A grant is a financial donation to support a person, program, or organization. In the world of fundraising, it is a much-welcomed gift of endowment usually bestowed by a foundation. The big question is where does one get such a generous subsidy?
Do Your Research
Procuring a grant will take some investigation on your part. The best strategy is to narrow down a large list of foundations to those that best match the goals and mission of your organization. Apply to a select number rather than blitzing every foundation you can find. Selectively targeting the most suitable foundations will almost always yield a better response and increase your chances of finding a good match.
When researching foundations, look for the geographic area(s) in which they bestow grants, the kinds of grants they give, and the areas of interest of the foundation. Also, be sure to follow their guidelines so your proposal receives the serious consideration it deserves.
There are more than 40,000 foundations you can apply to for a grant — and there's a lot of money to be awarded. In 2006 alone, foundations awarded more than $36.5 billion, up by more than 12 percent from the previous year, according to Giving USA, a publication of Giving USA Foundation. However, only a small percentage of foundations will even consider your proposal. In fact, one Michigan foundation reported rejecting as many as 80 percent of the applications it received.
How can you separate yourself from the pack? Do your homework. Foundations have guidelines and criteria. Some may serve only the greater San Francisco area whereas others fund only scientific research projects. Some may insist your nonprofit have at least a three-year track record, and others will fund newly founded nonprofits. Narrowing down your list prevents you from wasting time and money sending grant proposals to foundations whose mission and goals are vastly different from yours.
The Internet and the library are two primary sources of information on foundations and grant possibilities. The Foundation Center, now more than fifty years old, has five main libraries and more than 340 cooperating collections throughout the United States, all of which can help you research foundations. The organization, considered the most highly recognized source of foundation information, also has a comprehensive website at
What to Look For
First, consider geographic restrictions. Many foundations operate in areas close to home, so you are best off starting with foundations nearest to your home base; explore the ones in your community first. The Foundation Center and other online grant research websites are designed so you can easily search by geographic region. Be sure to visit your local library so you can learn about the foundations that are either not yet on the web or that maintain a low profile. The Guide to U.S. Foundations and the Foundation Directory are valuable sources for locating foundations.
Next, you need to consider the guidelines of the foundation. What types of projects do they fund? What are their areas of interest? If you read about a foundation that funds science and technology and you are looking for a grant to help maintain a children's day-care program, don't waste your time applying.
You should also take a moment to consider what the grantor looks for in an organization. Along with looking at the need for funding, they want to see that your organization is well known in the community and that it addresses an existing need. Sound fiscal management, a strong and involved board, committed volunteers, qualified staff, and a realistic budget are all very important considerations.
There are public and private foundations. A private foundation is an organization whose support is usually from one source — an individual, family, or business — and provides funding through grants to other nonprofit organizations. It is subject to more restrictive rules than a public foundation. Still, those seeking grants may find that private foundations provide a more personal, less formal grant application process, and a less bureaucratic approach to giving than public foundations. Public foundations receive one-third of their support from contributions from the general public. Because they are public, their materials are a matter of public record, including the accepted grant proposals, which anyone can examine — with the distinct advantage of seeing what kind of applications succeed.
Some foundations offer support on a general basis by providing operating grants for the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit, believing these grants make a bigger impact on an organization overall. Yet many other foundations prefer to fund particular projects or activities. This makes it easier for them to monitor the results of a grant and to know the money is being used as intended.
Policies of Foundations and Grant Providers
The funding goals of many foundations change from year to year. The most current information on the foundation's giving policies may be available through research on the web, but it might be best to get it from a program officer. To learn more about a foundation, call its program officers and ask questions, such as:
What are your key areas of interest for this year's funding?
What are your geographic preferences, if any?
What kinds of restrictions do you have?
How many grant awards do you plan to make this year?
What are your application deadlines?
When will the awards be announced?
Can you explain the overall evaluation process and criteria?
Ask to receive a copy of the foundation's guidelines, which may also provide answers to many of the questions listed above. Read them several times to understand how the foundation wants the grant application to be submitted. Follow their instructions to the letter. Otherwise, your application will likely be discarded, no matter how aligned your mission is with the foundation and how worthy your cause.
Can foundations provide grants to organizations that have not applied for 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity status with the IRS?
Yes. According to federal law, public schools, libraries, other government and nongovernment organizations, as well as individuals, can receive grants provided the foundation follows specific rules detailing their expenditure responsibilities. The foundation will be required to file reports to certify the funds were spent only for the charitable purposes outlined in the grant.
You might also look for foundations that provide renewal grants, which means they will offer the same grant for the same project(s) next year. If you think you will be running the same project on an ongoing basis, keep the renewal grant in mind. However, just because a foundation offers ongoing grants doesn't mean that by receiving a grant you automatically qualify for renewal. The renewal is based on the performance of the organization and how the initial grant money has been spent. Also, keep in mind that most foundations do not want you to be solely dependent on their grant for funding. They will usually want to see that you are seeking funding from other sources. In addition, some foundations may only renew a grant for a set period of years, and then want to spread the wealth to other worthy organizations, no matter how well prepared your application or how worthy your cause.
You can save time and money applying for a grant by co-applying with a like-minded entity. Granting agencies like to see collaborative projects, believing two partnering entities can be more efficient and may serve a broader audience. Partner only with agencies that share your objectives and goals; you want to make the case that together you can better help your cause.