Finding funding for your organization is one of the biggest challenge’s nonprofits face. Knowing where to look for funding and how to find grant opportunities is a skill you will need to master or at a minimum have a trusted advisor to guide you.

This guide will teach you what your nonprofit organization needs before you begin grantseeking, the differences between public and private funding, and how to get started.

If your non-profit is in Illinois you’ll also find a list of select Illinois State funders, including state-level government funding opportunities.

Must-Haves Before You Start Grantseeking

Your nonprofit organization was founded to accomplish a mission. How you communicate that mission, and how effectively and powerfully you tell your story, will help you attract new funders and receive increased funding from existing donors.

Before you can approach funders, however, you must determine your need and how to align your needs with the donor’s interest. By outlining your goals and the steps you’ll execute to meet those goals, you will determine your needs and be able to more effectively communicate strategy and funding requests to the potential funder.

General guidelines for what your nonprofit organization needs before you seek funding

  • A strong program/organization description that clearly defines your mission, goals, and objectives
  • Data that defines a community need your organization is capable of fulfilling (many public grants require community collaboration, and many private grants prefer it)
  • Outcome measurements that measure impact through a quantitative evaluation
  • 501(c)(3) or appropriate tax status (if you’re not sure whether or not your organization is eligible for tax-exempt status you can view the IRS’s requirements at StayExempt)
  • Systems that will ensure programmatic and financial compliance (including accounting systems that meet your reporting requirements)
  • Clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and outcomes

How to Find State/Federal Funding

Government funding is one of the primary sources of public funding for nonprofits. Many nonprofits, such as educational institutions and health and human service organizations, rely on governmental grants.

To find public funding for your nonprofit, you’ll need to consider grants from all three levels of government: federal, state, and local.

Some federal agencies award discretionary grants. Discretionary grants are competitive, and they’re only awarded to the nonprofits with the best grant applications.

Most other governmental funding is allocated out to the specific state, county, and city governments. They typically award federal dollars as both competitive grants and formula grants. Formula or entitlement grants are noncompetitive, and money is awarded based on whether or not a nonprofit meets specific criteria for the grant (e.g., population, per-capita income, enrollment, etc.).

Guidelines when applying for State/Federal funding

  • Keep detailed financial reports and records. A single audit is required for any agency that receives more than $750,000 in federal funding. In addition, the US government has the right to audit any federally-funded program regardless of award size.
  • Various states require audits for lower thresholds of revenue including the State of Illinois that requires an audit when an agency receives $300,000 in funding regardless of funding source
  • Ensure your program adheres to all federal laws and regulations. You can find all relevant U.S. laws and regulations at the federal deposit library.
  • Clearly indicate how your program meets the legislative intent of the law. Discretionary grants are usually given to programs that specifically address grant criteria.
  • Be prepared to put up cash or in-kind donations. Many federal programs require cost sharing or matching.
  • If you operate a faith-based organization, you will need to follow specific guidelines. For example, you can only use federal grant funds for furthering your economic growth, not for financing inherently religious activities such as worship or Bible studies.
  • If you operate a faith-based organization, you will usually need to be IRS designated 501(c)(3) before you are eligible to receive grants from foundations or corporations.
  • Many grants also bar an agency from participating in political activities including lobbying.

Federal grantseeking resources

  • – Includes all federal grants and a list of new grants posted in the last 7 days.
  • – Lists all federal assistance and funding opportunities include grants and benefit programs for nonprofits, businesses, and individuals.

Grantseeking resources in Illinois and the Chicago area

  • City of Chicago Grants Administration – Community development grants granted by the City of Chicago specifically to support the City’s goals with respect to providing decent, affordable housing, expanding economic opportunity, and serving low and moderate income populations.
  • IL Catalog of State Financial Assistance – A comprehensive, statewide resource of all State financial funding and grant programs.
  • IL Criminal Justice Information Authority – Grants for law enforcement and other criminal justice departments including restorative justice.
  • IL Arts Council Agency – Funding opportunities for nonprofits that work with the arts including painting, music, literature, theater, and film.
  • IL Department of Child & Family Service – Grant information that includes adult services, community and youth development, early childhood, and workforce development.
  • IL State Board of Education – State Board of Education grant opportunities, plus funding opportunities for school districts that include federal funding and private funding.
  • IL Department of Human Services – List of funding opportunities in human services. Includes updated links to Foundation Grant Opportunities and Federal Grant Opportunities.

Need help applying for public funding?

At EAB, our expertise lies in leveraging our experience and database knowledge to find funding sources for your organization. We’re skilled in creating or strengthening your case for support, goals and strategies, developing outcomes measurement tools and processes, and submitting high-quality grant applications. After the award has been funded, we go a step further to help you monitor your funding compliance and post reports.

EAB works with the following public funding sources:

  • US Department of Health and Human Services
  • US Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • US Department of Education
  • US Department of Labor
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • Corporation for National & Community Service
  • IL Criminal Justice Information Authority
  • IL Arts Council Agency
  • IL Department of Child & Family Service
  • IL State Board of Education
  • IL Department of Human Services
  • Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events
  • Department of Family & Support Services
  • City Development Block Grants (CDBG)
  • Various Local Governmental Granting Departments