It goes without saying that the competitive grants game has gotten fiercer—certainly at the federal level, where funding has been hit by sequestration and budget trimming. The solution, in part, is to get more competitive. But to do this, sometimes we have to take a step back and get back to basics. Practice our scales, so to speak. Make sure we're hitting all the notes.
That's why it can be helpful to revisit something as basic as internet and database search for grant seeking. Honed research skills aren’t going to write the grant proposal for you, but they will help you get to your goals faster.
I’ve been surprised by how many people actually don’t know how to effectively run a search. Many times, they have a very specific idea of what they want to search for, but they're unclear about the steps to get there. They often search too narrowly, as if trying to make a Hail Mary pass from the 1-yard-line rather than a series of plays along the way that gradually get them to the team’s touchdown. But enough with the analogies.
If you’re searching the vast ocean of the internet, here are some tips to consider:
1. Set your intention and start broad
Consider your subject, grant type (for example, competitive or formula?), target population, and project location, and consider the various synonyms that will help get you to relevant results. Even if you have in a mind the highly versatile Community Development Block Grant, for instance, don’t necessarily limit yourself to the type or grant (e.g., CDBG) or the agency you might be considering (here, presumably HUD).
2. Set specific phrases in quotes
If you want to search for a phrase exactly as you type it, put it in quotation marks. If you’re uncertain about a term or phrase, or want variations, don’t use quotation marks. Rule of thumb: I apply quotes if I’m 100% sure of a phrase and spelling and want to isolate it in the search; I avoid quotes if I’m even 1%unsure and/or want to stay broad with results.
3. Streamline with Booleans
The operators “AND,” “OR,” and “NOT” (you must capitalize them to designate Boolean) are smart tools to connect multiple strings of information to focus your search. Learn more about these tools here (the Venn diagrams help me “see the Boolean logic”).
4. Strike a balance
Too broad a search can send you down unproductive rabbit holes. Be ready to modify your search to get manageable results—neither too few nor too many.
5. Search a database
The internet has several billion indexed websites and is expanding at the rate of a virtual universe. This is why a grants database is immensely helpful to grant seekers, in that it offers a zoomed-in view of myriad funding opportunities that one might miss otherwise in a more limited database or by a general search. eCivis Grants Network subscribers, for instance, can use multiple filters to get to funding opportunities, and can search by federal, state, or foundation grant program, among other tools.
Speaking of which, here are some helpful grant management templates/forms for you and your team: