Should we wait for a fresh, rich brew to percolate or settle for instant? Shop across town where prices are low or jet into our nearest convenience store? Savor the book or catch the movie? Life is a balance between effort and outcome, a constant trade-off between return and investment. The grant world offers the same dilemma. Public vs. private funding, which shall it be? Government grants offer the biggest jackpots, but are labor-intensive. Foundation grants offer smaller rewards, but are less time-consuming. Let’s look at the major pros and cons of each.
There is no doubt that federal and state grants are necessary for the survival of most municipalities. Hands down they are generally the largest prizes among all the various types of grants. Federal grants, especially, are not only lucrative, but they offer a certain amount of prestige to those who win them. Excluding automatic, formula-based awards, many of the largest federal grants are highly competitive. You vie with entities across the country just like yourself, each with as compelling a case as your own. If you are selected, not only do your coffers benefit, but your reputation as well.
Since nothing worthwhile comes easy, government grants do have their drawbacks. The applications are often lengthy, multi-page documents that require detailed statistics and metrics. Once a grant is awarded, there are financial reports that must be maintained, often for a period of years. Many government grants require matching funds, which is a hurdle for applicants who have budget shortfalls to begin with. Others are reimbursement-based, yet another catch-22 for the cash-challenged city or county.
Private or foundations grants, by contrast, can be simpler all the way around. In general, the amount of an individual foundation award is much smaller than what federal or state governments provide. The trade-offs are shorter applications, minimal or no matching funds, and advance payments. After the award is received, the tracking metrics are often less extensive than government grants. While there are certainly highly competitive foundations grants to be found, others only receive a few applications each period because they are not widely known.
Easy Application Awards
Here are a few examples of foundation grants that are short on paperwork. Not all private funding opportunities will be this easy, but here is proof that simple applications do exist:
- The World's Shortest Grant - It is a 140 character tweet! That is it! Nevermind the NOFA, all you need is is brilliant idea! In 2016, So Delicious Dairy Free awarded $100,000 in micro grants in the areas of environmental sustainability, animal welfare, plant based foods or food allergies. Composting programs, healthy school snacks, bike-powered food trucks, virtual green libraries, and community garden projects were among previous winners. The application period is over for now, but this was its third year running. Check their site early next spring to find out about 2017.
- Polaris Industries TRAILS Grant Program - An online application! A project description that is less than 300 words. The purpose of this grant is to promote safe and responsible all-terrain vehicle ridership, and preserve safe access to trails. It can be used to support trail development, maintenance, safety and education initiatives. It is a rolling grant that has two yearly deadlines, September 1 and March 1.
- The National Inclusion Project - All children can make a friend. All children can participate. All children can succeed. Those are the principles guiding the National Inclusion Project. Their Lets ALL Play project accepts partners who want to provide recreational opportunities to children with disabilities in their community. The application is more substantial than the others, however, the first step is an online inquiry. Applicants are notified within two days as to whether or not they are invited to proceed. The funding amount is up to $10,000 and the online inquiry should be submitted March - July.
While it is good to know the difference between public and private funding, in real life they needn’t be treated as polar opposites. In actuality, they can complement each other. Foundation grants can be used as a backup in case government grants do not come through. They can also be used to supplement them. Furthermore, foundation grants can be a great way for beginners to build confidence. Like everything else, successful grant writing takes practice. Few of us finish a marathon our first week of jogging or enter a doctorate program straight out of high school. Starting with awards that are simpler to obtain helps us to become more sure of ourselves. When the time is right to tackle that all-important federal grant application, the time spent on foundation grants helped pave the way!
Here's a quick chart from Beverly Browning ("Dr. Bev") that highlights the differences at a glance: