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What are grants?
And are you ready for them? Part 1

by Larissa Golden Brown

What are grants?

Grants are potentially a meaningful source of funds for many kinds of projects and groups, and applying for them can be a source of great hope and excitement. At the same time, few subjects in nonprofit management are surrounded by such dread and mystery.

To get a realistic perspective about grants, first understand what grants are not. Grants are not "free money" the government or foundations have "sitting around" to randomly "give away." And most grants awarded to small nonprofits are not million-dollar gifts courtesy of the fortunes of Bill Gates or Andrew Carnegie.

Instead, grants are donations of money given to charitable (501c3) nonprofit organizations and public agencies in order to meet specific, agreed-upon goals. Grants may come from charitable foundations, corporations, service clubs, or government agencies. They take time to apply for and receive - often 3-12 months between application and, if approved, delivery of the money. They are most often given by small, local foundations that care about local citizen efforts; they can be as small as $500 and are frequently $2000-$15,000. They most often pay for specific projects or programs, rather than ongoing operating expenses. While this means that one grant will never pay for all your needs, it also means that grants are not as scary, mysterious, and remote as they may seem.

It makes sense to see a grant as a fair deal between colleagues whose interests are similar, but whose resources are different. Foundations and other grant makers are organizations like your nonprofit or school. They have missions and goals just like you do. When a funder awards you a grant, they are doing so because what you plan to do with the money fits in with their own goals, initiatives, and dreams, and often with their founder's stated wishes.

Grants may be able to help your group raise significant sums of money with less work than, say, conducting sales or raffles. However, events give you important contact with the community, and you should not abandon them! Individuals - their time, talent, and donations - are your group's bread and butter. Individuals give more than 70% of our country's donations to charity each year, while foundations give less than 10%. In addition, many foundation grants are not renewable year to year. So if you decide to approach grants, you should do so as part of a diverse mix of funding that will keep your group operating for the long-term.

Next time, we'll ask you ten questions to see if your group is ready to compete for grants.

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About the Author:

Larissa Golden Brown is co-author of Demystifying Grant Seeking: What You REALLY Need to do to Get Grants, a hands-on, affordable book for beginners to grant seeking.

The book can be purchased through:

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