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What Is a Grant, and What Is It Not?

by Timothy Tiernan on October 15, 2014
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The new federal fiscal year is here, so let's take a moment to look at the basics—our definitions and assumptions about grants. What image comes to mind when you hear the term "grant"?

To grant professionals, the term might conjure a handshake signifying the promise—to align with priorities, to follow through on objectives, to meet deadlines, and to demonstrate sustainability. To many unfamiliar with grants, however, the idea of Uncle Sam with wads of cash might come to mind, at least when it comes to federal grants. I think it's about time that kind thinking is finally quashed. 

Grants.gov defines grants as such: "[They] are not benefits or entitlements. A Federal grant is an award of financial assistance from a Federal agency to a recipient to carry out a public purpose of support or stimulation authorized by a law of the United States."

Grant awards can range from millions to modest amounts, but they go toward vital needs for communities. There are no free rides in the grants world. And while they do not have to be paid back like loans, that does not mean they do not come with obligations and sometimes audits. A grant is rather a promise as to how funding will be used, with requirements, guidelines, and due dates set by the grant maker to accomplish a shared vision with the grantee, and possibly the grantees partners and subrecipients. (See our series on best practices about grantor-grantee-subrecipient relationships for more.)

To recap in an image, a federal grant is something like this:

Grants are promises between two parties

On the other hand, a federal grant is not this:

Government grants are not free money, grants are promises between the grantor and grantee

It's the likes of stock photo Uncle Sam handing out cash to do with as you please that help to reinforce misunderstandings about the nature and promissory purpose of grants. You probably know a few of these grant myths.

When I asked grant manager Cherrise Wilks the "back to basics" question of what a grant is/is not, she responded with this: "Grants do not replace nor supplant funding in your budget. Grants are meant to be used to achieve measurable impacts in the community, and enhance the services offered by your organization. Do not use grants as if the money is a part of a personal bank account. Funders expect you to be a good steward of their money, and use the money in a manner that they desire. Grants are not free money!"

I think we're aligned on that message. What's your perspective?

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Grant myths debunked, Government grants are not free money

Topics: Grant Articles & News