Why are people still slogging through 990s?

One of the most recognized ways that we use data to advance the social sector is through Foundation Directory Online (FDO). Through this tool, nonprofit staff worldwide conduct prospect research using 9.5 million historic grant records and 140,000 grantmaker profiles. In August, we launched a new version of FDO to deliver an exceptional user experience with a contemporary design aesthetic. The new FDO is faster and more intuitive; providing users with the knowledge and insight they need at their fingertips.


Hear from Max, our programmer, and Tracy, our product owner, on what they think was most special about the blitz.

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We know getting grants is hard work, but prospect research shouldn’t be. Tracy Waksler, director of subscription products, shares, “We fundamentally changed FDO from a database to an application. We don’t want our users to have to be experts in FDO to do prospect research. It should just work.”

To get there, the year started with a “Blitz” — twelve weeks of focused work on all aspects of FDO by more than 40 staff members. Using the Agile methodology, teams for application development, quality assurance (QA), Enterprise Database Management System (EDMS — our proprietary system where the data that powers FDO and all of our knowledge tools lives), user experience (UX), and web design collaborated on a defined set of goals. The teams worked in two week sprints to build the foundation for what would become the new FDO. Each team was led by a scrum master, who wrangled tasks, needs, and goals to keep everything moving along.

We use this way of thinking about implementing new software. Read more >

UX interviews with 61 constituents (a mix of nonprofits, foundations, and staff based in the U.S. and abroad) were a critical component of the Blitz. These conversations ensured the user’s fundraising needs and practices were front and center in our approaching to building a better FDO. For staff who participated in the Blitz, it was a rewarding experience that has shaped their work since. Maha Masud, front-end web developer and scrum master for this project, says, “I am constantly amazed by how much FDO changed. Weighing in on early designs and watching the programmers turn them into a functional application was incredible. I also really loved getting to work with coworkers that I don’t normally work with, who I now am much more connected to.”


We interviewed 39 nonprofits, 11 foundations, and 11 staff members.

FDO now features a global search bar and integrated results page giving users the full range of data on grantmakers, grants, recipients, and 990s. FDO’s funder profiles include suggestions of other funders to consider based on similar patterns of giving, making it easy for the user to know what to explore next. The list of officers and board members of each organization also includes a LinkedIn integration, allowing users to quickly tap into their network to see who they know and who can introduce them to a potential funder. These and so many other new FDO features put information at users’ fingertips and empower them to deliver on their missions armed with philanthropic financial support.

Building the new FDO allowed us to pause and ask our users what it is that was working for them and what we could improve. We’re really excited about the new direction FDO has taken and how seamless it makes the prospecting process. The camaraderie and teamsmanship developed among the staff through the blitz continues to power sprints and deliver enhanced value in our products and services.

“FDO plays a critical role in my fundraising activities, whether it’s helping me track down new potential grants or providing research about our current institutional partners. It’s a key resource I rely on every single day.”

Patty Bachorz, director of institutional giving at Physicians for Reproductive Health