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How to Get Started Writing Grants

Updated on July 3, 2018
Chuck profile image

A part-time college economics & finance instructor who began his career in banking, Chuck frequently writes on money & economics online.

There are Very Few Grants Available for Businesses

In responding to this request I would like to start with a question: are you looking for another source of funds for the business you mentioned in your profile or are you working with a non-profit organization or a school that wants you to help them get grant funding?

From the wording of your request, I suspect you are looking for a grant for income for your current or a new business. If this is indeed the case, I should tell you that, despite what you may have seen on the Internet, there are few, if any, grants available to start or run a for profit business.

Trial and Error is One Way to Learn Grant Writing

As to advice on how to learn how to fill out government grant applications, here are a few suggestions. Check with your local community college, library or school district adult education programs for courses that will teach you how to write grants.

There may be a cost involved but it will probably be nominal and worth it if you are seriously considering grant writing. Next, try writing some grants. Look for smaller ones (the paperwork will more than likely be less) and, while you should try your best to get the grant, don't go in with the expectation of being awarded the grant.

The objective here is practice and experience. Since you will not be charged a fee to submit a grant, your only costs will be your time plus the paper, ink, postage costs and the cost of copying supporting documents.

Like many government forms, grant forms may appear to be complex and daunting on the surface, but can usually be mastered with patience and practice.

From my, admittedly limited, grant writing experience, the proposals generally consist of a budget and a narrative section. There may also be some questions dealing with the specifics of what you are proposing to do with the grant as well as resume or background information for you and any other team members.

If you don't get the grant, try to find out what proposal won, what they proposed to do and what they included in their budget. You may or may not be able to get this information but, if you can, it will be of help in preparing future grants. It is also a good idea to save a copy of your proposal and any other information pertaining to the grant as it can be used for reference when preparing future grant proposals.

In some cases you may be able to simply copy and paste some of the text you wrote for one proposal into a new proposal you are writing.

I usually prepare my budget using a spreadsheet and have sometimes been able to simply open the budget from a previous grant, save it under a new name and, with a few minor changes, use it for the new grant. Even if you cannot re-use a budget, past budgets may still be a good reference source when writing new grant proposals.

How to Find Grant Solicitations

There is usually a rather short time between the publishing of the grant proposal and the deadline for submitting it.

If you are serious about writing grants for the Federal Government you should try to find a place where you can access the publication Commerce Business Daily which is a publication that lists all Federal Government grants along with details as to where to obtain the proposal package, what people or organizations can submit and the deadline for submission.

Below are a couple of links to sites that appear to provide information about Federal grants. A Google search will turn up other sites as well, some comprehensive and others focused on certain areas only. Some also charge for their services while others are not only free but may also provide automatic email alerts about new grant announcements.

Who can submit is critical as Federal grants often have a target audience. The groups that can apply for the grant can be limited to other government entities (state, local governments, etc.), to public entities (public colleges and/or public K-12 school districts), non-profit entities, or for profit businesses.

The order I have listed here is general hierarchy of grant listings and many grants will be available to more than one of these groups. In many cases, entities can apply for grants for which they are listed as the entities eligible to apply for the grant as well as those for which the target audience is below them on the list.

However, entities cannot apply for grants targeted at those above them on the list. Since for profit businesses are at the bottom of the list, individual businesses will often find that, in addition to other businesses, they are also competing with non-profits and public entities for a particular grant.

Also Consider RFPs or a Non-Profit Affiliate

If your interest is in finding grants for your for profit business, you might want to focus on RFPs (Requests for Proposals)

RFPs are similar to grants in terms of the application process but deal with the awarding of contracts for the purchase of goods or services by a government or other public entity - such as a public school district.

Many large corporations also use the RFP process in awarding contracts as well.

While RFPs are often published for anyone to look at, it is best to first make contact with the entities you are looking to do work for and get on their list of approved vendors.

In most cases this is a simple form giving contact and other information about your business as well as information about the goods and services you have to offer.

Registering will usually do two things (especially when dealing with governmental entities) with the first being that you may be able to get on a list to be informed by the issuing entity of new RFPs . This saves having to constantly search for newly published RFPs (and RFPs, like grants, usually allow only a few weeks or less between publication of the solicitation and deadline for submittal).

The second advantage is that, as an approved vendor, you can deal directly with many supervisors or department heads who can purchase routine supplies and services (whose total price is at or below their spending limit) that are below the minimum amount required for formal RFP requests.

Consider Creating a Non-Profit Corporation

Another option would be to create a non-profit corporation (or non-profit LLC) to seek the grant money as there are more options for non-profits to obtain grants than are available to for profit companies.

While you cannot co-mingle the funds of your for profit and not profit companies, there are legal ways to use the non-profit company to help your for profit company PROVIDED the goods or services provided by the non-profit are directed toward educational or other activities that benefit the community and don't simply enrich you.

For instance, assume you are in the greenhouse business and find that there are times during the year when business is slow and it is costly to maintain all of your employees (or may find you have to lay them off for a few weeks and possibly lose them).

With a grant funded non-profit you could provide free education programs on gardening, horticulture, etc. for the group the grant is targeting with you and/or your employees doing the teaching (assuming they are qualified). The grant funds could be used to pay you and/or the employees providing the teaching.

This could allow you to operate and employ your workers year-round instead of cutting on business during slow periods for your business . Being associated, but not legally a part of, your greenhouse business, the non-profit could have the additional effect of creating publicity and goodwill for your business as well.

If you decide to follow this route, seek guidance from you lawyer, accountant or other knowledgeable individual.

Learn by Attending Optional Grant Orientation Meetings

Both grant and RFP announcements often include an invitation to an optional orientation meeting in which the grant or RFP is explained and certain questions allowed.

These meetings can be useful in a number of ways, the first being the fact that, since everyone interested in the grant or RFP is invited, questions can be asked by the audience and answered by those responsible for the grant or RFP.

Generally, once a grant or RFP has been published, employees of the agency or company soliciting the grant proposal or RFP are forbidden to answer questions from those intending to submit a proposal on the grounds that the individual entity asking the question may use the information to gain a competitive advantage in the bidding.

However, in a meeting in which everyone has been invited, all potential bidders have the opportunity to hear the answer to the question.

For the novice grant writer these meetings can be another way to learn more about the grant writing process in general as well as glean specific information about this grant and what the issuing agency is looking for. They can also be a means of meeting other grant writers and learning from them.

Grants are Not Free Money - You Have to Invest Time to Learn the Process

Grants are not free money from the government or foundations.

The grant process is designed to be competitive which means that you have to spend time and money learning the process and honing your grant writing skills.

However, for those who take the time to learn and master the process, grants can be a source of revenue for your organization or company.

© 2008 Chuck Nugent


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