography they fund in
  • Where they are headquartered
  • What their funding range is (this is sometimes explicitly stated, other times it’s gathered from looking at the grants they’ve awarded)
  • What the application process steps are
  • If the funder accepts unsolicited proposals
  • What the due dates are for proposals (if applicable)
  • The reporting requirements for grantees, if listed

This exercise will not only prove handy later when you begin applying for grants, but should make it clear which funders are not at all a fit for your organization and its needs.

  1. Assess ability, interest, and linkage.

Once you have whittled down your initial list to solely funders that are a fit, you should be able to start fleshing these out for each funder prospect:

  • Ability: Are they able to fund the type of work you do? Will they fund the specific need you have (operating expenses, capital campaigns, etc.)?
  • Interest: What evidence is there that they’re interested in the kind of work you do? Who have they funded in the past that is similar to you?
  • Linkage: Especially if they don’t accept unsolicited proposals, who do you know that might be able to help you connect to the funder? Are you attending any conferences or convenings where you might meet them? Who on your board, or what supporters, are linked to the funder? Use LinkedIn to uncover potential connections your board or strongest supporters may have with potential funders.

Fleshing out the ability, interest, and linkage for each funder should help you narrow down your large list of funders into a few top funders that deserve most of your efforts. This may seem like an extra step, but in the world of development, time is precious and time spent prioritizing funders now can help you maximize your time later!

  1. Share your top list with everyone in your organization, including your board.

By now, you should have a list of the funders that seem most promising. While many will accept unsolicited proposals, those “Hail Mary” submissions can be time consuming.  That’s where linkage comes in.

Reach out to the rest of your organization with a list of any funders for which you still need linkage. It’s a small world, and you never know who may have gone to college with the managing director of a foundation or knows someone at a corporate funder through professional connections.



With these steps, you should be able to effectively create a list of prospects, qualify them, and find the linkages you need to form fruitful connections with funders. If you tackle grant prospecting using our tips, contact us or leave a comment and let us know how it went!

But if you’re like many of our clients, you might be thinking “How in the world am I going to find time for this?” Don’t worry; we’ve got a solution for that, too. With Painless Prospecting, one of Black Fox Philanthropy’s point of entry offerings for new clients, we will get to know your mission, organization, funding goals, and current universe of prospects. In 4 weeks, we’ll provide you with a list of at least 50 qualified prospects including 15 BFFs (Best Fit Funders). Each prospect will come with key information about their mission, their funding range and priorities, and how and when to apply. The 15 BFFs will come with an analysis of linkage, interest, and ability to fund to inform your strategy. Sound like the right fit for your organization? Contact us.

By | 2017-03-29T18:17:59+00:00 March 29th, 2017|Fundraising|0 Comments

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