A Basic Research Strategy Using the Foundation Directory Online database

The Foundation Directory Online database is available for free here in the Franklin Public Library’s Grant Resource Center, and you do not need a Franklin library card to access it.  Learn more about the database here.

The easiest way to enter the Foundation Directory Online database is by searching Grantmakers. I say it is the easiest because it allows you 12 different search fields to use in crafting a search, and it uses the most familiar and intuitive terminology (Field of Interest, Geographic Focus, Types of Support, etc.).  There are three other ways to search the Foundation Directory Online database – by Grants, by Companies, and by 990s, but I won’t be covering those here. (Come to my class to learn more about those!)

To begin crafting your search, fill in a Field of Interest. Choose your terms from the alphabetical index that appears in the left pane when you click the blue “View Index” link under the Field of Interest search box.  You can enter more than one FIeld of Interest, and they will be automatically connected in the search box with an “Or.”

{ An aside … Leaving that “Or” as the connector will capture funders who list either terms as a field of interest.  If you want funders that list all the fields of interest you’ve chosen, you’ll have to delete each “Or” and replace it with an “And.”  This is called Boolean searching. }

To make choosing a suitable field of Interest easier, read through the 10 page, alphabetical print out of Field of Interest terms contained in the white “Tips for Searching” notebook that lives on the grant computer’s desk.  When it comes to Field of Interest, think in broad terms.  Cast the widest net to capture the most potential funders.

Next, fill in your Geographic Focus box. Geographic Focus refers to where the money will be used, which, in our case, is most likely Pennsylvania.  Also, be sure to add National to the Geographic Focus box too, because some funders don’t care what state their money goes to, as long as it stays here in the United States.  And you should leave the “or” in there.

Click Search, and … drumroll please … take a look at your list of results. If you have a disappointing number of grantmaker profiles returned to you as potential matches, go back to your search screen and widen your search.  Try leaving some search term fields blank, or broaden the fields of interest terms.

Once you have an exciting yet manageable list of results, begin researching the funders by clicking on their names to open up their profile.  The first thing you’ll want to look at is Limitations. The limitations will tell you straight-up who the foundation will not give money to, and sometimes also the limits on the types of support they will give.  If you fit into any of these limitations, move on to the next funder. Don’t waste your precious time or the funder’s precious time trying to convince them that they should make an exception on their limitations for you, because they shouldn’t and they won’t.

Move on and read about the foundation’s Purpose and Activities.  The Purpose and Activites section is kind of like the foundation’s mission statement. Sometimes it will be long and broken down with subheadings, or programs; other times it will be a single sentence.  This is where you try to find a contact point between your organization and the foundation’s mission.  (More on contact points in another post, I promise.)

Finally, move on the the Selected Grants list at the very bottom of the profile.  Has the foundation given money to organzations like your in the past? Learn more about grants they’ve given by clicking on the “Grants” tab at the top of some profiles.  Here you can access a list of all the grants the Foundation Cetner has on recent record for that foundation.  Compare the grants given to what sorts of projects the foundation says it will fund.  Are there any discrepencies that could work to your advantage?

By the end of your search, you will hopefully have a list of 3 to 5 funders to explore in more detail, and, ultimately, a few to whom you can apply!


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