Starting grants research on your own is a daunting task. It’s the ever-ironic gift of the Internet: so much information at our fingertips, and yet it’s so hard to find the opportunities that fit your or your organization’s needs. In this blog post, I’ll be talking about some basic ways to get started with databases and research tools, as well as finding the best ways to organize your work.
First off, let’s talk about research! There’s a variety of ways to approach this to make sure you’re not overwhelmed right off the bat.
- Contacts – When looking for funder prospects, often there’s some prospects right under your nose! Check in with your fellow colleagues and board members at your organizations if they have any contacts as funding institutions that could be good to reach out to. Check your email list for .org email addresses to see who is already following you!
- Looking at similar organizations – If you’re unfamiliar with the popular funders in your area, it might be helpful to check out similar arts organizations in your area and see where their funding comes from. This could be organizations within the same art form, or and adjacent form but similar size as you.
- Guidestar / ProPublica – So you’ve found some exciting and promising prospects! Hooray! This is where you can start digging in a little deeper. Sites like Guidestar and ProPublica are great for finding smaller family foundations that are looking to fund organizations such as yours. And they are free! Just keep in mind that you need to know how to read a 990 to get the most out of these. We give tips for reading a 990 in A Simple Guide to Institutional Fundraising in the Arts.
- The Internet – When looking for funding for specific projects or under specific umbrellas, it might be high time to wade into the waters of the World Wide Web.
- Browser – Which browser you use is not super important, but I personally prefer switching between a regular browser window and incognito mode so I can see the different results that pop up, especially if you’re using a browser that tracks your personal information.
- Search Engine – Google and other popular search engines have the helpfulness of algorithms helping you find results similar to your previous searches. Search engines like Duckduckgo eschew algorithms and may bring up more obscure results that you might’ve missed otherwise.
So, you’ve found all these cool and promising results for funding. What now? It’s time to get organized!
Here at Benvenuti Arts, we use spreadsheets like Google Sheets and Airtable to keep track of client grants prospects. There’s not really a perfect template 100% ready for you to use, but you want to keep in mind the following things when trying to create your perfect data organization template:
- Data to Track – You can adjust your data tracking to whichever factors you want to keep in mind, but I suggest keeping track of the most important ones: the name of the funder, the deadlines the next application is due, and the way to access their application / instructions to send in a letter of interest.
- Functionality vs. Readability vs. User Friendliness – These are all personal preferences, but I suggest keeping everything simple and easy-to-read! If you’re not too well-versed in the functionality of different spreadsheets, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a simple table with the most important grants information. Your goal should be making keeping organizing as pain-free as possible!
- Leveling Up – Once you have the hang of the basics, you can start to spice things up by adding columns for other factors. Some ideas you could consider are links to previous applications (we’ll be circling back to this later), past applications submission dates, contact information, previous call dates. The world is your oyster!
Once you start applying to different grants and funding opportunities, you’ll want to make sure to keep everything organized in a way that makes sense to you. The most important thing is to create a system that works for you!
- Storage – You can use cloud storage sites like Google Drive or Dropbox to keep files, or perhaps an internal digital storage system on your office network. We like creating folders for each grant or foundation that a client applied to, but you might choose to do something different, such as organizing with fiscal / calendar year. The best choice is to stick to the organization method you’re already using with your other works, so if it’s easier to organize data by production or project, definitely try it out!
- What to Store – Previous applications are important to keep, especially since you can pull language from these previous applications to use for similar grants in the future! Other things to store can include commonly requested supplemental materials, such as your organization’s 990s, 501(c)3 incorporation letter or letter of fiscal sponsorship, and so on. Make as many folders as you need to keep track of everything!
- How to Store – Be sure to keep your naming consistent so that you don’t lose grants. We prefer to file by funder name, then grant name and year within each of those files.
Getting organized can take some time, but it’ll save you hours of future headaches! Having to re-do research is the worst, and we know you don’t have time for that. Good luck!