ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 9:48am
posted by
Carolyn Owens,
Grant Writer & Partner
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Don’t get me wrong. Google is my best friend. I shudder when I think of how difficult it was in the dark ages prior to this uber useful search engine. However, Google is a tool, and like other search engines, a data middleman, not the end result. I myself have been frustrated by even its super powers to extract data that I know is out there in cyberspace.

So how do we search so we can find that most wonderful of prizes? How to best use the Internet to find the data we need? How do we judge the quality of the hits we get?

Although I do not claim to be an expert, I am happy to share what I’ve learned in more than a decade of mining the Internet for information to support grant proposals.

Information search tips:

  • Less is more. Try using fewer key words in your initial search, particularly if you are having problems getting hits.
  • Having said that, I have had luck with long, specific searches although it is not typical. It doesn’t cost anything to try it though!
  • Review the hits to help refine your search; if the search engine is picking up on the wrong key words get rid of them.
  • Rearrange the words in your search; sometimes the search engine focuses too much on the first word in the string.
  • Include words like “study” and “best practices” in the search to find research based information. I have found just adding “study” will give me much better hits.
  • When you review your list of hits, look at the web address; is it from a reputable source such as a .edu, a government agency or peer journal? Or is it Auntie Mimi’s everything awesome blog?
  • Include your city or state in the search to mine local data.



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Contact an ASU Lodestar Center nonprofit specialist today.


Good, better, best data

When you find a hit, then what? Review your findings:

  • Is it from a reputable source such as a federal agency, a college or a peer journal?
  • Does it support your program’s need? Does it say that the program you are proposing is effective in solving the problem? Ding ding, we have a winner!
  • Conversely, does it confirm the problem you are addressing is a problem?
  • Is it dated recently? Preferably within the past two years?
  • Is it local data? This is best, and the more local the better, but local data can be difficult to find. Use the data that’s as close to home as you can.

Some other information gathering ideas

  • Once you’ve found a good study, review the citations listed in the study to lead you to other sources for supporting data.
  • Go to the source – if you are in substance abuse prevention for example, go straight to the SAMSHA website for data, studies and best practices.
  • The US Census is the best resource for local demographics.
  • Articles written about the issue already have the data synthesized for you. Just make sure they list their sources and you do too.

I read a joke that sums up my feelings about this topic -

Question: “What makes you happy?”
Answer: “Data.”
Question: “No, no, what makes you feel fulfilled? Complete?”
Pause –
Answer: “Good data.”

Even if you are not a data geek like me, I hope I have helped you to succeed in mining that lump of gold that is recent, supportive data for your cause!

Carolyn Owens has 15 years of experience in grant writing and program development. She loves helping nonprofits attain their goals and brings the same determination and drive to grant writing that she uses when competing in triathlons.

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Read Alex Gomory's "Money for your nonprofit: Writing a grant proposal."


Carolyn, you nailed it with your first tip: "Less is more. Try using fewer key words in your initial search, particularly if you are having problems getting hits." This works when you have done ample keyword research and have identified the words that are most likely to attract the right viewership. Search engines only see text (nothing else), so pick your words wisely.

Additionally, make sure your contact information is formatted correctly - yea, there's a right way and a wrong way to format this. Below is a good format.

Business Name
1234 St
Suite 007
City, ST 09876
(123) 456-7890 [123-456-7890 would also work]

If targeting your grant locally - the elements of your contact information (referred to as NAP - name, address, phone) will help geo-target your article for better online discovery. Our website page on local marketing explains this in better detail.

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