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Common Myths About Grants and Grant Seeking

Tomorrow's Research

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...some organizations practice the "spray and pray" method of grant seeking sending out scores of identical proposals in hopes a few will "hit" and provide a windfall.


The excerpt below gives some good advice on what to do, and what to

avoid doing, when applying for grants. It is from: DEMYSTIFYING

GRANT SEEKING: What You Really Need To Do To Get Grants, by Larissa

Golden Brown and Martin John Brown. Forward by Judith E. Nichols,

PhD., CFRE. Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Company 989 Market

Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741 (

Copyright ? 2001 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Jossey-Bass is a

registered trademark of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reprinted with



Rick Reis

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This book gives you simple techniques you can use and habits you can

develop to become an effective grant seeker. But before you try to

apply them, you need to free yourself of some common misconceptions

about grant seeking and get a more realistic idea of what you should

and shouldn't expect from the process.

Myth; Grants are something for nothing.

Reality: Grants are rational deals between colleagues.

Grants are appealing because they look like big chunks of free money.

Unlike most individual donations, grants are often large enough to

actually buy something, that is, to fund a whole program for an

entire year or to purchase a major piece of equipment. And, to get a

grant you just send in an application. The funding party sends back a

check, and you don't need to pay it back. A grant seems like manna

from heaven or a winning lottery ticket.

This perspective feeds some unfortunate practices and beliefs. Buying

a lottery ticket takes no skill, so nonprofits that see grant seeking

as gambling apply on impulse, without preparation; they assign the

wrong people to work on proposals, or they place no value on the work

of a skilled grant seeker. The only way they can increase their

chances of winning a lottery is to buy more tickets, so some

organizations practice the "spray and pray" method of grant seeking

sending out scores of identical proposals in hopes a few will "hit"

and provide a windfall. Some non-profits go fishing for funds,

returning to the same foundations over and over again, hoping to

eventually get a bite. Worse, some nonprofit staffers become

sycophants, flattering grant makers and hoping this will provide an

edge or an "in."

These methods are recipes for resentment and waste labor. Rejections

of desperate, heartfelt proposals naturally fuel the attitude that

grant makers are fickle and unfair. Winning (or losing) a grant on

the basis of flattery and connections rather than on the merits of

the proposal can't do much but create a malaise that few at

idealistic nonprofits will be comfortable with. And sending out

scores of ill-considered proposals wastes a lot of work, not to

mention paper and postage, considering that none are likely to be


Grants are not free money. Foundations and other grant makers are

organizations like your nonprofit. The have mission and goals just as

you do. Funding parties award grants because what the grant

recipients plan to do with the money fits in with the funding party's

own goals, initiatives, and dreams-and with their founder's stated


It makes sense to see a grant as a fair deal between colleagues whose

interests are similar but whose resources are different. Your

nonprofit and the funding party have similar goals. One example might

be housing the homeless. The funding party has money to use for work

toward that goal. Your nonprofit has the capability to do the work,

with shelter space, expert staff, connections with health care

providers, and so on. Your organization performs the work in exchange

for the money. Your organization and its programs have a value that

is equal to grant money.

If you can recognize this value, you will stop praying, fishing, and

flattering for grants. You will begin to look for and see matches

with funding parties whose interests and goals are most like yours.

You will behave less like a supplicant or gambler and more like a

partner with funding parties. You will handle rejection better, too,

because you will be able to conceive that it is possible that some

other organization had a proposal that fit the funding parties goals

just as well as yours.

Acknowledging the full value of your own organization and its

programs isn't always easy. Grant seekers and grant makers are bound

up in a status relationship so deeply ingrained it is sometimes

difficult to recognize. Grant seekers are accustomed to-even proud

of-being poor, fighting for recognition and justice, and having to

beg for money. They have a lower status than grant makers, who often

play the part of exclusive or "noble" organizations.

This status difference seems to come from a belief that money (or the

ability to give it away) is more respectable than expertise, ability,

or action. It hasn't helped that some funding parties have been

willing to take on a superior role, hiding behind unlisted phone

numbers or gatekeepers and making forbidding statements like one we

heard recently: "Dr. X prefers not to meet with anyone." At one

workshop we attended, a program officer from a well-known national

foundation seemed to admit his organization found ambiguity

convenient when he said, "It is the policy of the foundation to not

be comfortable with getting too clear."

The pecking order is perpetuated every day when nonprofits flatter

and supplicate in their grant seeking. They are just as complicit as

funding party's, coming to believe they are "owed something" for

their good work. They attempt to play their low status to their

advantage, appealing to those higher up with their incredible need

and devotion, Some grants consultants might advocate that you adopt

this role. But no matter how we in the nonprofit world martyr

ourselves for the good of our causes, funding parties are free to

make their own decisions.

Although it is unproductive to demand or expect to be funded just

because foundations "have to give it away," it might empower you to

remember that a funding party's money can do little good for the

community unless it is invested, for example, in organizations like

yours. Funding parties need nonprofits to spend their money

effectively just as much as nonprofits need funding parties to pay

for their programs.

It's also encouraging to remember, that although grant seeking seems

surrounded by mystery, it is basically a rational process. Usually

some or all of the criteria used toward a grant are presented in

writing, and if you are not awarded a grant, you may be able to find

out why. Often it is because your organization did not fit the

written guidelines or the unwritten but discernable priorities of the

foundation trustees.

That's not to say grant making is 100 percent fair. Even fair deals

between colleagues involve some intangible elements like trust, and

any process involving money is open to misunderstanding and

corruption. Even at the fairest of trustee meetings, very good

programs and proposals can end up as the least important ones on the


Still you have control over many elements of the process: which

funding parties you apply to, how you relate to those fund parties,

which information you present to them, how you present it, and how

you organize your efforts. Efficient grant seekers raise more money

in less time because they take charge of these parts of the

process-the parts they can control-rather than leaving them to

vagaries of flattery, hope, or luck.