Foundation Research Tools – II

The Canadian Story:  Early Days

It all seems so long ago now!

In the mid-nineties, foundation (and corporate) information was found in hefty tomes.  Sticky notes were your friend here as you flipped back and forth from index to profile. In Canada at that time, full research involved consulting not one but two big books on foundations. These were published by the Canadian Centre for PhilanthropyThey offered one book for information about the foundations themselves and a separate one for the grants they gave out!

The Centre, then as now, was well respected and they were the last word on foundation funding in Canada. They also had no competition at that time.

Incidentally the Centre was set up as a registered charity in Canada and was modeled after the Foundation Center in the USA which is a 501C3 organization. While both sold their directories to charities and others, they were not and are not today businesses per se, and their directory sales these days might be deemed a social enterprise.

A new company had recently emerged in British Columbia which eventually moved to Prince Edward Island. This was Rainforest Publications. Founded by Cindy and Terry Burton, they began publishing an excellent hard copy resource The Directory of Corporate Giving in Canada in 1991. This volume along with Centre’s Directory on Foundations made a winning combo before digitization and the internet changed the scene dramatically.

Coincidentally,  shortly before Rainforest Publications released Prospect Research Online in 1996, another company had entered the market in BC.

Metasoft Systems had been around as a company since the mid-eighties but until the mid-nineties had nothing at all to do with the not-for-profit sector. Their main product was an image processing application aimed exclusively at corporate clients. But then they purchased a directory of government grant opportunities which was only available in a hard copy book format. They converted this to a searchable database available on floppy discs and this was the start of the BIG Database.

In a short time, Metasoft was offering foundations, corporations, and government programs (all on floppy discs) and it was all key word searchable! It was such a huge step from books that it seemed almost revolutionary at the time.

Metasoft won the race to provide digitalized information with their floppy discs but Rainforest Publications was the first to provide information for fundraising research online. So when RP released PRO, they may not have been quite the first to produce a computerized version of prospect research in Canada (Metasoft narrowly won that honour) but they bypassed floppy discs and CD ROMs entirely to release Canada’s first internet based resource.

The Canadian Centre for Philanthropy was now feeling the heat of competition for the first time.  Metasoft was ‘in their face’, adopting telephone sales to promote BIG. The Centre’s sales of its books dropped dramatically for the first time.

Meanwhile, Metasoft quickly read the tea leaves and though initially reluctant to embrace the internet, they had their first website in the fall of 1997. was born. There was still a CD ROM kicking around to placate clients when the site was nor fully functional.  But it was gone within the year and the entire product was now online.

Not to be outdone, the Centre for Philanthropy also produced their own online version by the end of 1997.

Now Canadian researchers could choose between three internet based products.

This short time period was perhaps the very best for consumers as three major players were determined to produce the best and most innovative product. Prices were not that high either and RP and Metasoft in particular remained in lock step with a $995.00 product.

Jumping ahead fifteen years, we are again in a very dynamic period of innovation. Some of the players have stayed the same, one has shifted focus and there is a ‘new kid on the block’.

…to be continued.

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