June 12, 2016

Navigating the Ocean of Funders

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, less than five percent of the ocean has been explored and “much remains to be learned from exploring the mysteries of the deep.” The Grantmaking landscape is akin to an ocean – deep, shifting, elusive, and even unpredictable at times. Navigating this vast ocean of potential funders is a tricky process. It’s a time-sink for many nonprofits but also an endeavor that can yield vital financial support for organizations. The proper identification and assessment of funders is a key to successful grantseeking; it’s often the first step towards developing a grantseeking strategy, and helps delineate a roadmap and timeline that pinpoints funders to pursue. By devoting time, effort, and deliberation towards funding research over the years, The Grant Plant has compiled a treasure trove of funders that we know support New Mexico nonprofits.

That said, being in-tune with the funding landscape does not by itself make the grantseeking process quick and easy. Every nonprofit is unique, with a specific set of programs, focus areas, and funding needs. The same is true for funders. To ensure that a comprehensive research listing/product (that we term as the “Grant Profile) is compiled, we tailor funding research to the specific needs of each nonprofit with whom we work. We assess every foundation, corporate, and public funder within our research that may fall within the focus areas of the client, as well as conduct additional targeted research through online databases and other avenues to pull in any additional potential funders.

The benefits and importance of proper research is evident, but even we why funding research is so time consuming and cumbersome. In fact, there are a number of time-sink elements that contribute:

Funding-research databases take time to navigate: Comprehensive databases like Foundation Center or Grantstation are awesome tools that can yield beneficial results but they also create long lists of potential funder matches that take time to review thoroughly. These lists are often starting points – not end points – for research. Website checks should be conducted for each potential funder to ensure: 1) that the funder is indeed aligned with needs of the grantseeker; 2) that the funder is geographically compatible with the grantseeker (many times this is not the case despite geography being a search criteria); 3) that the funder entertains unsolicited requests; and 4) that the funder awards the specific type of support needed (e.g., operating, program, or capital support).

Funding needs change for nonprofits: It is not uncommon for a nonprofit to have a new funding need arise. For example, an organization may need capital support for a new building, start-up funding for a new program, or personnel support to improve capacity. Urgent funding needs may arise within a specific time frame (e.g., match requirements), making award turn-around time a consideration. With every new funding need, even the known/compatible funders must be re-assessed to determine those that will support the nonprofit’s new funding criteria.

Grantmakers change their focus areas: Many grantmakers stay abreast of today’s issues and refine their grantmaking focuses and processes to respond to pressing social needs. This may mean adjusting an existing program, abolishing an existing program, adding a new program, or changing geographic focus areas. It also means that grantseekers need to re-assess funders constantly to ensure that they are still a match, or re-assess those funders who were previously not a match.

Grantmakers change their grantmaking processes: Grantmaking methods change over time. Grantmakers sometimes alter their annual deadline dates, stop accepting unsolicited requests, or revert to releasing RFPs on an unpredictable timeline. Grantseekers must conduct monitoring of matching funders for deadlines annually.

Grantmakers are ambiguous or unclear when describing what they fund: One of the most frustrating areas for a researcher is when it is difficult to determine specifically what the grantmaker wants to fund. Sometimes the description of their focus areas is confusing, which adds to research time. Nonprofits should assess the history of grant awards and/or contact the funders, if needed, to better understand their funding priorities. 990s are a free resource that often provides a nice listing of past grant awards (accessible online through sources such as Guidestar or Foundation Center). The downside is that it takes time to review 990s and lengthens the research process.

Grantmakers don’t have a website: While this could be interpreted to mean that the grantmaker is not keen on receiving unsolicited requests, this is not always the case. 990s can also be reviewed to determine if applications are accepted and, sometimes, guidelines are even available.

It is easy to get lost in the sea of funders, especially with the ever-changing needs of grantseekers and the changing tides of funders. It is essential to conduct ongoing research to effectively identify optimal funding prospects. Once a nonprofit has a solid knowledge of compatible funders, grantseeking gets somewhat easier. A planned navigation is key; an organized listing of compatible funders and deadlines is a nice resource that can be monitored and updated, as needed, and used as a starting point as new funding needs arise for the grantseekers. Skillful sailing can lead to a prosperous voyage.


Contact: Wendy McCoy, Resource Development Officer, wendy@thegrantplantnm.com

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