What’s the (Key) Word?

We hear both types of complaints. “I searched for grant opportunities but couldn’t find very many” or “I searched but found way too many to review.”

Whether your grant funding search research reveals too many or too few “hits,” the problem is the same, namely, an ineffective choice of search terms.

What you get in life is often a function of how you ask the question. The same is true when querying search engines in grants.gov, FC Online, or any of the other funding databases.

Keyword Search Strategies: Subject Matter

One option is to search by subject matter area.  You can use broad terms, e.g., education, social welfare, healthcare, or justice. You can use narrower terms like low cost housing, minority education, teen pregnancy, or electronic health records.

Our experience with beginning grantseekers suggests they often focus their initial searches too narrow. To illustrate, in grants.gov, a search for “liquid phase biosensors” reveals zero hits, while “chemical sensors” yields four hits and “sensors” lists 62 hits.

Overall, government grant search terms are apt to be narrower than what one finds in foundation search engines.  For instance, in FC Online, a private foundation database, “liquid phase biosensors,” and “chemical sensors” yield zero hits, which are obviously too few.  “Technology” yields 835 hits, way too many.  “Science research “ lists 42 hits, a workable number.

To hit your search target, you may need to move up or down the hierarchy of knowledge; that is, think bigger or smaller.

Keyword Search Strategies: Project Location

A second variable you can manipulate when conducting funding searches deals with the project location. Is your project going to have an impact on your neighborhood, city, county, state, regional, national, or international level? Grantmakers vary in the geographic area they are trying to effect.

We once orchestrated a project designed to teach geometry to middle school children. Our best funding prospect was a national foundation.  We knew that asking for funding for our local area wouldn’t fly. We created a collaboration of 28 partners spread from coast to coast, which we showed on a map in Appendix One.  Briefly, we developed the lesson plans and had our collaborators field test them. The strategy was attractive to the national foundation and brought us $500,000 over two years to complete the project.

Changing your geographic focus may increase your funding opportunities.  You can use geographic descriptors as search terms.

Keyword Search Strategies: Population Served

One of the most fundamental principles of grantseeking is this: “Grantmakers fund people, they don’t fund things.”

What population will benefit from your project? Are you targeting single moms, the frail elderly, disadvantaged youth, the homeless, persons with low incomes, at-risk youth, international journalists, HIV/AIDS patients, and the lists goes on and on and on.

Think creatively.  We once went through “handicapped children,” “children with disabilities,” “children with special abilities,” and “disadvantaged children” before we found a hit using “children with special needs.”

Most grantmakers don’t care about funding you <i>per se</i>.  You are the change agent for people that they care about. Identify those target people from your prospect research and you maximize your likelihood of securing funding.  Use your target population as search terms.

Keyword Search Strategies: Type of Grant

The final variable we want to lift up in your funding search regards the type of grant. Often, projects can be described in different ways.  What type of grant might fit your project? Our current list of 24 different types of grants includes the following: capacity building, challenge, conference, construction, consulting, demonstration, dissemination, endowment, equipment, exhibition, general purpose, land acquisition, matching, operation, planning, publication, renovation, research, scholarship, seed, special project, subvention, training, and travel.

Each type of grant represents another set of search terms, especially when paired with one of the above variables using Boolean logic (AND, OR, NOT).

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