As of 2006, the Foundation Center reported there are more than 79,000 grant-making foundations. That's a lot to go through. That's also pretty expensive research. You can save money and save headaches by getting information for free and being organized. Here's how.
Prospect research is exactly what the words imply: the process of researching prospective funders. So how do you do prospect research? I see prospect research as having two parts. The first part is the research and the second part is the management of the research.
While researching prospective funders, keep in mind the reasons why you are researching them. There are three main purposes for prospect research:
1. To find how much money the prospective funder has and how much they are willing to give
2. Whether there is a chance the prospective funder will fund you
3. To help you make decisions about what to put in your grant proposal
Much of prospect research can be done online, but in order to access certain information you may be required to buy a plan from the site. I like to get as much information for free as possible. Prospect information such as contact, names of trustees or officers, mission statements, grant guidelines and history of giving can be found on the internet for most foundations for free.
Foundations and companies are required to make public their assets and incomes. To look for a specific prospect, you can do searches on websites provided by the Foundation Center, GuideStar, or NOZAsearch, or try doing a Google search. These websites will usually provide you with a foundation's 990-PF. On some websites, you may have to register in order to get the 990-PFs.
You probably will not be able to find people's personal properties, stocks, and personal interests without digging a little deeper. In order to find these, you may have to search newspaper and magazine articles, and, of course, the internet. Do a few Google searches. You'll be surprised what you can find about people.
If you want to do a search by cause, it is a little trickier to do on the Foundation Center and GuideStar search engines. You will most likely have to pay. The Foundation Center has a plan that starts at $19.95 a month, but I wouldn't sign up for it immediately. See what you can find for free first. NOZAsearch has a search by cause tab, but to be able to get a link to the foundation's homepage and to get contact information, you have to pay. Once you have the name of the foundation, however, you can just Google it. When you have their webpage, you will most likely find their contact information, mission statement, and grant guidelines. There are many ways to do prospect research for free.
If you are just browsing foundations, one way that I've discovered you can do it for free on the Foundation Center search engine is to do an organization search by typing in the word "foundation." This will give you results of organizations with the word "foundation" in their title. You won't find all the foundations this way, but it is a cheap way. Be warned, though, that this will give you foundations in the thousands.
Once you start locating possible funders, the second part of prospect research starts. In order to keep track of which foundations or companies you have looked at, you need to create a database of funders. This is especially important when you have more than one person writing grants. Having a common database in which you can each add what you find will allow you to be up to date on who's working on which grant. Keeping a database of funders also allows you to prioritize grants.
Some of the main parts of the database should include: name of funder; whether your organization qualifies for the funder's grants or not; the amount you can ask for; contact information; the next step you will take; and, lastly, who is working on it. The last one is very important. There will be occasions when you will have no idea what grants your co-workers are working on. If you have that information in an all-access database, you will know who is working on what in an instant. There will also be occasions when you are in a meeting and someone asks, "What about this grant?" Having a database will allow you to check it quickly and see if your organization has already applied for the grant or if you don't even qualify.
Prospect research takes time, and sometimes money, but doing the research before writing a grant proposal will always save you money and time.