Prospect research: the lynchpin of grantsmanship

Before you sit down to write the first line of a grant application, you need to know who your audience is. And you need to know that your audience shares your love, care, and dedication to the same cause you do.

A grant is not a transaction, it is part of a relationship, built on trust, shared values, and mutual devotion to a common mission. So how do you know if the funder you’re applying to is compadre with what you’re about? If they may be willing to trust YOU with a grant from them?

The answer, in a word: research.

You must devote effort and time to rooting out a proper prospect, or you’re throwing your application away (and all the time you took to prepare it). No one has time (and money) to throw away on a wasted effort, so doing your research FIRST is a must.

To do a decent job at prospect research, first you must know yourself. Not just superficially, but you must know and understand what makes you tick, what drives you, who you work for (the people or cause you serve) – and who cares! Who cares whether you succeed or fail? Answer that question, and you will expand your list of potential funder matches.

I have seen “prospect research” work that doesn’t vet any of the candidates they identify – so sure it’s easy to come up with hundreds of prospects! But a short list of truly viable contenders is – yes, harder to come by and it takes more work – but it’s so much more VALUABLE!

My research work involves checking not only online directories, but also checking funders’ websites and 990’s, to make certain there’s a better-than-even chance there will be a good fit. But the work doesn’t stop there. An introductory phone call or email is ESSENTIAL. If your research turns up no questions in your mind whatsoever, then regardless you should ask “What is an appropriate ask amount for a first-time applicant?” Or “Are multi-year awards ever considered?”

REMEMBER: Prospect Research is the first step in a successful grants program!

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