Prospecting for Foundation Gold

Sections of this topic

    What does every prospector need to “hit the mother lode?” A good map!! And prospecting for foundation funding is no different.

    Here’s the good news: with a couple of key tools, you can create your own map to lead you to some very good sources of funding.

    The two that top my list are annual reports of your competitors and foundation 990s. Note that the IRS Form 990s is a document that public charities and foundations use to report financial and operational information to the federal government.

    “The Foundation Directory,” published by the Foundation Center, can be quite useful, and is often a good place to start … but isn’t absolutely necessary if you are on a tight budget. It’s also available on-line, at FCOnline

    The first step in this iterative process is to look at the annual reports of other organizations that provide the same or similar services as your organization, and identify the foundations listed as their funders.

    Foundations that fund these organizations are good prospects for you. If you can’t find the annual report on your competitor’s website, give them a call and ask for a copy. If this seems unfair, don’t worry. It’s not. It’s just best practice. And, if your competitor organizations have good grant managers, they’ve probably already studied yours.

    After identifying the foundations, download their IRS Form 990s from Guidestar, and start mining them for all the useful nuggets of information they contain. In particular:
    • total net assets or fund balances at end of year – this will help you determine
      if they are large enough to invest time in pursuing for funding
    • total annual giving – ditto on usefulness of this information
    • whether they accept unsolicited proposals or only contribute to preselected
    • contact name, address and phone number for grant submissions
    • grant application information – submission date, application format, required
      attachments (note that this information is not always included in 990s)
    • trustee names and addresses – that could be quite useful during grant
    • list of grantees and addresses for the year
    • grant amounts and grant purposes (project support, general operating,
      capital campaign, etc.)

    You can loop back around, and look at the annual reports of organizations listed in the 990s, but don’t spend too much time down this mine shaft. Prospects that look good on paper still require cultivation, proposal development and submission, and stewardship before they will yield up their riches.


    Lynn deLearie, owner of Lynn deLearie Consulting, LLC, helps nonprofit organizations develop, enhance and expand grant programs, and helps them secure funding from foundations and corporations. She can be contacted at