Tips & Tricks

Understanding Grantmakers.io
Key takeaways:
  • Focused on private foundations
  • 50-60% of private foundations appear on Grantmakers.io
  • Electronic tax filers only
  • Form 990-PF filers only

The best way to get to know Grantmakers.io is to first understand the public dataset from which profiles and search results are derived.

Public IRS dataset

The IRS started publishing foundation tax returns in "machine-readable format" for the first time in 2016. Grantmakers.io pulls data exclusively from this dataset. It's open...it's free...it's awesome.

It does have its limitations though. The dataset only contains electronically filed tax returns. Currently, approximately 50-60% of private foundations file in this manner, which means Grantmakers.io covers approximately half of all private foundations.

The good news is recent legislation requires tax-exempt organizations to file electronically, starting in the near future. Specifically, filings for tax years ending July 31, 2020 and later must be filed electronically. Practically speaking, 2021 will be a great year for visitors to Grantmakers.io, as nearly 100% of private foundations should be represented in results by then.

Also, keep in mind Grantmakers.io focuses exclusively on Form 990-PF, the tax filing used by private foundations. If a foundation files a different tax form, they will not be included in search results and will not have a profile on Grantmakers.io. Consider community foundations, for example. Most community foundations file Form 990 (not Form 990-PF), so they will not appear on Grantmakers.io.

Great for basic research, improving as a prospecting tool

Grantmakers.io was originally built to help a friend find information on a specific funding prospect previously identified. Profiles Search was the first search tool created and is optimized to quickly find a funder's profile (if one exists). If you don't find your target in results, the foundation likely does not file electronically, or they do not file Form 990PF.

The Grants Search tool was developed to allow fundraisers to do basic prospecting by exploring which foundations have donated to similar grantees in the past. Just remember the limitations mentioned above, specifically that the dataset only covers 50-60% of private foundations.

IRS controls the frequency of updates

The IRS publishes updates on a roughly monthly cadence. Grantmakers.io, in turn, uses automated scripts to fetch, parse, and publish these updates. Updates are typically live on Grantmakers.io a day or two after being published by the IRS.

When using the Grant Search tool for basic prospecting, be mindful of the delay from the time a foundation makes a grant to the time it makes its way through the tax filing and IRS publication process. "New" grants that appear in Grant Search results were likely actually funded 9-18+ months before first appearing in results.

Foundations control the content

The information a foundation enters when filing their return appears exactly as entered on the return. Most of the time foundations catch misspellings and mistakes before filing their returns, but don't be surprised if you come across the occasional piece of data that simply looks odd.

You can certainly reach out to the foundation to give them a heads up on any errors you find, but the only way a foundation can adjust their filing content is to file a full amendment to their return. This might come at significant expense. For this reason, Grantmakers.io has a "Community Insights" section on each profile to provide context behind suggested edits and adjustments.

Another thing to keep in mind is grantee names can be whatever the foundation wants to list. There is no IRS requirement to use the actual legal name for the grantees, and no requirement to distinguish between national HQ recipients and their local/regional organizations. Be sure to use the filter tools to select the names most relevant to your search, and be mindful that misspellings do indeed exist.

Your insight drives improvements

If you're new to Grantmakers.io, welcome! I love surprising new visitors by implementing suggestions within hours whenever possible, so if you have any thoughts or ideas on how the site can be improved to help other non-profit professionals, I'd love to connect.

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