This content originally appeared in The Stanford PACS Guide to Effective Philanthropy.

Researching Grantees of Credible Foundations

A good way to learn about organizations that have already gone through a due diligence process by trained philanthropic professionals is to examine the grantee lists of foundations that you respect. An increasing number of staffed foundations publish their grantee lists. An Internet search of foundations that fund in the issue areas you’re focused on could yield a list of potential organizations for your support. Magnify Community, focused in Silicon Valley, has cultivated a list of almost 400 organizations across 40 issue areas that are recipients of funding from at least one of seven local foundations3. Other new initiatives like Grapevine work with “professional grantmakers and other thought leaders” to build their list of recommended organizations and “funds” to support4.

Asking Knowledgeable People

If you have limited time to search for organizations on your own, consider asking knowledgeable people for recommendations. You might ask subject matter experts (e.g., an oncologist for cancer research, a development economist for organizations working to meet the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals) or experienced donors in your focus area. These connections can be made through acquaintances, or they can include outreach to professionals. The connections may lead to opportunities to attend events hosted by organizations in your areas of interest. You might also consider talking with the beneficiaries you hope to serve to learn about how they are receiving services and which organizations are best meeting their needs.

If you get nonprofit recommendations from a friend or professional expert, understand the basis for the recommendation and try to ascertain whether their views might be biased. Some questions might include: 

  • How do you know about this organization? 
  • Do you have any affiliation with it? 
  • What makes you recommend it?
  • If you have interacted with the organization, what has been your experience?
  • Have you conducted due diligence on this organization? Did that process raise any red flags?
Shortlisting Organizations Through Online Research

We mentioned above that an Internet search is an important component of a comprehensive landscape analysis. Conducting the search alone is an economical way to find organizations. Searching by your focus area and geographic scope, plus the word “nonprofit” or “organization,” is likely to yield a list that highlights potential grantees. Your search results will often yield “best of” or “top ten” lists of organizations—though you should check on the impartiality of the source. If you have more specific preferences, you can add search criteria for example, geographies, sub-populations, and organizational approaches (e.g., “advocacy” or “research”).

If you are interested in giving internationally, online searches can help you discover organizations that link you to foreign nonprofits that you might not otherwise find—for example, Give2Asia for Asian development organizations and the Global Fund for Women for women’s empowerment organizations. Internet searches may also yield third-party reviews of organizations, which can be useful in conducting organizational due diligence later on. 

For all of their usefulness, Internet searches may not uncover small or new nonprofits. And in many cases, the organizations that appear in the search results may simply have better marketing tactics. 

When to Stop Your Search

At some point, you will stop searching for organizations and begin vetting those on your list. When you reach that point depends on how many plausible candidates you’ve identified, how much time and capacity you have to devote to the process, and your own preferences for comprehensiveness. You may wish to ensure that you don’t miss any organizations in the field, or you may be willing to “satisfice” after finding a handful of good candidates.

Finding Effective Organizations Takeaway
  • Conduct a landscape analysis to learn about approaches, organizations, and research in your focus area.
  • If you are time-constrained, you can find effective organizations by asking knowledgeable people who can help you find potential organizations to support—though it is important to filter out bias in the recommendations that you receive.
  • Another quick option is to do online research, using keywords to narrow your search.

See the full guide here.

Read part one of the series here


3 Magnify Community. “Nonprofit Search.” Accessed February 29, 2020.

4 Grapevine. “Explore” Accessed February 29, 2020.