There are currently over 100 Funders, including the world’s largest organization, the Welcome Trust, all with the common aim of improving human health, trading and industry and the projects by funding a …

1. Private Sector

This is a hard entry to write, because so many companies do research! From pharmaceuticals to banks to geologists to management consultants, sometimes the best way to get paid to do research you love is to get hired by a company that does it. Find a company interested in the same things you are and try to meet with someone. Tell them you have a project to pitch they’ll be interested in. See if they are.

If you don’t want to get hired as an employee, perhaps you want to be a consultant. Lots of companies would consider this. But it’s up to you to do your homework and figure out where you’d fit, as well as to meet people from the company and create your opportunity. Companies don’t often post that they’re looking for consultants. They look in their networks! So, get to know some people at companies that do work you’re interested in.

If you can find a company who will benefit from your research, there may be a chance they’ll fund your work as one-off. In this case, you would likely be a consultant—you’d probably do the research and invoice them. You’d need to figure out the business ramifications for this.

What we want . . .

The private sector usually wants one of two things.

  1. Profits: This is most common. They want to advance their profits. This might mean developing technology or products. They might do research on social trends that are relevant to them. So, if you’ve done your work and found out who’s interested in your project, it might be relevant to a company’s bottom line somehow. Make that connection, especially if you can show it will add value, and you’ll get money.
  • Brand Awareness: The second way to get funded by the private sector is to have a project that advances their brand or fits within their corporate responsibility platform. Usually this means that private-sector organizations will direct some of their profits into projects that provide some social benefit, likely from a mixture of altruism and brand creation.

2. Public-Sector Funding

You could build an entire career on public-sector funding. Become an expert on this, and you could establish your own multi-million dollar research company and sell to government. It’s that lucrative. Or, you could invent things and make millions selling the government the patents.

There are different ways to get government funding, and it will be impossible to cover them in detail here. So, this should be an introduction to a few options. If it’s interesting to you, you can start researching more. What’s great about the government is that there is lots of funding and diverse ways to get it. On the other hand, it can be frustrating because of excessive red tape. But, if you take the time to learn the system, it will pay off.

Obviously, there are funding opportunities at all levels of government. This includes municipal and provincial/state governments. For the purposes of this brief guide, I’ll stick to federal. Most of the information here comes from the U.S. and Canada, but it is applicable elsewhere. Figure out how it connects in your own context.

What we want . . .

In general, federal money is to stimulate the economy, create jobs, or—more frequently—to carry out the business of government. It’s to run the country. This is a big window. On the micro-level, individual parts of any government need to expand research and policy options or create products and services to serve taxpayers. Sometimes they just need to spend their budgeted money by the end of the year, so it doesn’t disappear for next year. Yup, it happens.

A few examples of government funding methods . . .

  • Procurement  

Procurement is how the government acquires goods and services it uses to carry out the business of governing the country. This includes things like shipbuilding for the military, installing new printers in a government tower, creating an immigration database, programming an AI interface for passports, or building government housing. Procurement is a big business, and there are companies who have made it their business to sell to government. Sometimes you will see calls for research projects that the government would like done.

In order to get funded through procurement processes, you’ll need to apply for the process with the appropriate “vehicle” (probably a corporation), following the RFT very carefully.

You can see some of the procurement systems below.

From Our Procurement Databases

I won’t talk about them here, but some governments have Standing Offers for pre-approved suppliers to provide services on an ongoing basis.

  • Sole Source/ Single Source/ No-Bid Contract

Because procurement processes can be clunky with lots of paperwork and long waits, governments often have workarounds for people who need to get work done quickly without the process. These projects must fall under a certain value threshold and are called sole-source contracts.

Sole source contracts, as I’ve known them in the government, are given out in two ways. Either the organization pitches the appropriate government division, or the government division identifies a need and searches for someone to provide the missing piece. Either way, networks are important, as is your personal brand as someone with expertise in your field.

  • Startup Grants/ Funding

Governments want businesses to thrive, and so they have a whole bunch of cool initiatives to help it happen. If you are doing research, this can be a great place to get funded (especially for STEM).

  • Granting Agencies

Granting agencies are government too, and you probably know them through universities. But many have programs for things that are not strictly university related.

3. Professional Associations, Industry Groups, Labor Organizations

Professional Associations or Industry Groups are a great source of funding, and often underutilized. Generally, these groups are made up of representatives of a collection of businesses, trades, non-profits, any organization really, stretched out across a region or country. They’re usually structured as non-profits that protect and promote the interests of their members. This often includes research and policy work, but the research usually feeds into outputs such as educating their stakeholders or the public or lobbying the government for their interests. (We often think of lobbying as a dirty word, but there may be causes that you would happily lobby for. It usually depends on the issue.)

What we want . . .

These bodies want to show members that they’re doing useful work (ie. that the membership dues are worth paying), and that they’re sparking industry change and progress on their behalf. They educate the public and educate and/or advocate with government for the benefit of their stakeholders.

4. Voluntary Sector/ Charities/ Foundations

The voluntary sector isn’t one we often associate with money, but I’m talking mostly about foundations here (although some non-profits will have small funding grants). There are lots of enormous foundations that are philanthropic or corporate that give out funding. Foundations are big pots of money.

What we want . . .

Foundations are usually mission driven, and often have a specific ideology or goal. You’ll need to find the one that fits with your research. Whether it’s better community housing, nurturing diverse leaders, or studying renewable energy—they’ve got a purpose. Corporate foundations do a lot of social good, but obviously they’re also a way of polishing a corporate brand. As long as you can get on board with this, take their money and don’t look back.

5. Funding from International Bodies

There are big international bodies that give out money.

What we want . . .

This is hard to generalize, but usually these bodies want to advance their missions, to improve quality of life where they can, to create opportunities for underrepresented groups, and to make a better world.

8. New Funding Methods

This is not an exhaustive list of how to get research funded. You can be creative. Research funding is always changing. We know that you can Crowdfund scientific research.


The problem will not be the lack of money and options. It will be focusing. There’s too much money.

So, you’ve got your idea, and some knowledge of how to get research funded. You’ve got some possible deliverables articulated, and you know who’s going to be interested in your research. You’ve now got a superpower. Take that knowledge out into the real world and see what happens.

I want to tell you three more things before I end.

  1. Believe it or not, the challenge of funding is not that there’s too little. The problem is that there is too much. There are too many opportunities. You’ll need to learn to be strategic, not necessarily chasing everything that you see.
  2. Build your network. Always. It opens up opportunities that you’ve never imagined. If you have a proposal and you know who’s going to be interested in your project, it’s going to make networking that much easier. When you reach out to people, make sure to explain that you are working on the project, state your credentials, and explain it a bit. People will likely take the time to meet with you if you present as professional and are doing work in their area of interest.
  3. There are less rules than you think. When I wrote grant applications in university, we could get it thrown out if our margins were the wrong size. There are certainly requirements in some of the granting streams identified above, but some have tremendous flexibility. Be creative in how you approach and acquire funding.

That’s it! I wish you luck as you go out and try to build the world you believe needs to be there. Get your idea funded and change some lives!