Developing Your Foundation Research Strategy (Part 1 of 2)

I have been conducting quite a bit of funder research lately, which has given me an opportunity to further develop my foundation research strategies. Last year in  Improving Your Research Strategy, I delved into the Foundation Center’s taxonomy and visual navigator and boolean operators.


Here are two key strategies I’ve been using since then that may help YOU with your own foundation research:


  1.   Quick Search of the Taxonomy


The Quick Search is a great tool to quickly identify if there are search terms that match your organization or project without the trial-and-error method of using the Visual Navigator. However, it will only produce an exact match. For example, typing “girl scouts” (without quotations) into the Quick Search does not yield any results. There is not an official, defined search term for “girl scouts.” However, typing “scouting programs” does yield a result.


Following the result takes you to a page where you can browse the hierarchy, which is similar to the visual navigator. At this time, this tool does not tell you where the search result appears in the hierarchy, so if you want to identify broader or narrower facets around your particular result, you must start clicking through likely fields, revisit the Visual Navigator, or type the search term into the FDO and view the options that appear.  In the case of “scouting programs,” the path from broad facet to narrow facet is Human services → Youth development → Scouting programs.


To quickly identify official search terms using your own list, or to double-check the definitions of the facets you are using, the Quick Search is a nice tool. In my research for the Girl Scouts, I would not have known that “scouting programs” existed had I not used the Visual Navigator.


  1. Previous Funders


If the organization you are conducting research for has received grant funding in the past, it is wise to work with this history before starting new research to avoid wasted effort. Some previous funders may be regular supporters of the organization and well-known to leadership, and it may not be needed to research these funders when they appear in the search results. On the other hand, some previous funders may not have made a grant to the organization in a few years, and may be worth looking into again.


Before starting new funder research, ask the organization to provide a list of previous funders and to identify if each funder should be researched or skipped. Then, run an FDO recipient search for the organization to identify funders that are documented in the FDO as having given previously. Compare your list to the organization’s list to see if there are any previous funders not accounted for – perhaps there are “forgotten funders” that slipped through the cracks of the organization’s recordkeeping and would be great funding partners again. Identify which newly discovered funders should be researched or skipped.


Looking for assistance with developing your grant research strategy? Or having help with actually conducting the research? Contact us for your free consultation so we discuss how we can help!

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