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How to find free things: nonprofit students edition 

Student sitting on the floor with a laptop and pen studying.

As a nonprofit management student, preparing to enter this field can be challenging because it’s still developing. The University of San Francisco was the first school to offer a Master’s in Nonprofit Administration less than 40 years ago, and the first School of Philanthropy was created just nine years ago at Indiana University. As the sector evolves, nonprofit students aren’t always sure which available resources are the most sound to support our studies. More importantly, after paying tuition bills, we often struggle to find resources we can afford—free resources.  

This fall, a year into my master’s program, I started an internship on Candid’s communications team. Two months in, I have tested many of Candid’s tools and, in the interest of helping fellow nonprofit students, I’m sharing the inside scoop on free resources that provide quality information and can support our development. 


Candid’s GuideStar platform includes over 2.7 million nonprofits. It provides free information on nonprofits’ missions, visions, values, programs, leadership, and finances. GuideStar has helped me find information for many research assignments. For instance, I wrote a paper for my Ethics in Nonprofits class that explored whether nonprofit theatres should pay actors more or use their resources to prioritize their communities. GuideStar provided information on several theatres’ expenses so I could explore if it was financially viable to increase actor compensation while maintaining quality audience experiences.  

Additionally, GuideStar is a helpful tool for post-graduation job hunting. You can review nonprofits’ tax returns on GuideStar to find out more about their budgets, expenses, and how much top salaried employees are paid. Candid also encourages nonprofits to report the demographic makeup of their board, leadership, and staff so you can better understand where the organization lands in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).  

Candid Learning 

Candid Learning is a generous friend of free things. The site offers training for nonprofit staff that goes into more detail than we do in class. Anyone can access free on-demand and live trainings from experts who have experienced common challenges working in the nonprofit field. On-demand trainings can be taken any time, with recent topics including fostering an inclusive culturefinding funding, and writing grant proposal budgets. Candid Learning also hosts live trainings on topics such as corporate giving and starting nonprofits. I can’t emphasize enough how great an opportunity this is when it feels almost impossible to find free quality classes. I recently tried to find a course on DEI and many were hundreds of dollars per class. Meanwhile, Candid had one for free.  

Candid also offers a wide variety of borrowable e-books by topic: DEI, management, fundraising, grant writing, advocacy, etc. This is a great way to find credible sources for research assignments or to simply improve your sector knowledge. And for more practical application, Candid provides sample templates for documents you will eventually write as an industry professional. These include cover letters, proposals, letters of inquiry, budgets, and more.   

Philanthropy News Digest 

Philanthropy News Digest (PND) has a free weekly newsletter with the latest trends and news in the nonprofit sector. As nonprofit students, it is important to understand how the field works and the current events that impact it. PND compiles the best information from across the Internet to provide quick updates on the sector so you don’t have to extensively research multiple sources.  

PND also lists job postings submitted directly from nonprofits. You can filter by kind of job, location, and organization type. If you are looking for a post-graduation job or a job to supplement school, this is a great place to start. For recent graduates, PND offers RFP (Request for Proposals) Bulletin , which lists funding opportunities for all kinds of organizations. Finding funding will always be part of a nonprofit professional’s job, and PND helps reduce time and effort needed to find opportunities by putting them all in one place. 

Candid produces its own blog and bi-weekly email newsletter that offer research and thought leadership, both from its own staff and external contributors, to improve sector efficiency. Additionally, Candid publishes regular reports on relevant sector issues, such as the Advancing Human Rights reportMeasuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy report, and Philanthropy and Covid-19 reportCandid posts reports as they launch, sector news from PND and other respected sources, and additional valuable information on their social media (@CandidDotOrg). This content represents a wealth of credible sources for research papers and projects.   

Foundation Directory 

Candid’s Foundation Directory is another robust source for finding funding from foundations, public charities, and federal funders—it’s a great research resource to get giving insights. While it requires a paid subscription, many schools provide free access to Foundation Directory. If not, Foundation Directory offers Quick Start, which provides free basic information on foundations. Most people can also get access to Foundation Directory through Candid’s Funding Information Network partners. For instance, if you live in New York City, several libraries offer free access to Candid’s tools. To find the nearest location visit 

Grants to Individuals 

Patrons who visit Funding Information Network partners can also access Grants to Individuals (GTI) for free to find scholarships, fellowships, and awards for students, artists, researchers, and others. If you’re not able to access GTI through our partners, subscription access is available at $20 a month. 

Real-time response tools 

Candid moves quickly to provide information on emerging issues with its rapid response sites. These are crucial resources for addressing challenges that broadly impact society, such as coronavirus and racial equity. Such sites include information on funding, issue-specific resources, news items, and more to address the most critical challenges in real time. 

Any of these tools, or a combination of them, can be helpful with assignments and enhancing your understanding of the sector. Candid has connected me to nonprofit best practices that I will carry over into my career. I hope what I’ve learned is useful to my fellow students as we prepare to enter the workforce and collectively create a more efficient and impactful social sector.  


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