The National Funder Unicorn

Anyone doing grant research for an organization has probably heard this at least once when discussing research results: “Aren’t there any national funders?”


In my experience doing a lot of grant research, most grantmakers have geographic preferences. They give priority, or may exclusively fund, certain geographic areas. This could include the places where their founders or trustees live(d), or communities with company facilities in the case of corporate foundations. Even grantmakers that are open to funding requests nationally tend to have geographic preferences. If you are a funder in New York and you consider requests from youth programs nationwide, what would be required for a program in California to stand out?


A truly “national” funder is like a unicorn. Beautiful. Hard to find. May not be real. And if you do find one, they might be more interested in spending their immense assets on creating world peace than on funding art classes at your local senior center (see The Gates Foundation is Just Not That Into You).


An organization cannot run on grants alone, and unfortunately, there is not a grant or a grantmaker for everything. It is vital to diversify your fundraising streams. I will never forget an Executive Director asking incredulously “There are people who do that?” when I suggested finding a fundraising consultant. Bringing in unrestricted funds from individual donors in your community – funds that you can do *anything you want* with, like funding the Executive Director’s salary – might be more dazzling than a national funder unicorn.


But let’s say we do go unicorn hunting.


The Foundation Directory Online is not designed to find national funders. Searching for “United States” brings up all grantmakers who have funded anywhere in the country, whether they fund only in one city or they fund in all states. It does not mean “show me the national funders.” Some funder profiles say “National” in the “Geographic Focus Area” box but at this time this is not actually a searchable term. At one time there was a discussion of this on the Foundation Center’s website, emphasizing that researchers should focus on the geographic locations where the funds will be spent, but as the writing of this article, we have not seen a continuation of this discussion.


One trick I have used with some success is “competitor” research. If I have a list of a few similar organizations that are in different locations, preferably different cities in different states, I pull all of their funder histories separately, combine them into one spreadsheet, and look for duplicate entries. A grantmaker that funded a hospital in several cities in different regions? Could it be a “national” funder? (Anything thinking “Hearst?!”)


GrantStation is also an option for finding “national” funders, as this is actually a searchable criterion in this database. I always cross-check these results in the FDO to look at actual funding histories.


Grant professionals, this is an appeal – what are your tricks for finding national funders that *welcome* unsolicited requests, aside from corporate foundations?

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