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Too Much or Too Little: When is it the Right Time to Research?

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” These words spoken by Benjamin Franklin are never truer with regard to planning for grant seeking efforts. 

I often tell my clients strategic planning is the most critical step of all grant seeking activity, as it details the purpose, aligns the intended outcomes and organizational vision, and provides targets for financial goals. Prospect research is a critical component of the process, but people often wonder when the best time to conduct such research is and how much should be done. Let's break this down into discrete questions and responses to identify the key issues at play.
Why is prospect research important?
Prospect research is the baseline from which all grant seeking efforts take place. If you do not conduct a targeted, customized, and strategic prospect research process, you will be conducting grant seeking activities in a vacuum. The prospect research aligns your strategic plan with intended outcomes and is the “how” of the process. Take a look at this graphic below which demonstrates its importance.

What information should I gather to make this successful?
Specificity matters, so the more you highlight the type of funding sought (general operating, project/program, capital, etc.) the more successful your prospect research will be. You will also want to be very detailed about the target audience, geographic area, key words associated with the funding being sought, and type of funding being sought. I suggest you create an information gathering sheet for each type of grant funding, as prospect research will vary depending on the type of funding sought coupled with the needs of the organization. You will also want to share the prospects obtained through research to your leadership staff, board members, and other stakeholders to determine any connections or relationships.
How often should I do this research?
This depends on the number of prospects needs, type of funding needed, renewal funding vs. new funding, and success. It would be a good idea to do an annual refresh of new prospects as grantors' funding priorities and pools of funding can change each year. You might want to align this activity with your strategic planning review each year as well.
How will I know when the prospect research yields positive results?
As you know, fundraising is a marathon and not a sprint. Success may not be measured by the number of awards generated at first, but rather by the number of conversations with new potential grantors, site visits, and feedback on applications that were not funded. The annual prospect research refresh will help with this, as it requires a thorough review of lessons learned to determine if other funding prospects are needed.
Like any process, this will require refinement over time. My suggestion is to stick with a process that works for you and your current resource capacity, and make changes as the need arises. Are you ready for some more strategic research?