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Office of Sponsored Programs
Teachers College, Columbia University
Teachers College
Columbia University

Finding Funding

Researching Grant Opportunities--Basic Tips and Strategies


In the earliest stages of the grant development process, it helps to conceive of your research in its broadest possible areas of application. It is extremely rare to find a program or a Request for Proposals (RFP) that is an exact match to your research plan; therefore too narrow a focus at this stage can lead you to overlook worthwhile opportunities. Think in terms of potential outcomes rather than the actual research design. Some useful questions to ask at this stage:

  • What potential benefits may result from this research or project?
  • Who would be interested in the results of this research or project?
  • What potential applications are there for this research?

These are the questions sponsoring agencies are asking when they formulate their funding guidelines, even when they seek to fund basic research. Thinking in terms of how your project addresses the needs and goals of a sponsor from the outset will help you throughout the grant development process.

On a related note, OSP often gets requests, particularly from administrators and program directors, to find funding to support a particular program or to buy or upgrade equipment. This is an unproductive way to approach grant funding. While there is funding available to support programs and program development and improve facilities, this money is distributed according to many of the same criteria as research funding. As with a research proposal, you need to think of your program development activities and equipment needs in terms of a specific project, limited in duration with specific, measurable outcomes. The three questions posed above still pertain, and there are some other questions you should keep in mind as well:

  • Who will benefit from this project?
  • Does the project improve on existing practice at TC or elsewhere?
  • Will the project produce outcomes that might be reproduced at other institutions?
  • How will curriculum development or major equipment purchases improve retention and/or assist students in a pipeline to advanced study in a particular field or discipline?
  • Can the institution support the program after the funding period?
    Again, the key at this stage is to focus less on what you want to do with the money and more on why a sponsor might want to support a particular activity.

SPIN (database search)

The above link takes you to SPIN (Sponsored Program Information Network) a comprehensive, web-based searchable database of funding opportunities from all sources (federal, state, local, private and foreign). You must access SPIN from a computer logged on to the Internet via a TC/CU connection. The system allows you to do a quick search by keyword as you would a bibliographic or library database. The advanced search feature allows you to refine your search by specifying other criteria and has the added functionality of allowing you to save your search criteria and receive updates on a periodic basis of your choosing.

In order to take advantage of this feature, choose the "advanced search" option near the bottom of the SPIN screen. This will take you a page that allows you to specify criteria for each of 20 or so fields contained in the entries for each funding opportunity. Most of the time, you will want to do a search by keyword (the upper leftmost field). You can either do a free text keyword search, or click on "keywords" to bring up a list of words by broad subject area that the system uses to index entries. In order to bring up the most relevant "hits," we suggest also specifying criteria in the next two fields, "Applicant Type" and "Award Type." For example, if you're a faculty member doing research into the effectiveness of substance abuse intervention programs, you can use these two fields to filter out grants to non-profits to provide such intervention services.

Run the search to make sure you get results that are useful, and adjust the search criteria if you come up with too few or too many hits. Once you are satisfied with your search results, click "save search." You will be asked to provide an email address and to specify the frequency of your updates.

Other Resources

SPIN is not the best tool available for finding foundation grants. Through Columbia University Library's online database tools, the college now has access to the Foundation Center's Grant Databases. It may be accessed here from the CU library's homepage.  Just enter "foundation" into the search field.

The Foundation Grants Guide is particularly useful. It can often be difficult to decide whether or not your particular project is a good fit to a foundation's funding objectives, which are usually stated in broad terms. The Grants Guide indexes actual awards made by over 32,000 corporate and foundation givers, with fully searchable abstracts of each. This makes it much easier to determine if a given sponsor actually makes awards in your area, and can turn up unexpected resources. OSP has also compiled a list of 50 foundations to which TC faculty staff have applied for or received funding.  The staff at the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations can also assist you in finding private funding.  Finally, the staff at the Reference Desk at the Russell Library are trained in the use of SPIN and the Foundation Center resources and are your best first option for finding out about potential funding opportunities at TC.  Contact OSP once you have identified a potential sponsor and want to discuss the mechanics of a specific application. 

For information regarding Fulbright Faculty Scholars: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/admin/provost/index.asp?Id=Fulbright+Program&Info=Fulbright+for+Faculty
For information regarding Fulbright Student Program: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/admin/provost/index.asp?Id=Fulbright+Program&Info=Fulbright+for+Students

Graduate students, especially those of you in graduate programs, will want to check out the Teachers College, Columbia University Student's Guide to Funding 2010. The Cornell University Graduate School Fellowship Database is another convenient resource for finding funding.



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