No, this is not a pipe dream. Yes, it works.
I can testify to that first-hand, having received three out of the four grants I personally applied for from this database:
This is an enormous database of grantors donating in every possible category, compiled by the Foundation Center Library. The Library has seven walk-in branches nation-wide, and the database serves people nation-wide. In some cases, it may not even be necessary to be a US Citizen to apply and be granted.
There are two basic granting series: Grants for non-profits and grants to individuals.
One month of D-base access costs about $15 for individuals, $25 for non-profits, and it's renewable indefinitely. Emailing the librarians is free. Books are for sale regarding how to write a successful grant proposal, as are courses offered by the Foundation Center Library.
The basic question on the intake form is: "What size grant are you looking for, under $5,000 or over $500,000?"
The database is just enormous. If you printed it out and laid every page on the floor, it would have to be about forty miles long ("at least" quoted someone else familiar with the site).
Some grants apply nationally, others internationally, depending on the donor. Could people even apply from overseas? Maybe. Email the librarians and ask!
There are grants in every possible category: Since I am most familiar with the Grants to Individuals series, let me talk about it rather than the grants for non-profits (Which is much more extensive than the series I am discussing here. However, there are still plenty of grants to individuals).
You can also sign up for email updates from the Foundation Center Library, in the category of your choice.
FYI in California, it costs only $25 to apply for nonprofit status. Non-profit status definitely opens up the door to many more funding opportunities. Just go to the State Secretary's office or website in your state, to apply.
There's lots of stuff for education and going back to school, in every field.
Some grants for building projects, so long as they benefit the community in the way the donor wants.
Some grantors donate for the cause of private medical funding, with funds usually paid to health practitioners.There are even grants for alternative medical procedures, so it's much more than just mainstream stuff.
The way to look is: