Guest Blog thanks to Librarian Stephanie Pitts-Noggle.
Public libraries can be a great fount of information for small businesses and nonprofits as they start and grow their organizations. Not all public libraries have access to the same resources owing to discrepancies between different locations’ tax bases. For instance, the tax base of a large metropolitan area like Chicago, whose library system serves 2.8 million people, is drastically different than somewhere like Rosiclare Memorial Library located in Illinois' least-populated county (Hardin), which serves a population of just over 1,000. But while the location of your local public library certainly affects the collection, there are certain truths about the vast majority of public libraries: they contain books, and they employ librarians.
What does this mean for the grant searcher? Well, it means that in most libraries (even academic ones), you can head to the nonfiction section and look for call number 658.1522, where you'll find books on grant writing. If you happen to be at a library with few options in this section, you can look for books of interest on WorldCat and ask your library to request them for you through interlibrary loan (ILL). Some libraries are also part of a sharing consortium where books can be borrowed through a reciprocal borrowing agreement that essentially mimics the book belonging to your home library.
If you've done your research on the grant-writing process and you're ready to prepare an application, there are many free online resources you can use. You'll want to make sure you know some of most common terminology related to your institution and the kinds of organiziations you want to receive grants from. You can search the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) codes here to learn what search terms are likeliest to help you find the types of grants you seek. You can also research organizations by name, cause, region, or financials (particularly Form 990) for free through the following sites:
- IRS Nonprofit Search
- Guidestar Organization Search: allows searches by cause, region, and financials
- Foundation Center Basic Search: 990 Search
[Editor’s note: On Feb 5, 2019, GuideStar and the Foundation Center announced a merger to form “Candid.” How this affects access is still being worked out as of posting date.]
If you want to search for specific grants or requests for proposals (RFPs), here are some highly-recommended free resources you can use:
With free resources, the price is right, but often at the expense of usability. A savvy librarian can help you with your search; even if you're an experienced Googler, I can almost guarantee that the librarian you're working with has searched more things in more databases, and he or she likely developed strong search strategies through this experience. So, if you struggle to find anything of value in the resources listed in this blog, I recommend speaking to or booking an appointment with your local librarian.
If you happen to be at a larger, better-funded library, look for a library subscription to either GuideStar (Pro) or The Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online (FDO). There are links above to free versions of both these tools, but a subscription unlocks additional search functionality and information that can help you better identify grants and grantmaking organizations.
Foundation Directory Online (FDO) is, in my opinion, the gold standard for grant research. The Foundation Center does not offer a version of FDO that is accessible from home, so if your library has access to it, you will have to be physically present at the library in order to use it. Once logged in, you can search for grants by keyword, population served, organization, location served, and cause. You can find extensive information on grantmakers, the grants they offer, and the organizations that have received grants. For example, if you've found a grantmaker you're interested in, you can find information on where the grant recipients are located, which causes are being funded, the average size of the grants, the complete details of past grant awards, and 990s for both grantmakers and recipients. The FDO will also suggest other, similar funders to consider based on your search criteria.
To find out if your library subscribes to the Foundation Directory Online or GuideStar Pro, check their website or give them a call. If you're having trouble using these resources, see if your library offers any public training classes for these tools. (For instance, our library offers an FDO training class from time to time). Or you can meet with a librarian one-on-one to help you navigate these resources and maximize your search.
Public and academic libraries are often overlooked for the breadth and depth of information and resources they provide. Even if your library doesn't employ a grant specialist or business librarian, many libraries have a highly-skilled and motivated workforce of Master's degree-educated research experts who are happy to meet with you one-on-one or at least provide additional research support. In my experience, most librarians are committed to the public service mission of the institutions they work for and will go above and beyond to help you with your grant search.
Business Specialist Librarian
Champaign Public Library, Champaign, IL
Champaign Public Library serves the city of Champaign, Illinois. As a part of its mission to inspire, inform, and connect the local community, the library established a business services initiative, Launch at the Library, in April of 2018. In addition to the construction of a free co-working space, this program included the development of new business-specific programming, one-on-one business help, and access to online research tools. In her role as Business Specialist Librarian, Stephanie Pitts-Noggle administrates these core service areas, promotes the library through outreach, and supports local economic development initiatives.
Our Grant Helpers encourage you to do as much as you can on your own, and we’ll help identify those areas. The more you know about the proposal development process and what’s involved, the more you can benefit from our expertise and guidance. Contact Us <link> with your questions wherever you are in the process.
Photo credit: The City of Toronto