What Is A Grant?

A   grant is a funding mechanism used by national, state and local governments, as well as public and private foundations, to support ideas and projects that benefit the public. Most grants are made to fund a specific initiative or program. Typically, the funding entity outlines particular areas and priorities it will fund. For example, the U.S. Department of Education might fund education research and specific educational interventions across the United States, while a local community foundation might fund arts, education and environmental programming at a local level.

Grant funds do not have to be repaid; they are essentially a gift. However, they usually require compliance to conditions of the grant award, which may include evaluation, reporting, and record-keeping requirements. It is essential that organizations receiving grant awards abide by all requirements, to establish a solid and clean record of compliance.

Who Can Apply For A Grant?

N onprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government organizations are eligible to apply for grant funding. There are also funding opportunities for businesses and individuals, but they are less common. Each funder specifies criteria for the types of applicants it will consider. The criteria usually include public charity status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, geographic location, population served, number of years in operation, and alignment with the focus areas of the funder.

What Types Of Grants Exist?

G rant funds are used to support charitable initiatives. They often fund program design and delivery, research, capacity building, and sometimes capital investments such as technology, equipment and buildings. Grants are available from many different sectors of the economy, for example: arts and culture, science, education, healthcare, and the environmental sector.

Foundations (private and public) and governments (national, state and local) are the primary grant funders. As you research grant funding opportunities for your organization, keep in mind that grant funders have their own vision, mission and objectives. They want to invest in positive change and it is your job to find the funders whose missions coincide with yours.

When you identify funding opportunities that are aligned with your charitable work, you create a win-win-win situation where you help the funder achieve their goals, you have increased your capacity to serve your community, and most importantly, the charitable service is provided to those in need. But first you must understand the different types of granting organizations and their giving history, to know whether you can qualify for funding from them.

How Do You Find Grants?

J umping into a random internet search IS NOT the way to find a grant. Instead, using an efficient and organized approach to the grant search process is key to identifying strong potential grant funders. This begins with creating keywords to facilitate the search (i.e., relevant terms describing the work of your organization). This is a simple process, accomplished by analyzing your organization’s mission and the proposed project for which funding is needed.

Once keywords are established, the grant search begins, using specific grant search engines and other helpful tools. If you want to explore the possibility of applying for federal grants, there is a centralized website with all required information (grants.gov). Other government grant options are not as easily identified, since not all states, counties, or cities have grant information available through a centralized portal. Therefore, you may need to contact individual agencies/offices to learn about their grant opportunities.

Searching for foundation grants, which is where most nonprofits (particularly smaller ones) focus their funding searches, is best accomplished by becoming familiar with relevant grant search engines. It is also essential to learn about other tools available, to arm yourself with as much information as possible regarding potential funders (e.g., organizations and projects funded in the past). A key place to find this type of information is by reviewing foundations’ 990 IRS forms, which are available for public inspection. You will use your identified keywords to conduct grant searches. Once you have found solid potential grantmakers for your organization or project, you will do more refined research by reviewing their website or contacting the funder (if no website is available) with well thought-out questions.

Take our free course, “The Grant Hunt Simplified,” to learn the best techniques to not waste time and find the funders and grants that are right for you.

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How Do You Apply For A Grant?

M ost funders provide application instructions on their websites. Pay attention to all the details specified. For instance, some grantmakers require that the grant proposal be put into text boxes provided on their websites, and often there is a maximum number of words or characters allowed for each proposal section. In those cases, it is advisable to create the text in a separate document (keeping track of the number of words or characters) and paste each section into the appropriate areas of the funder’s website. Other grantmakers ask that you upload the proposal and other required documents; some specify that it must be a PDF document. In addition to the uploaded documents, other forms will likely be required, providing general information about the applicant.

When applying for federal grants, be sure your organization has completed the registration process in grants.gov well in advance of the application deadline. This is a multi-step process, so you must ensure that all steps have been completed. There have been unfortunate instances of organizations not realizing the registration process was not fully completed, and therefore being unable to apply for a grant when they tried to submit on the deadline day. The same kind of attention to deadlines is just as important when applying for foundation grants.

What Are The Parts Of A Grant Proposal?

I n general, grant proposals contain various sections addressing the key areas that most funders look for in their grant applications. By becoming familiar with these essential components, you will be able to create a proposal for most grantmakers, whether a private or government funding source. Of course, if the funder provides specific criteria to be addressed, you must follow that sequence in providing the proposal information. When funders do not specify, the following is a basic format that is workable for planning and writing your proposals:

  • Proposal (or Project) Summary
  • Introduction (Organizational Mission & Philosophy)
  • Statement of Need (or Problem Statement)
  • Goals, Objectives, & Outcomes
  • Project/Program Design: Methodology
  • Project Management (including role of partners, if applicable)
  • Evaluation
  • Plans for Sustainability (post-grant)
  • Budget and Budget Justification

In addition to the proposal (comprising the elements listed above), supplemental documents are sometimes required. Some of the most commonly requested items are the following:

  • Financial Statement (frequently an “audited” financial statement)
  • IRS Determination Letter
  • Roster of Board of Directors
  • Organizational Chart
  • Organizational Budget
  • Letters of Support
  • Staff Resumes
  • Negotiated Indirect Cost Rate (for some federal proposals)

For a more thorough orientation, check out our post that walks you through all the steps of how to write a grant proposal.