Federal and state government, non-profits, private companies and over 80,000 Foundations give out billions in grants each year in the U.S. Over the past 30 years their operations have changed dramatically due to the internet.
With so much information online available grants are easier to find. That's good news. It also means more people and organizations apply for grants. So the level of competition goes up too.
Fortunately the number of grant-makers has also increased – as has the amount of money available. The IRS now requires that charitable foundations distribute a minimum of 5% of their endowment or their interest earned each year, whichever is greater. So as new wealth for some increases, more funds are created and more money is awarded in grants from those funds.
So: you need to be a smart searcher and applicant to compete. You need to get what a grant really is and if it's what you need. If you want an online site where you fill out your name and contact info and receive “free money” you will be disappointed (or scammed). If you’re ready to understand what’s real and go after what’s right for you then you may well be pleasantly surprised:
Discover your program today!
If you search for “online grants,” beware. Results include a site that tells you there are abundant government grants that you can easily apply for as an individual (not true…). Or you may find a link to the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) site for government administrators' review of official grant application from other federal agencies. It will be obvious that that one doesn't apply to you, but you might be tempted to believe the first one. Yes, there are thousands of grants, but most of them are not for individual citizens. Much money in grants does eventually filter down to us citizens, but it helps to understand which ones could actually end up with you.
Many people confuse grants with benefits and financial aid, all under the umbrella of “free money.” In fact grants are awards of money which never have to be paid back. They are given for very specific reasons, either for the public good or to further the goals and vision of the grant maker — not just to help those who are down on their luck. Here we review both online government grants (including some awards better classified as benefits or aid) and private foundation grants. If you look at each category carefully you will be able to figure out where to spend your effort, time and energy pursuing what can best help you.
grants.gov: The “big daddy” of all online grant-related sites is grants.gov. It lists thousands and thousands of funding opportunities and is updated daily.
As we make clear in our guide to grants.gov, it is not intended for people who need financial assistance. It is a valuable resource for state governments and other government agencies to apply for grants which are then used for local programs. It is also useful for businesses, contractors looking for government projects, and individuals engaged in advanced scientific research.
If you fit any of those categories by all means register on grants.gov so that you can apply online for any grant for which you are eligible. Even without registering you can search this huge database by keyword, application deadline and more. You can also narrow your search by specifying that you only want to see grants that, for instance, individuals or small businesses can apply for. It can be very interesting to do so to see what kinds of grants are out there and what it takes to be eligible. If you are in a hurry and want to see right away if grants.gov can help you at all, check out this clear explanation: grants.gov is not for you.
benefits.gov: While not an “online grants” site, benefits.gov is specifically designed for individuals. It is an official federal government site that makes it relatively easy to find out all the different kinds of benefits and programs that you may be eligible for. You may think you already know but we assure you that you could be surprised at what you find. It is definitely worth checking out even though it does require you to fill out a pretty extensive questionnaire. That will help you in the long run as you should end up with a list of possibilities for which you are able to qualify. It won’t generally let you apply online for benefits but it will tell you what your next steps should be to get them.
Education Grants and Aid If you need help affording college or career schools (or now even some short term “alternative” training programs…) the government is by far the biggest provider of grants and loans. The FAFSA, or Federal Application for Student Aid is the gateway to all government money for education as well as to many private or school-specific scholarships. Many people make the mistake of not completing this application because they think it will be too difficult, or they assume they will not qualify. That is a big mistake and you could be leaving money on the table. Be sure to check out our guides to the FAFSA and to qualifying for the Pell Grant (real “free money” if we’ve ever seen it!).
In addition to general student loans for those who qualify based on income, the government offers the TEACH program. This provides financial aid (up to $4,000) to students pursuing careers in teaching. In return for financial support you agree that you will teach in specific schools and/or areas and do so for a specific amount of time after you graduate. To pursue a TEACH grant your first step is to go online and fill out the FAFSA.
New Grants Online Articles
We constantly seek out new information and publish pages which help you find the grants and financial assistance you need. Some of our latest cover both grants and other resources. For example Grants in Tennessee focuses solely on grants available for people who live in Tennessee. Travel Grants should be of particular interest to students, teachers, and others wishing to get help to afford foreign travel. Government Benefits further details and explains the benefits provided by the federal government. And, though not technically about grants, you can find helpful information about getting more cash in your life in Personal Loans and How To Make Extra Money.
If you're a veteran be sure you don't ignore the information provided (and regularly updated) on va.gov. There are often grants and other programs highlighted which could help you out if you are going back to school, looking for a job, and in particular if you are looking to start a new business or maybe buy a franchise. And whether you're a vet or not you might be surprised to learn that there are still land grants available in the United States! If you've dreamed of getting your own property and building a house you must check out one of our most recent articles about Land Grants.
If you are not a grant seeker but rather an organization that awards grants, you may be interested in putting your grantmaking procedures online. If that's the case then there's a group that makes it look pretty easy. We don't have direct experience with the company and we're not connected to it in any way, but gograntsonline.org looks worth checking into. They let you totally customize a website and database so you can allow applicants to get information and apply online. These capabilities could help you streamline your operations and save you time and expense! If you are looking for grants, read on about private companies and non-profits:
Non-Profit Online Grants At the opposite end of the spectrum from federal and state grants are grants for individuals provided by small non-profits. A great example, and a relatively new entry in the grant space, is modest needs.org. This organization was created to help folks who are working hard to make ends meet. Living paycheck to paycheck, they often don’t qualify for financial aid programs but are unable to handle unexpected but necessary expenses. The ModestNeeds “self-sufficiency grant” helps those folks avoid a financial crisis. The types of expenses they will help people cover include medical bills, urgent house repairs, replacing a broken or worn out appliance, etc. They also make a particular effort to assist active military families and veterans, public school teachers, and first responders.
All of ModestNeeds applications and awards are done online. To apply you must first read their FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) so that you understand how they operate, and then register with them. You can then fill out an application. You will need to have your most recent tax return handy or recent bank statements for all adults in your household. Then you answer some questions about your income and submit your application.
Though you are probably looking for a grant but maybe you are interested in helping other people. Sites like Modest Needs are a great place to look. You can review current needs and donate a little or a lot. Even if you don’t have much money you can make a small contribution — they add up! And it will give you a great feeling to be able to help others. Positive actions like that can actually help to change your perspective, give you a more optimistic outlook, and help make the world a better and kinder place. And though noting is guaranteed, good deeds like that tend to come back around. And who knows, you might get some great ideas about how to tell your story and raise some money for your own goals and needs.
ModestNeeds is a crowdfunding platform and it is not the only one of its kind. While crowdfunding has been around for a while as a way to get money for businesses and projects related to the arts, crowdfunding for individuals’ personal needs is relatively new. Take a look at Free Money 2015 for a review of some of the top sites in this area. All operate solely online.
If you are a non-profit organization with a focus on custom software solutions that “improve the well-being of humanity”, you might be interested in the Gadfly Project. They provide in-kind grants (not cash) to help you implement your software project. Applications are accepted online and appear to be pretty unstructured. Applicants should emphasize the scope of their project and objectives and also the number of users and supporters that will be engaged. They seek projects with a magnitude of $10-50 thousand.
Private Company Online Grants Many large, private companies offer grants to improve and strengthen ties with their communities. These are typically offered, applied for and awarded online. They are not all ongoing — some come and go at different times. So you really need to do some internet searching to find corporate grants that may be available in your area.
A useful example that is in fact ongoing and which operates in many areas of the country is the US Bank Foundation. This foundation partners with non-profits in the communities where it has branch operations. Through their charitable contributions program they focus on programs related to education, providing help for low-income families, and projects related to the arts. They have a particular emphasis on programs which promote affordable housing and on those that help struggling individuals become self-sufficient. In some areas they also contribute to programs that help small businesses to get started and to expand, especially when jobs can be created!
Walmart is another major company well known for its many grants. Their Community Grant Program helps their local communities to grow stronger, which of course makes sense since that makes them better customers. If you are a nonprofit (501 C3), a school, a government agency or a church or faith based organization with a project that helps the whole community you can apply online (and only online) for a grant that will range from $250 to $2500. Their application receiving started on February 1 of 2017 and will end on December 31, 2017. You may make your application at any time during this period. Applications stay “active” for 90 days and if they are not accepted within that time period they are automatically rejected.
Some smaller private organizations offer grants and financial support as well. For example, did you know that there are grants for churches? Though religious organizations don't qualify for many secular grants, some grants do exist. And you find and apply for them online. You could also apply online with a good essay and end up with your own farm – complete with some working capital. If that's your dream check out Grants for Farms. And you can even find scholarships that are awarded just by drawing – again, applied for online.
With all those options available online there should be at least one or two that are worth exploring further. Stay tuned for updates by checking back regularly. You can also get timely information on these and other programs by following our (short!) daily posts on GooglePlus.