When you officially join the ranks of grant writers, you imagine yourself writing all day, sending in application after application and receiving checks from willing donors with whom you’ve created incredible connections through your work. Unfortunately, prospect research isn’t always thought of as an upfront and critical part of the grant writing process, especially for those new to grant writing.
Prospect research is a tool used by fundraisers, development teams and nonprofit organizations to learn more about their prospective donors. But remember, these prospective donors can be individuals or organizations such as corporations or foundations.
Oftentimes, individuals join a nonprofit in one role, and grant writing becomes an “other duties as assigned” job. With little to no background in grant writing, it can be a daunting task to know where to start. Your first step should be with prospect research, as it is critical to the success of any grant writer and a critical step in requesting funds from any donor. Prospect research is so important, many organizations, like Universities, employ individuals whose sole responsibility is prospect research.
Grant writing consists of many steps, but prospect research is not always considered a critical part of this process. Each year, funders get far more requests than they can award. Organizations that have not done proper research can easily be rejected for obvious reasons: asking for funding in areas a donor is not interested in or asking for a gift outside the funding cycle. This can waste everyone’s most valuable resource, time. One way to determine if you’ve done enough research is to listen to the feedback provided by the donor (if they are willing to share this information). I know of several instances in which rejection notifications have included instructions to review foundation guidelines more carefully before applying again in the future. This is a prime example of not conducting enough research.
Before writing a grant, here are some tips to collect the most up-to-date information about your prospective funder:
- Carefully read the funder’s website – word for word. This is a great place to discover what a funder wants you to know about their interests and capacity.
- Review Forms 990PF. These contain publicly available financial information about a foundation and often contain additional information about areas of interest, contact information, the application process and grant recipients.
- Consult the program officer. Sometimes funders don’t have a website or a lot of information listed on their 990PF. This is the best time to give the program officer a call to get the information that will help you make the best application possible.
- Check for a social media presence. If a donor has a Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram account, this can be a great place to see snapshots of organizations they are actively involved with and upcoming events.
- Use any additional prospecting search engines at your disposal to collect as much information as possible such as Foundation Center, Foundation Search or GrantStation.
To put your best foot forward with a potential funder, the information you need is out there. Once you have retrieved it and utilized it, you can make stronger requests for funding and help make your organization’s mission a reality.