Finding Funding

External funding for research, scholarship, artistry, and engagement is usually obtained through a competitive process in which potential projects are evaluated and only the most promising receive funding.

Sponsored funding comes from federal and state government agencies, associations, industry, and private foundations.

NIU provides search engines for finding federal and non-federal sources of grant funding accessible via NIU credentials as well as internal funding opportunities.

Resources for Finding Funding

To assist you in finding funding, click our core databases tab for links to NIU-sponsored databases and the federal portal and basic instructions and tips.

The Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships at NIU subscribes to SPIN, a robust search engine for federal and non-federal sources of grant funding. For assistance or troubleshooting, email

The NIU Libraries subscribes to a funding search database titled Funding Institutional, which also offers a variety of funding sources.

The NIU Foundation can assist with sources and databases for private and corporate foundations. For help pursuing private foundation and/or corporate funding, please contact Erin Smith, Senior Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations in the NIU Foundation at


Most federal agencies use one or more of the below methods to alert their readers to specific funding opportunities.

  • RSS feeds gather new content from one or more sources and relay it real-time in digest form. You can find links to the RSS feeds on individual agency websites, or you can view  cumulative RSS feeds curated by, which you can filter by agency or category.
  • Listservs are digest emails containing agency news and funding notices. They are typically sent out weekly, but some allow you to choose the frequency of emails received. To sign up for a listserv, look for a "subscribe" option on any agency or database website.
  • Agencies also may utilize social media to alert their readers of funding opportunities. Like or follow any agencies relevant to your work or project on Twitter or Facebook.

The following federal agencies are known to offer RSS feeds, Listservs or social media announcements. This list is not exhaustive, so please be sure to check an agency's website .

  • Department of  Educa tion - The U.S. Department of Education (USED) provides information about grant opportunities on their  website and via  Twitter  .
  • EPA National Center for Environmental Research - The National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) sends email to subscribers announcing new grant and or funding opportunities or newsworthy items regarding NCER-Funded research. (See Research Grants Listserv, Facebook, and Twitter links under Helpful Links)
  • National Institutes of Health - The NIH Office of Extramural Research offers the NIH Guide Listserv, a weekly email service with funding notices, along with multiple other helpful blogs, articles, listservs, RSS feeds, and social media accounts. Click the News & Events section to explore available options and sign up.
  • National Science Foundation - When you subscribe to the National Science Foundation Update service, you will receive an email message each time new content is added to the NSF website in the categories you select. NSF also provides an  RSS feed and social media updates for funding information.


Besides RSS feeds, social media, and listservs, many agencies link directly to funding opportunities from their websites. In addition to the agencies listed above, below are some state agencies that are known to link to specific funding opportunities.

NIU offers internal funding opportunities through competitions such as the  RIPS Research and Artistry program and the Graduate School’s Great Journeys graduate assistantship program (contact the  Graduate School for information). The  Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning has programs to support and fund undergraduate student engagement in research.

Tips by Project Type

If you are looking to generate pilot data or to get proof of concept, you might consider an NIU Internal Competition such as the Research and Artistry or the Great Journeys Assistantships.

For external funding, these programs may be of particular interest to investigators:

Different agencies list different criteria for who qualifies as a new investigator, so be sure to check that you meet the criteria.

Some research projects involve an especially high degree of innovation and novelty, making it difficult to judge their potential impact through more traditional mechanisms. Projects in this category may lack preliminary data establishing feasibility, but simultaneously have the potential to create conceptual or technological breakthroughs. Although foundation funding does exist for such projects, it is likely to be most helpful to start your search by using

Particular programs to look for:

  • NSF Early-concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER): Information on the NSF EAGER program is available in the most recent Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG). See Part I (Proposal Preparation and Submission Guidelines), Chapter II (Proposal Preparation Instructions), Section F (Other Types of Proposals).
  • NIH R21 mechanism

Specific programs to consider are listed below. At least some of these funding opportunities limit the number of proposals that may be submitted. See the ORD Limited Submission Funding Opportunities webpage for information on applying to limited funding programs.

The Small Business Innovation Research SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs provide federal agency funding to support partnership between small businesses and institutions of higher education to develop and commercialize technology. Unique to the STTR mechanism, the small business must partner with research institutions but will retain the rights to the technology they develop and are encouraged to commercialize the technology.
Resources for SBIR/STTR opportunities:

Contact the Office of Innovation for additional support to collaborate with industry partners.

Research is increasingly collaborative and global in scope. Some U.S. federal funding agencies have programs specifically targeting international research funding. In some cases, federal agencies will provide ad hoc funding for international research and scholarship as well (i.e., NSF Dear Colleague Letters). Non-U.S. organizations also offer funding for international Research :

Core Databases

The Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships has invested in SPIN, a robust grants search engine that will allow you to do your own searches whenever it is convenient for you. Moreover, you can save key search terms and SPIN will automatically search grant announcements for you and send the results to your email.

Log-In Information

Current NIU faculty, staff, and students can log in to SPIN with your NIU enterprise credentials. The best way to access SPIN is to log in to InfoEd using your NIU credentials and then click “SPIN” from the navigation menu. For assistance or troubleshooting, send an email to

Conduct a Basic Search

  • Click on the Search button at the top of the page.
  • From the dropdown menu, select Basic Search.
  • Enter your keywords, click Locate Funding, and review your results.
    • Use keywords for only one research interest per search. You can save multiple searches for your different interests.
    • When you view a result, refer to the Keywords at the end of your Opportunity. Use those keywords to better refine your results.
    • If some terminology yields few results, consider alternative terminology for your line of research; if "homelessness" yields too few results, try a broader term such as "poverty".
  • If you like the results (not too many false positives and a non-zero number of solid results), then select SAVE.
  • A dialogue box pops up, offering you the opportunity to automate the search. You will need to name the search, indicate how you want to see the email (plain text or HTML), and the frequency you prefer.

Tip: You must choose to receive either plain or HTML email messages. If you choose neither option, the software will still perform the search but will not email it to you. It will be saved online for your review, but you would be missing out on an important convenience feature of this new search engine.

  • Click Save Changes, and you should start to see results in your inbox shortly. They will appear in your inbox as SMARTS Mailer: SMARTS Results: "your named search".

There is no limit to the number of saved searches you can automate.

Conduct an Advanced Search

If you are getting too many results with the basic search, you can switch to the Advanced Search. Doing so will set additional limits on your search. For most people, this type of search is the non-intuitive part; the interface is so minimalist that you may not necessarily see right away what you should do.

  • Click on Search in the top banner
  • Choose Advanced Search from the dropdown menu.
  • Click on the box with the + sign to "Add Expression." The default is to find the keyword in the Program. This works for most beginning searches.
  • Click on the yellow box and choose your AND-OR Boolean operators.
  • Now add your search terms.
  • Click on Locate Funding

Adding filters

If you know that you want to restrict your results in some way (project type, citizenship, sponsor type, etc.), you can add a filter to your search.

  • Click Preferences in the top banner.
  • Review your options and determine which ones apply to you or to your project.
  • Select the filters you want to be applied to your search.
  • Save.

Additional Resources

Click the “Help” menu on the SPIN database web portal for user guides, videos, and more support for using SPIN. For technical assistance (e.g., access/log-in issues or other technical problems), send email to and include “SPIN” in the subject line.

Funding Institutional

The NIU Libraries are now providing access to the Funding Institutional database. Funding Institutional sources data on active funding opportunities, awarded grants and funder profiles and combines it in such a way that, whatever role you play as an institutional stakeholder, you can apply it directly to your work, responsibilities and workflows.
NIU users have access to Funding Institutional via their NIU credentials. Registration is mandatory. How to register:

  1. Click on the hyperlinked Funding Institutional title.
  2. In the new browser tab, click on SIGN IN.
  3. Click on “Sign in via your institution”
  4. Start typing “Northern”, click on Northern Illinois University when it appears.
  5. Enter your NIU email alias (e.g., (email addresses ending in, and non-NIU email addresses will not work)
  6. Click “Continue”
  7. After a confirmation email from “Elsevier Identity” has been received, click on “Get Access” (check your junk folder if you do not receive a confirmation email.

Contact Gwen Gregory, associate dean of University Libraries, for assistance at provides a valuable resource for searching for federal fellowships, grants, and other funding opportunities across multiple disciplines. provides information only on federal sources.

You can subscribe to receive notifications of new federal grant opportunities. Options include subscribing to all grant notices, selected notices based on specific criteria, or notices based on funding opportunity number.

Read instructions for using (PDF).

Contact Us

Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships
DeKalb, IL 60115

Phone: 815-753-2573

Fax: 815-753-2902

Back to top