Improving Your Research Strategy

*Note from Diane: DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC does NOT endorse any specific research tools. We subscribe to and use numerous databases ourselves in our work for our clients. The decision about which tool is the best fit for a specific grant seeking organization is based on numerous factors. 


The Foundation Directory Online (FDO) Professional is considered by many grant professionals to be the gold standard for grant research although, not the only tool that should be used. Funders are indexed by facets such as Subject, Geographic Focus, and Support Strategy. There are thousands of specific search terms that can be used to identify funders. For example, I can search for funders who are located in Buffalo, NY (or I can expand it to Erie County, or expand it more to Buffalo-Niagara-Cheektowaga), make cash grants, fund capital projects, and support children and youth. Results can be broadened or narrowed by removing or adding search terms.

If you are learning how to use the FDO, here are two tips that may be very helpful in quickly finding exactly what you need:

Use the Visual Navigator

The Foundation Center provides an explanation of how information is indexed in the FDO, here. This is well worth the time it takes to read, especially to learn the definitions of the various facets and how they are applied to grantmaker profiles, recipient profiles, and grant details.

However, the part of this page that I return to every time I do grant research is the Visual Navigator, found near the bottom of the page under the heading EXPLORE. The Visual Navigator allows you to drill down into five facets – Transaction Types, Support Strategies, Subjects, Population Groups, and Organization Types – to find specific search terms and definitions. For example, in Subjects, you can select Human Services, and see narrower terms such as Basic and Emergency Aid, Shelter and Residential Care, and Family Services. Each term is defined, allowing you to ensure that your research strategy uses search terms that match exactly what you need. You may find that sometimes searching by a broader term is more fruitful than searching by a narrower term, and some facets are more important than others.


Understand Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are words that create relationships between search terms to generate very specific database results. They can be used to include or exclude results, or to narrow or broaden results. You can read more about Boolean Operators here: I like to use “AND” and “OR” when searching in FDO.

The “AND” operator will narrow your results. Only funders that meet all of your search criteria will appear in the results. When you search by multiple fields in FDO, for example you enter search terms for Geographic Focus, Subject, and Support Strategy, you are stringing the terms together using the AND operator, and will only see funders that meet all of your criteria.

For example, if you select “sports and recreation” for Subject, and “New York State” for Geographic Focus, only funders that are indexed by both criteria will appear in your results. If a funder is indexed by youth sports, but not by New York State, it will not appear in the results.

“OR” will broaden results. Funders only have to meet at least one of your search criteria will appear in the results. In the new version of the FDO, in the Advanced Filters, users are prompted to select their terms from a list that appears as they begin to type. The terms populate a field for each facet, which do not accept additional text. All terms within each facet are automatically strung together by “OR.” So, if in Subject you enter “youth development” and “genetic research,” your results will include funders that are indexed by either “youth development” or “genetic research.” Funders that are indexed by both terms will also appear in the results.

Consider how the facets and the search terms within each facet combine in a search. If your search includes the Subject facet (Youth development, Genetic research) and the Geographic Focus facet (New York State), your search looks like this using Boolean operators:

(“Youth development” OR “Genetic research) AND (“New York State”)

To be included in the results, funders must have a geographic focus in New York State and must have an interest in either youth development or genetic research.

Hopefully, knowledge of how search terms are defined and used in the FDO will help you find better results.

If you would like customized training in grant research or need help identifying funders for your organization, contact our team! We’d love to hear from you!

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