Grant Research for Beginners, The Importance of the 990 By Chataun Denis
To the novice grant writer or researcher, the process of finding grant prospects can be overwhelming as there are thousands of giving entities across the United States. The million dollar question here is, how do you narrow your search? Grant databases are probably the best sources for finding funders. There are a few tried and true ones I rely on when conducting research for my clients.
Foundation Search Online and Foundation Directory Online are the two I tend to use most consistently. Both are fee based but very helpful. There are free databases available for use as well. Foundation Center, a national nonprofit library of sorts, has a pretty extensive database which can be used onsite for free.
Once you choose a database tool that you’re comfortable with you’ll realize there is no science to the research process. A lot of times, after I’ve evaluated available data, I follow my instinct. Don’t misunderstand, my intuitive logic is based on real information and not just random thoughts.
Take for instance the 990. You can find a funder’s 990 in fee based and non fee based databases. I like to think of the 990 as a one stop shop for getting to know a funder. The 990 is the federal tax return for 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations. If you’re lucky, the 990 will contain critical information that can make your search 100 times easier. Some of this key information may include:
1.Name and address of person to whom applications should be submitted 2.Telephone number (in case you need to call) 3.Grants awarded or contributions made during the previous year (funded charities and award amounts) 4.Submission deadlines and/or restrictions. Sometimes the 990 will have a copy of the guidelines or grant proposal form(s). I’d estimate this information is available approximately half of the time. Even if the information is listed, try to confirm by either calling or looking on the company’s website.
If you don’t have easy access to a grants database, a company’s 990 is the best place to start the research process. I immediately look for the page(s) that details the grants and contributions that were paid out that year. This list helps me to determine early on if my organization is a match for the funder’s interests. I do this by looking at the types of organizations that were funded, the purposes of the awards, as well as the award amounts.
If there is no website that provides explicit details explaining a funder’s areas of interest, award ranges, deadlines, or application and proposal instructions, it’s imperative that you learn to efficiently gather and analyze the right information so you can decide whether or not to invest your time and resources developing a proposal.
So you might be wondering how do you find a funder’s 990? There are many paid grant databases that will give you access to this information, but there is one free source that I think is the best. The Foundation Center has a very user-friendly tool called the “990 Finder”. The “990 Finder” is usually the first place I go to access a nonprofit’s tax return.
After I’ve reviewed the 990, and I think there’s a likely fit, I will either prepare a proposal or letter of intent, or give the funder a call to confirm the information I found in my research and to gather additional details.