Last month, I wrote about the importance exploring lesser-known sectors of the research funding landscape. The goal of that discussion was to help you think about ways to improve the diversity of your institution’s research portfolio. In keeping with that theme, I’d like to talk today about some practical, day-to-day things you can do internally to help your PIs bring in funding from a wider range of sources.

Go Further With Your Online Search Tools

It’s hardly news that Grants.gov’s search functionality has had its fair share of shortcomings. Take heart, though—they’ve just finished overhauling their user interface. Now, searches for relevant funding opportunities are much easier to perform. In addition to Grants.gov, tools like Pivot (formerly Community of Science) and the Foundation Center make opportunity searches easier as well. But finding opportunities is, of course, only half the battle. Your search tools can also help you learn more about what it takes to land those opportunities. The more you know—especially about opportunities from unfamiliar funders—the better off you and your PIs will be.

For example, don’t stop with Pivot’s keyword searches. They also have a full range of filter and exclude options that can help you browse more broadly through their listings and give you valuable insights into the funding landscape. Over at the Foundation Center, be sure to check out their analytics, which will show you details on funding trends of every shape and size. Finally, don’t overlook Google; the success of private proposals—corporate and foundation, alike—depends heavily on knowing as much as you can find about the individuals you’re submitting to.

Get Your PIs Thinking Outside the Box

For PIs, taking a step back from their typical research topics can be a difficult undertaking. Often they’ve spent years studying a single, tightly focused subject area. If you can help them find a new angle on their research, it can open up a much broader range of funding opportunities for them.

As an example, say you’ve got an experienced breast cancer researcher, but all of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) opportunities for human-related breast cancer research have dried up. Talk with your PI about recasting their research focus to alternative therapies for breast cancer, cancer in animal models or computer models used in studying breast cancer. Suddenly, you can start looking at not only NIH opportunities, but also U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants or foundation/private funding from the tech sector. For a quick way to start casting a wider net, not much can beat a change in perspective.

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Advancement Office Closer

Cultivating good relationships with your institution’s advancement office can be invaluable for tracking down little-known funding opportunities. Some institutions even have a particular division within advancement that specializes in corporate and foundation relations. Unlike public or even large foundation grants, private funding opportunities don’t have an established process for submitting a proposal. Instead, private funding often depends entirely on networking to connect researchers with opportunities. Fortunately, networking is precisely what advancement officers are paid to do.

The University of Massachusetts’ Medical School is an example of an institution with a dedicated Corporate & Foundation Relations office. The following comes from their website:
“Unlike governmental agencies, private funders have their own unique requirements, guidelines and cycles for requesting proposals. Indeed, many private funders rely on relationships rather than requests for proposals (RFPs) to channel appropriate projects to their attention.” If that isn’t a reason to build good relationships with your advancement office, I’m not sure what is.

Do Some PR for the Office of Sponsored Projects

None of these tips, though, will amount to very much for the PIs whose proposals land on your desk on the day of the deadline. (Not that any of your PIs would ever do that.) Reducing the number of day-of proposals often requires a shift in thinking about Sponsored Projects as a whole. Organize an open house, put together lunch and learn talks, maybe run a flyer campaign encouraging PIs to reach out early and often (…and did we mention early?). Anything you can do to get your institution’s researchers thinking of Sponsored Projects as an ally and not an obstacle means more opportunities to use the tips and tricks above.

What other outside-the-box tricks do you have for finding (and landing) a broader range of research funding? Share your secrets with us in the comments section below!

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