Even after you have decided on your philanthropic goals, you may find it difficult to choose which organizations to fund when a number of them seem to be doing similar work in your focus area. This chapter addresses the question of how to find organizations aligned with your goals. (The next chapter will help you assess the quality of the organizations that you identify.) 

You can find organizations by: 

  • conducting a landscape analysis
  • researching grantees of credible foundations
  • asking knowledgeable people and networking
  • performing online research 

A landscape analysis will provide a strong foundation on which to build your philanthropy. If your time and capacity is too limited, then skip ahead to the other ways of finding organizations. 

Understanding the Context: Landscape Analysis 

A landscape analysis helps you learn about the best research, strategies, and practices in your focus area. 

A landscape analysis begins with desk research—Internet searches and literature reviews about a field. You (or a consultant) can supplement this by talking to key stakeholders, including your intended beneficiaries, nonprofits, other funders, scholars, government officials, business leaders, and community members.

If you decide to contact potential grantees, be mindful of the power dynamics between a donor and applicant. Speaking with an organization that might be eligible for your support may raise its expectations for funding. Be clear about your purpose, and be considerate of their time.

Here is an example of an actual landscape analysis conducted in 2014 by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to review the trends, priorities, and funding sources of youth-serving organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area¹. The analysis sought to answer four main questions:

  • What are the most important trends in the youth-serving field, in terms of funding priorities and intervention strategies?
  • What is the state of the youth-serving nonprofit community?
  • Who are the main funders of youth-serving organizations? What youth funder collaboratives exist?
  • Are there gaps in the capacity-building services currently being provided to youth-serving organizations? 

The report focused mainly on programs for marginalized and “at risk” youth in the nine counties of the Bay Area². It found that:

  • 55% of the total funding for disadvantaged youth went to human services (including criminal justice, legal issues, and youth development), 20% went to education, and 13% went to health.
  • 79% of grant funding went to two counties: San Francisco and Alameda (which encompasses Oakland).
  • Top funding priorities included schools and local education systems as critical sites for centralizing community change efforts, young people’s mental health and emotional needs, alignment of K-12 education to career paths, and improving outcomes for foster youth.
  • There were relatively few nonprofit organizations outside of San Francisco and Alameda counties, and those that existed tended to operate at a small scale.
  • Youth-serving organizations had great needs for capacity building to strengthen their management and governance structures. Specific skill sets that were noted included board development, fundraising, financial planning, and growth planning.

This landscape analysis included a “gap analysis” of geographic locations and activities in need of funding. Although the analysis did not list specific organizations, a philanthropist armed with this information could ask knowledgeable sources or conduct Internet searches to identify potential grantees. (See other ways to find organizations later in this chapter.)



Basic Questions

  • What are the needs of the intended beneficiaries of your focus area? 
  • Which strategies have succeeded or failed in the past? 
  • What is the scale of the problem? 
  • Where is the greatest need? 
  • Which nonprofit approaches are being pursued and why? 
  • Which organizations are the essential players in your focus area?
  • What problems are they trying to solve and why? 
  • Where are philanthropic efforts from other funders currently concentrated within your focus area?
  • How are political, social, and economic trends affecting your focus area? 
  • What does the latest research in your focus area show? 
  • Are there gaps in current levels of philanthropic funding?
  • How might you build on the efforts of other funders for greater impact? 
  • Who are proponents and skeptics of specific approaches? 
  • What is their reasoning? 
  • Which organizations are competing with each other? 
  • Which are collaborating? 
  • Which organizations are potential partners?

Supplementary Questions – Speaking with Organizations in the Field

  • What are your views and experiences in the field? 
  • What strategies have worked? 
  • What strategies have failed? 
  • What are you continuing to learn about the problem you are trying to solve? 
  • What assets do you bring to your work? 
  • What challenges do you face? 
  • What worries you the most? 
  • What are your priorities? 
  • What opportunities for solving problems exist right now?

If you lack the capacity to conduct a full landscape analysis, consider three other ways to identify organizations to fund:

  1. Researching grantees of credible foundations 
  2. Asking knowledgeable people 
  3. Shortlisting organizations through online research

See the full guide here

Read part two of the series here.