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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 week in Developing Your Foundation Research Strategy – Part 1 of 2, I discussed search term selection and addressing previous funders.


You may have heard the phrase “Plan the work, then work the plan.” Once you have identified the strongest search terms to try (I use the FDO as an example, but this can be adapted to any database), it is helpful to logically plan how to you will use them. This ensures that your research is thorough, especially if multiple people are contributing to the research effort. Documenting the search terms that filters that you use also creates an institutional memory for the organization that will be useful when planning future research strategies.


Search Terms

I start with the most narrow subject area and geographic focus terms that are applicable to my project, and gradually broaden as needed to increase viable results. For example, my search terms for potential funders of a hospital in Buffalo, NY would look like this, from narrowest to broadest:

  • Hospital care → In-patient medical care →  Health
  • Buffalo, NY → Erie County, NY → Western New York → New York



In my example, matching each subject term with each geographic term results in twelve unique combinations that provide an exhaustive search of these terms. Keeping the subject term constant while exhausting the geographic terms (going down the “subject area line”), narrowest to broadest, the search would look like this:

  • Hospital care + Buffalo
  • Hospital care + Erie County
  • Hospital care + Western New York
  • Hospital care + New York


  • Repeat with “in-patient medical care”


  • Repeat with “health”


Documenting Combinations

I create a table with six columns: Subject, Geographic Focus, Years, Support Strategy, Exclude Grantmakers Not Accepting Applications, and Other, and plan my subject + geography combinations first. Sometimes I group related very narrow subject terms together (an “OR” search in the FDO). As I use additional terms or filters to narrow results, especially when working with the broadest terms, I document them in the table.


I usually do not select a specific support strategy unless I am looking for capital funding, which adds a “capital line” to go down. My combinations might start looking like this:

  • Hospital care + Buffalo + capital support strategy


With limited results, I might expand to:

  • Hospital care + Buffalo + default support strategy (“Who hasn’t funded a related capital project yet but may be interested?”)


Color coding within the table helps show what is changing in each search.


Research Questions

It may be helpful to actually write out research questions. Nonprofit staff who are not familiar with the FDO may find a list of research questions easier to grasp than a giant table of search terminology (I provide both). An example of a simple research question is: “Who funded hospital care in Buffalo, NY between 2013-2018 and accepts unsolicited requests?”


Check in over the next few months for more foundation research tips!  

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.


Stay tuned for a discussion of logically planning and documenting your research strategy once you have identified your search terms!


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!

05 Feb 2019

Embracing What Motivates Your Work

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Grant professionals choose this career for a variety of reasons, and as with any other career that involves writing, have unique routines to motivate them to dig in on their writing work.

What is your go to routine or activity for motivation? Running? Reading? Working in a coffee shop?

As we started the new year, I had the opportunity to create some new routines and thought about what was the routine that I wanted to use to start off each business week as well our team’s 2-week sprints. I’ve written before about how having a treadmill desk in my office is a great way to move during the day, but also to motivate me and find inspiration when working on a big project. (Interested in learning more about my treadmill desk setup? You can read more here.) The treadmill desk is still a central fixture in my office, but as our team has grown, so has my perspective and creativity about how we can measure our motivation and happiness in our work.

One of the recent exercises we went through as a team during a recent planning meeting was to all take an Enneagram quiz online. I had been introduced to the idea of using the Enneagram to think about team composition during a closing plenary that Marc Pitman gave this past fall at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. Marc walked the participants through how understanding your team members and colleagues’ Enneagram number could help you think about how you work together and approach decision making together. As we went through our team’s Enneagram results it was fascinating to see the different Enneagram types in the team also grouped toward specific types of motivation in their work.

All that being said…what is it that you find motivates you to dig in on your big projects?

Is it…

  • Physical activity
  • Collaborative interaction with colleagues
  • Music
  • Quiet and mindfulness exercises
  • Noisy coffee shop settings
  • Scheduled work
  • Recognition of your achievements

Regardless of your answer, your understanding of what helps motivate your work, and embracing that answer is what helps define your #lifeasagrantpro.


and we’d love to hear about it! Share what motivates you in the comments below or by sharing images of what motivates you in your work on social media using the hashtag #lifeasagrantpro.

The seed catalog came in the mail immediately after Christmas, its cover graced by bright sunflowers and its pages filled with beautiful photos of plump tomatoes on the vine, shiny eggplants, juicy cantaloupes, and everywhere green, green, green. This catalog didn’t meet its end in the recycling bin; instead, it has been given a prominent place next to my couch, a coffee table book of sorts, where it has been helping generate happy thoughts of spring while Mother Nature turns my city into a pretty but frigid snowglobe. With the vernal equinox only two months away, spring will be here soon, and I have started to plan: What will I grow this year, and why do I want to grow it?  Should I scale back this year, after previously starting off too big and ambitious for my limited knowledge and experience? How will I best work within time and space constraints?


As seed suppliers, nurseries, and gardeners begin to ramp up for spring, so too is the world of grant writing beginning to speed up again after a slow period typical of the holiday season and beginning of the year. Government grant opportunities are starting to come out with more frequency, and private funders are publishing their 2019 deadlines. Just like spring planting, good grantseeking requires planning, which is best done before there is an RFP with a short deadline on the table.


Consider what grant applications you will “plant” this spring, and what can you do now to prepare. Do you have or are you able to create the optimal conditions needed to increase the chances that your application seedlings will thrive and bear “funding fruit?” Some strategies include:

  1. Assess your grant readiness and address gaps (try out the DH Leonard Consulting *free* GRASP Tool to do this).
  2. Reach out to funders as appropriate per their contact preferences to start building relationships. You may receive valuable feedback on your project before you even develop your application. If applying for government funding, you may also want to reach out to politicians, regional council members, or anyone else who may be involved in funding decisions.
  3. Research which government grant opportunities useful to your organization may be coming down the pipeline. If available, review the RFPs and grantee lists from previous rounds.
  4. If you intend to apply for a capital grant, invest in the professional services needed to lay the groundwork for the project.
  5. If you need to engage a consultant to help prepare your grant application, start your selection process early so that you have someone lined up and ready hit the ground running when the RFP opens (contact the DH Leonard Consulting team to schedule your free consultation).


Granted (no pun intended), things happen that are outside of your control. Blossom end rot ruins your first round of Roma tomatoes, or your well-written grant application for an amazing project is competing against hundreds of other well-written applications for amazing projects and only a fraction of them will be funded. However, with some planning and preparation, you can start sprint “grant planting” season strong and give your grant seeking garden what it needs to thrive.


What are you doing now to help plant the seeds for a strong grant seeking strategy the balance of this year?

Learning, understanding, and feeling confident, not just informed about federal grants is a significant undertaking for a grant seeking organization. Mix in the occasional federal government shut down or the shifts in policy goals and funding priorities when there are changes in leadership in the government, and the federal grant funding landscape can feel stressful and uncertain.

As a result, I thought I would pull together some resources that will help you feel more confident in understanding federal grant funding and more competitive when you go to click submit in on your next application.

Here are a few broad resources to help you feel more comfortable with federal grants:

What are some of the current conversations that are happening about how the government shutdown is impacting the grant field:

Here are also a few recent articles about nonprofits/philanthropy and the current government shutdown:

What questions do you have about how to feel more confident about seeking federal grants? Let us know in the questions box or by contacting us so that we can help you feel more confident.

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