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Government, philanthropic and corporate grants: three different paths to grant application success


THE TAKEAWAY: All levels of government give out grants, as do many philanthropic foundations and some corporations. The keys to success in getting a grant are subtly different for each type of grantmaker. You have to know the difference so you know how to pitch your proposal.



We’ve outlined some of the differences below so that you can target your grant search and your applications appropriately.


Government grants

Many people think of foundations when they think of grants, but in fact it is government that provides the overwhelming majority of grants funding in Australia.

Generally, government grantmakers are impartial, unbiased, and outcomes-oriented. Learn how the government in question thinks – look up their policy documents and use them as background when you’re interpreting their grant application forms.

Government grantmakers are also relatively inflexible and can seem obsessed with detail, particularly those at the state and federal level, which are often relatively far removed from the groups being funded.

Government grantmakers (again, particularly at the state and federal levels) are not easily moved by ideals or rhetoric. What they dislike more than anything else in the world is inefficiency. What they need to know is that you can do the job. What they hate with a fury is organisations that end up not spending the grant money because things didn’t work out.

Philanthropic grants

Australian foundations give out millions of dollars in the service of the ideals of their founders. At their best they can be innovative, flexible, forward-looking, and understanding. They’re less restricted than government grantmakers in some ways, too, as they’re not accountable to government ministers and taxpayers and so don’t have to worry so much about justifying who they’re giving money away to and how that money has been spent.

Don’t look on them as a lifetime solution, though. Foundations will give you money for a few years, but their grants tend to shrink over time rather than grow, and there are a limited number of foundations interested in your work – no matter what your work is. They’re also more likely to support only groups that have Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status, which unfortunately cuts a high proportion of hard-working groups out of contention.

A foundation grant isn't merely a grant; it's an invitation to share a mission. Treat grantmakers like donors – ask them to your fundraisers, invite their views and respond to them, keep them in the picture at all times.

And don't get lazy when you've got a foundation grant; use your new-found expertise to chase the next one on the list.

Corporate grants

One of the things big companies generally like to do is to tell people about the good work they do in their communities. See whether they'll do it for you.

Companies operating in your local area may not have a formal application scheme but may still give out money from time to time as part of their community relations programs, so you need to be proactive.

You can come at this from either end: you can either write down all the organisations that do business in your town and then find them on the web, or you can range over the internet for benefactors and disregard the ones that don't operate in your area.

Once you’ve uncovered what the company says about its giving program, decide quickly whether you’re in with a chance. Phone the ones that look promising, or drop them a line, and discuss how a relationship with your organisation would achieve their stated community goals and aims – and also benefit the local communities in which they work or operate.

In any case, remember that companies aren’t giving you money because they like you. They’re giving you money because they think you can do something for them. That’s what you have to sell them on.

General tips for all grant types

The best way to negotiate the world of grants is to think about your needs before you start thinking about what’s available. Hold a brainstorming session and make a list of all of the things your group would like to do, if only it had the money. Make it a living list that’s accessible to key people within the organisation and can be added to and refined as new needs arise and old ones subside. Use this list to inform your decisions about which grants you want to apply for.

Some grant schemes are applicant-driven. This means various groups submit project proposals, and the grantmaker picks the one they like best. Others are project-driven. This means the grantmaker has a specific project in mind, and advertises for groups who want to run that project.

In any case, any money you receive from a grant will be earmarked for something specific. Before you accept the money, you must be sure you have the capacity to carry out the terms of the contract. After you’ve accepted the money, you have to deliver exactly what you said you would.

The more you can establish ongoing trust with grantmakers – that you can deliver projects on time, on budget, and in the same form as they were approved – the more hope you’ll have of achieving a second or third round of funding, or even ongoing funding.

One of the easiest ways to find out about the many different grants available is to become a member of the Funding Centre. Members receive the monthly newsletter Funding Centre Scoop, which lists details of opportunities for grants from all three sectors – governments, foundations and businesses. Members of the Funding Centre also have access to the Funding Centre grants database.