3 Questions to Ask Before You Start Searching for Grants


When a nonprofit needs funds for a program or building often there is a question that comes to mind. 

Is there a grant to fund our organization?

No matter how long you’ve been playing a key role at your nonprofit, it’s pretty likely you’ve asked yourself some version of that question. And, with close to 2 million charitable organizations throughout the U.S. chasing a finite number of grant funding sources, it isn’t too complicated to see why there’s a built-in urgency to answer it. 

You have a passion for serving your community with excellence, whether it’s serving vulnerable men, women, and children with food or housing, coming alongside those struggling to overcome substance abuse addiction or making sure women and families have everything they need within their first year of parenthood. Details aside, it will take some strategic thinking and planning to make sure you can accomplish these worthy goals. And that means seeing to it that your organization has enough financial resources to do more than turn the lights on. 

After all, your financial goal isn’t simply to survive; it is to do your part to help others thrive.

So, where do we start when it comes to researching grant opportunities? Before you even start looking for funding, you should ask yourself three questions to effectively start your search. 

What are we trying to do?

For starters, we always want to get back to basics. Too many nonprofits (and for-profits, for that matter!) nail down items like vision and mission statements and strategic plans at a weekend retreat, only to set them aside from when it comes to crucial decision-making on revenue streams.

But think of it: You’re only going to be effective in your grant research and writing process if you’re clear about who you are as an organization and what you hope to accomplish in your community. A lack of clarity on identity and goals leads straight to mission drift, and that means a far less effective missional output at the end of the day.

So, when it comes to finding grant opportunities, make sure you’re always keeping your mission, vision, and goals at top of mind. 

Who are we trying to serve?

As important as what you’re trying to accomplish is who you’re trying to accomplish it for. And don’t forget, that includes both those you serve and those who currently support that mission.

Let’s say your nonprofit provides respite care to parents of children with special needs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Every aspect of your specific mission should inform your grant research process. Clarifying your geographic specifics, for instance, will save you time and wasted energy chasing funds that are geared for a rural area or another large urban center where a grantor or foundation is based.

So, as you research potential funding stream, be sure to keep in mind the geographic and demographic components of your mission. 

What type of funding are we looking for?

Just like it’s easy to set aside core principles like who we are as an organization and who we’re there to serve, it’s every bit as easy to fail to get specific about what type of grant funding we’re interested in seeking. That’s one reason researching grants can seem so overwhelming.

So ask yourself, “What type of funding do I need?” Is it startup capital? Sponsorship for an upcoming event? New or existing program budget? Strategic initiative?

Imagine you’re a community services organization seeking to expand your services to include after-school programs like tutoring and mentorship. If you’re clear on some details—facilities needed, number of hours, desired location, amount of volunteers needed—you’ll be that much closer to matching your need with the right funding source.

Find your match

Some funders prefer to focus on specific types of funding. Recently a proposal was submitted for a capital project and the foundation wrote back, “they do not want to fund any capital at this time, only programs.” It wasn’t that the proposal was bad or the organization isn’t amazing. The problem was the type of funding requested was not the type of funding being offered. Armed with that information the organization will go back in the future and request program funding for another project.

Funders give information about what type of funding they give out through their websites, application instructions, what we do not fund information and there is always the scouring of their 990s to see what types of funding they have given out in the past. The past can be a big clue for the future.

So, as you clarify your own goals, look for potential grantors who share them in common. Approached rightly, it’s an opportunity for both parties to collaborate on a shared mission. 

We’ll talk through what types of funding sources are out there, and how to research them in an upcoming post, but for now, make sure you’re clear as to your own goals when it comes to which type of funding you’ll need to take the next step toward serving with excellence.

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