Finding Grants for Individuals
Can I Find What I Need Without Paying?
As a professional grant writer, people will often ask me to find grants for all sorts of things....everything from college money to basic needs. They've seen the ads on television for 'grant' information or maybe even a random email in the old junk inbox offering a 'free' grant...all for a price, of course. The truth is that anyone can find a grant for themselves...it just takes a little bit of time, the ability to use a phone or a fax machine, and to have a clear idea of what you want. But first, let's clear the air about what a grant is .
A grant is NOT free money. Never has been, never will be. Grants are given in return for a purpose, either performing a task (getting an education) or getting information that can be utilized or reused by the the agency who gives you the money. A grant does NOT seek you out...and no grant giving agency will send you an email informing you that you have been given a grant YOU NEVER APPLIED FOR! Applying for a grant is NOT a sure thing...there's no guarantee that any grant you apply for will be awarded. With all that being said, do you still want to find a grant?
Finding what you need requires a bit a spade work and a little common sense. Need a grant for a new car? Dream on. Need a grant to pay for that hot tub you've always wanted? Sorry. But if you need funding for an education, emergency expenses, or maybe a bit of help to attend a professional conference or time/supplies to create that next artistic masterpiece, it's possible! And you can do it WITHOUT PAYING FOR THE INFORMATION!
Helpful Books On Grantwriting
How to Find Grants That Meet the Need
Step 1: Identify What You NEED!
Be brutal with yourself. What is it that you need money for, money that you're going to have to invest time and effort in getting? Finding a grant is work. Applying for one is even more difficult. Is what you NEED worth the time invested? Once you've answered this question in the affirmative, go to step 2!
Step 2: Identify Search Terms
Let's say, for example, I need to find a grant that will pay for college. First, I want to write down everything about myself: my sex, age, race, orientation, interests, even companies or organizations that I or family members might belong to. Now I know what you're going to say...why? Why is that important to finding a grant for school? Because that is how you're going to find what you need.
Step 3: Find The Grant In Three Search Areas
Now you're going to have to invest some time.
First, go to the Internet search engine you use and type in various terms such as "grants for females over 30" or "grants for children of Knights of Columbus members" and see what comes up. You may have to plug in every search term you came up with along with the 'grant' term, in order to find something of interest. Go to sites and read about the grant opportunities they offer. Does it fit you? Does it seem like something you can qualify for? Will it meet your need when you need it? If so, print the application or site information so you can find it again later if you can't find anything better.
Next, take a trip to the financial aid office at your college and find the 'scholarships and/or grants' book and research it, just as you did with the same search terms you utilized, making note of any that seem applicable to you. Even if you are searching for emergency or art project assistance, don't assume that your local college or university financial aid office cannot help!
Go to local university or college libraries that have access to subscribed grant search engines (Foundation Center, Guidestar). You might want to call them first to make sure they have access to such services, as these grant search engines have a price to them! If they have the service, type in the search terms from Step 2 and read every foundation that comes up to see if they fit your need.
Step 4: Sort What You Have Found and Pick Ten
Sort through all the grants or scholarships you have found, picking the ten best fits for your situation. If a grant or scholarship is renewable, that is, if it can be used over multiple years or if it can be reapplied for multiple years, put that on the top of your pile, after all, it's less work for YOU! As a precaution, take the final ten and run the names of the foundations through Guidestar (this you CAN do at home, as a FREE SUBSCRIBER) and look at the 990 tax forms they filed from the previous year. Does the foundation give away that much money? How many scholarships or grants did they award? If the amount or number is very small, chances are, you'll have less chance of getting a grant from them than other, more generous foundations! You might want to reconsider your choices.
Step 5: Apply and Wait
Read each application carefully and apply. If they want 10 copies of your resume, give it to them. Transcripts? Include it in your application packet. Remember, the people you are applying to may be getting hundreds of applications...and you don't want to make it any easier to reject yours by not following their instructions! Make a calendar for yourself noting: The due dates of the grants you're applying for, the day you submitted your application, the day that a decision will be made (and if the foundation you're applying to is not specific about that, by all means, contact them and ASK!) and any letters you recieve informing you of a rejection or an award. That way you will be able to track your success in getting what you need when you need it.
- If you live in a wide area (like a county or state) where a natural disaster occurred, contact FEMA for a grant! FEMA will set up centers where people can apply for natural disaster relief, and emergency grants are part of the assistance! Apply!
- When making up your search terms, don't go too broad or too narrow. "Grants for college" might be a tad too expansive. "Grants for gay black men who have relatives in the Eagles" will be too precise to be of value.
- If you are an artist looking for funding, don't discount your local college for grant leads! Since many universities have professional artists on staff, don't hesitate to ask for assistance in finding a grant to help you!
- Remember, emergency grants are ONE TIME ONLY applications...in other words, if you got funding for an emergency, don't expect to apply again to that foundation for the same disaster.
- Emergency grants cover REAL emergencies...things like destroyed homes, unforeseen medical expenses (for illnesses/injuries that will be FATAL if not treated), or food. Don't expect to approach a foundation for an emergency grant to buy those hair extensions or a new car! Common sense, people!
- Please, if you are an artist looking for assistance, don't lie on your application. Don't say that you're widely known if you're not, or that you are a nationally recognized artist if you haven't sold squat. This wastes both your time and the time of the foundation reviewing your request. Most foundations are crystal clear on whom they consider to be 'artists' and what artist they will consider assisting. READ THE APPLICATION CAREFULLY.
- Don't use generic terms in explaining your need. Don't say "I need the grant because I need help". They know that! Use specific information about your need, backing it up with evidence (bills, articles about the disaster if you have them, estimations about costs of repair) to make a convincing argument why YOU need the money more than someone else.
- On occasion, you might find what I call 'oddball' grants...individual grants for things that are not necessarily need based. Once I found a grant for women over 50 who wanted to do something new with their lives...and the women who won this grant got $5,000 to go mountain climbing or volunteer in India! These kinds of grants are not only difficult to find, they are completely dependent upon the whim of the giver!
- Lastly, if all of this seems like too much work for you, than you have two choices: forget about getting a grant to meet your need, or anticipate putting out some cash to hire a professional grant writer or scholarship locator to get the dollars you need. Take care...