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How to obtain your first grant from a private or corporate foundation

Writing a grant application is an art, which dates back to 1966 when the Carnegie Corporation of New York gave the first corporate grant to the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).  The funds were used to create Sesame Street, which went on to become the most widely viewed children’s series in the world. Nearly 44 years later, private and corporations give away billions of dollars each year to worthy causes. Here are some tips to help you get your share.
Put together a high-quality proposal. Business people often put a lot of time and effort into creating a business plan for a new business.  They may invest thousands of dollars with the ultimate goal of using the document to receive a bank loan to launch or expand their business. Yet, businesses will not spend the same amount of time on a grant proposal request which is in essence, funding you do not have pay back.  Funders really frown upon sloppy requests or those where they can see there was no effort. 
Understand the Funder’s Interest.  Do a little more than just click on their website and immediately hit, “How to apply for a grant.” Read their annual report, learn what projects they want to fund and find their motivation for giving. A good idea is to also review their list of organizations they have funded. Then ask yourself, is my your request similar in nature? If not move on. You can also do an online search for projects similar to what you are proposing and see the list of funders who helped them.
Build a relationship with the potential funder. Once you understand their interests, call and invite their staff to participate in a volunteer opportunity. Residents in Atlanta, overall, look favorable upon volunteer opportunities. Use this as an excellent way to establish a relationship with a funder before you make the “ask.”  You can also invite potential partners and other collaborators who you will work on your project to come as well.
Write Well. Your overall goal should be to keep the reader engaged and for them to have interest in your project. Save the scholarly wording for your thesis.  Most grant applications should be written at the 8th grade level so they do not take much effort to read.  Reviewers will likely not have a Ph.D. and nothing is more boring than reading a proposal where they have to pull out a thesaurus or a dictionary. Keep your proposal concise, simple and plain for the average reader. 

The days of “boilerplate” or generic template “one fits all” requests are long gone.  Each proposal or application should be tailored to each funder. Every question should be answered in direct alignment of the question.  Try and utilize similar words from the funder—which is referred to as “buzz words.” For example, the Target Foundation support programs which, “Strengthen families and communities by keeping them safe.” You should write, the X project shares in Target’s mission and also believes its’ project will, “Strengthen families and communities and keep them safe by….” It may appear redundant, but this may pique a funder’s interest further. They will appreciate a project that shares their own goals.
Always remain positive and upbeat in your message.  No one wants to fund a sinking ship.  Avoid words and phrases, such as; “bankrupt,” “out of business” and anything else that does not show your organization or project will still be successful without the funder’s help.

People give to people. Try and give the reader a visual of the community and people you are helping. In essence, you want to show the need for your project. Even in this day and age of easy video uploads, it is very rare a funder will accept a video with your request.  So it is important you make them “see” your project and highlight facts about real people in need. You can find the best statistics on every community at Here is an example of a request for a youth obesity project for the Pittsburgh community located in downtown Atlanta.
Although Atlanta is ranked as one of the fastest-growing and prosperous cities in America, Pittsburgh, a community of over 3,000 residents, 97% of who are Black, has historically struggle with poverty, a high crime rate and low educational levels.  More than 43% of the homes in Pittsburgh are abandoned or boarded up, and the zip code 30310 has one of the highest mortgage fraud rates in the country.
Seventy-percent of Pittsburgh students live in single parent homes; 10% live with non-relatives; 20% live with their grandparents or other relatives; more than half live in households below the poverty level.  Nearly all of the students (96%) are eligible for free or reduced lunch. School officials report nearly 32% of students in grades 6-8 are overweight.
The Making It In the Middle Youth Program will be located on Pittsburgh’s McDaniel Street, a main thoroughfare that has little to offer its residents in healthy eating.  There are a large number of mom and pop shops, fast-food restaurants, old empty storefronts, abandoned warehouses, many of which have been destroyed by vandalism and are used as areas of ill refute. The only businesses are a community-based organization, a barbershop, and a laundry.  There is no family-style sit down restaurant within a five-mile radius.  (Can you “see” this neighborhood?)
Enclosed are letters from parents and school leaders showing support of our proposed project. (If there is a page limit, you can provide quotes from supporters in your narrative which speak to how your current work has helped them, or if a first-time program, why they feel it is needed in their community).
Be optimistic and realistic about your goals and your budget. You must include clear goals, objectives and outcomes for your project.  This will show whether your proposed project is indeed feasible to solve and a concrete plan on how you intend to carry it out. Your plan should include a method to track your results, along with a plan on how you intend to evaluate your goals. Local colleges/universities staff are good resources for experts willing to help you and will serve as a good pair of “extra eyes” for a small nominal fee or even provide you with volunteer assistance. 
Greed is one of the seven deadly sins and can truly hurt your chances of obtaining funding. If you are establishing a new relationship with a funder, do not ask for the maximum amount of funds they award. Instead, request 50% - 60% of their maximum award. Once you are approved, you can show how well you utilized and managed the funding, and possibly return to them in year two for a 10%-15% increase. Also, never ask one funder to fund 100% of your project.  They rarely state they will not fund the entire project, but many do not like to do so.
Seek professional help.  If you are in need seek the help of a professional grant writer to create and/or edit your work.  He or she will often charge you a flat fee or an hourly rate.  For the Atlanta market, the average grant writer earns approximately $30 per hour and up. You can find them through professional associations or your local chamber of commerce.
Finding your first grant may be a little challenging, but it can be done with diligence.  The pay-off will be worth it. Receiving a check for a well-thought out project, will not only help your business, but people as well.  Good Luck!


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