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An earlier post promised to examine how potential applicants might use answers to a set of specific questions about information found in foundation directory grant maker profiles to sort out the strong leads from the weak ones.


As follow-up to that promise, this is the first of three posts on using foundation directories in prospect research. It covers: physical location, websites, limitations, types of grant makers, and IRS 990-PF forms.


Physical Location:

In general, the more distant a private foundation is from a grant seeker the less likely it is to award a grant. Its address on a map is merely a first small clue in the search for potential funders. A local grant maker often is somewhat more familiar with local needs (or problems) and local priorities. Its directors and benefactors often also have resolved to try to meet (or solve) them. Thus, there is good reason to look locally first, but that by itself is no reason not to look farther afield later.



The contents of a foundation website are often much more current and more extensive than those of even the best print or online directory. A grant seeker can search a funder’s website to verify or qualify the information it finds there. It is often possible to use a foundation’s website to confirm deadlines, retrieve application forms and instructions, review grant history, identify current directors and trustees, and do other tasks helpful in doing prospect research and preparing grant applications.



A limitation is a restriction on grant-making. As a pre-condition, it shrinks the pool of applicants. A limitation may have to do with where, or what, or for what, or how many, or when, or how often, or how, or any other aspect of seeking a grant from a given funder. Often limitations pertain to geography, or purposes, or activities. If an applicant falls within – or sometimes, outside – the scope of one or more limitations it may need to look elsewhere for funding.


Types of Grant Makers:

The type of grant maker (e.g., community foundation, family foundation, corporate charitable giving program) impacts the entire solicitation process and the likelihood of funding. In a corporate charity, for example, decision-making will follow different paths and obey different logics than in the foundations. A corporate charity may donate labor and products, not actual cash grants. A family foundation may make less predictable funding decisions than a corporate one. A non-family independent foundation may require a more rigorous evaluation plan than a family one. And a community foundation may gather and manage very distinct grant programs under its roof.


IRS 990-PF Forms:

The 990-PF is a yearly financial statement that private foundations file with the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The more recent the year of the form on file the more it should reflect the foundation’s present priorities and practices. Comparisons of several years of filings may disclose patterns and trends in grant making.


On each year’s filing, look for the ranges and amounts of grant awards. Look also at the types and locations of applicants winning them. How to analyze a 990-PF is an art in itself, one in which the Foundation Center offers some basic assistance.


Only private foundations must file the 990-PF. Grant-making public charities and community foundations file Form 990 in the same manner as other non-profit organizations. Corporate charitable giving programs do not file yearly reports with the IRS.


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