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Foundation Fundraising for the 99%

November 20, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center.)

It’s that time of year again: nonprofit execs are turning over every rock in sight to find the resources they need to close the gap between their ambition to make the world a better place and the hard reality of meeting payroll and paying rent. Many nonprofits rely on government contracts and individual donations, but many also go for foundation grants. Yet a significant portion of the $50 billion in grants made each year by America’s foundations is captured by just 1 percent of nonprofit recipients. Here's something that can help the other 99 percent level the playing field.

FDO_FreeIt's called Foundation Directory Online Free, a searchable database of close to 90,000 foundations and three years of their most recent 990-PF tax returns. Okay, I'm the president of the Foundation Center and can hardly be considered unbiased. But I cut my teeth in this business years ago by using the old Foundation Center print directories and ever since have believed the center to be the most reliable source of information for foundation grant research, period.

Open Foundation Directory Online Free and key in the two-letter code for your state or type a city name to search for foundations in your area. Change the ranking of the list you get by giving, assets, or name. Explore an individual foundation by clicking on its name. The profile will give you contact information, some financial stats, a URL (read on!), and the foundation’s fields of interest. This kind of basic information on foundations is surprisingly hard to come by; 93 percent of America's foundations do not have Web sites. That doesn't mean they don't make grants; they're just harder to find. Moreover, if you really want to dive deep into a particular foundation's grantmaking, FDO Free links you to the foundation's three most recent 990-PF tax returns -- a great source of information that includes a list of all the grants made by that foundation, the recipients of those grants, and grant dollar amounts.

Suppose your organization works nationally or in multiple locations across the country on, say, after school programs. Click on the "search 990s" tab, type in "after school" (in quotes), and hit "search." You’ll get a list of foundations of all sizes and locations that you can sort by name, state and year (of the 990-PF). Open up any one of those 990 forms, type "Ctrl+f," and type after school (no quotes!) in the search box that appears. This will take you directly to the place on the form where "after school" appears. If you get too many foundations and tax returns, you can further refine the search by year, location, foundation name, and other criteria. When you find a foundation that looks like a good prospect, look up their profile using the "search grantmakers" tab.

There's lots more information for researching foundation grants available in other levels of Foundation Directory Online (paid subscription). Take advantage of our completely transparent pricing (and avoid annoying telemarketers) and pick the one that's right for your needs and budget.

Of course, many nonprofits cannot afford a foundation prospect database at any price, which is why we created Foundation Directory Online Free. Does it make foundation fundraising a breeze? No. But it does make it a little less difficult. And as you begin to see the possibilities, check out GrantSpace, another free service of the Foundation Center that offers loads of sample documents, tutorials, videos, and chat services created by and for nonprofit practitioners -- people like you who well know the daily challenges of trying to make the world a better place…one grant at a time.

-- Brad Smith

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Posted by Julie Stogsdill  |   November 23, 2013 at 10:43 AM

As a fundraiser for nearly 30 years, I echo Mr. Smith's sentiments and welcome this invaluable new tool. I find it easy and user-friendly, both critical to mission-driven organizations that have staff with little time and a modest budget but great passion for their work. I'm pleased that the Foundation Center is reaching out to this large segment of our sector.

Posted by Paul Davidson  |   October 19, 2014 at 11:07 AM

Great article. Thanks for the info, it’s easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out a form 990-PF, I found a blank form here http://goo.gl/OQYvgY. This site also has some tutorials on how to fill it out and a few related tax forms.

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