Grants are non-repayable funds or products made by a grant maker to a recipient, often (but not always) a nonprofit entity, educational institution, business, or individual. To get grant funds usually requires submitting a proposal or application to a potential funder. Most grants will fund a specific project and require some level of compliance and reporting.
There are four basic kinds of grants—private foundations, corporate foundations, community foundations, and government (state or federal) entities. Each has its own requirements and application processes; some are relatively simple to apply for and some are quite complex.
Several sources can help you learn about grant funding opportunities that may be right for your organization:
The Foundation Center: Basic foundation information can be accessed for free at the Foundation Center's website. However accessing their more complete databases requires paying an annual fee; however, they can be accessed for free at many local libraries and Foundation Center affiliates. Call your local library for more information about their resources. You can find a list of regional affiliates near you by entering your zip code in the “Find Us” box at the bottom of the Foundation Center home page.
Michigan State University Library Grants and Related Resources: This website provides information on many Michigan and federal grant resources. The MSU library is also a Foundation Center affiliate.
Guidestar: This website provides access to private foundations’ annual IRS 990’s. These reports, which must be filed annually, give complete listings of grants that foundation has made in a fiscal year, plus information on its board members, staff, and investment portfolio. Access to basic information is free, but you do need to create an account to do so. The link to do this is available on their home page.
Almost all grants are awarded to nonprofit organizations. A very small number of grants are available to individuals such as students, artists, and businesses, but no grants exist for personal expenses such as debt payment or home purchase or improvement.
Grant funds can be an important source of funding for your organization, especially if you’re expanding existing programs or creating new ones. Grant funds can supplement other funding such as individual and corporate donors, membership, fundraising events, and fees for service. Generally speaking, grant revenue should not make up more than 20% - 25% of your total income, since most grants are short-term revenue sources.
To apply for grants your organization needs to be internally prepared. Questions to ask yourself are: Is your organization structurally and fiscally sound? Can your staff locate information quickly and accurately? Will the grant writer (either internal or external) need to create background documents for you? Are there gaps in your organizational readiness or program design? Does your organization have strong programs that meet a clear community need? If you do not know the answers to these questions, or your answer is “no,” a good grant writer can help you put these things in place.
If your organization has little or no experience writing grants, or if you do not have staff capacity to write grants, you may want to hire an outside consultant. Not only can an experienced grant writer help you prepare competitive proposals, he or she can help your organization learn about the grant process and can provide insight on how to prepare your own grant proposals down the road, if you’d like.
Unfortunately, as in any profession, there are grant writing charlatans and inexperienced grantwriters advertising their services online. Luckily, there are also many excellent grantwriters out there. Always check references carefully before hiring an outside grant writer.
Here are some benchmarks you can use to evaluate a grant writer’s performance, both quantitative and qualitative.
It is important to consider all these factors in evaluating a grant writer’s performance—not just a simple measurement of grants awarded and money raised.
No, it's considered unethical by most professional organizations and funders.
No. Funders do not allow grant money to be used to pay for services rendered prior to an award
Most grantwriters charge between $40 and $200 an hour, or work on a per project basis. A good grant writer will work with you to develop an affordable project plan.
No. We are not aware of any legitimate grant writing firm that can make and keep such a guarantee. There is always a risk involved in pursuing grant funding – regardless of any company’s previous award success.
If you have questions about grant funding, grant writing or managing grants, please contact us. We’re always happy to answer questions, at no charge to you.
Some of these Q & A’s have been adapted from the Puget Sound Grantwriters Association,