One source of non-institutional or government grants are foundational grants, which can be open to institutions and individuals. These foundations often base their funding on a specific area of interest that is near and dear to their heart. This means that there are many human health based foundations, e.g., Fox Foundation supports Parkinson’s Disease research, and Susan G. Komen supports breast cancer research.
This does not mean that they are ONLY health based foundations! Foundation types are as numerous in types as they are in number. For example, there are many diversity, teaching, and environmentally based foundations. Some are very broad in the types of topics they will consider.
One example is the Ford Foundation offers, which offers both organizational grants and individual fellowships. They look for “fresh thinking and for innovative people and organizations” doing work that will “reduce poverty and injustice”, while “advancing human knowledge, creativity and achievement”. They also provide links to other philanthropic organizations/foundations.
Yahoo has philanthropy directory that is beautifully organized to help you find an organization. Google has its own philanthropic division at Google.org – it might come off as for non-profits only, but you can dig up some other opportunities in there.
The point here is that these organizations often offer rolling grant submission, and have a SHORT turn around time. This allows you to seek funding quickly and get an answer in a few weeks to months vs. 6 months or more. The requirements for these grants are often much simpler than government grants = small page length limits. This will mean you have to be VERY concise in what you say to them = good practice on distilling your research.
Short length also means that they often have a very precise idea of what they want to you to present. Most of these foundation grants will provide you with a layout they want you to follow, and a description of what makes a successful grant in their eyes. Take these to heart.
You might have to think outside the box to get you or your research to fit into the mission of a foundation, but this is always a good creative exercise. It is rare that your research perfectly fits into a granting group’s mission, but the more you see how your research can be beneficial beyond the obvious the better. This is why I think it ridiculous when such a big deal is made about certain projects the government funds, e.g., social insect projects. These projects, taken out of context, might seem like a ‘silly’ thing to fund, but remember they can often lead to discoveries that benefit everyone in phenomenal ways.