How to Find Free Money in the Middle of a Pandemic A step-by-step guide to finding a grant that is specific to your needs.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Recently, I spoke with Sara Lee Peterson, a veteran in grant writing, to get her top three critical secrets on how to obtain a grant for your business even during a global pandemic.
Related: 5 Steps to Gaining Financial Freedom
The pandemic has created many grants specifically for COVID-19 relief and associated innovative research quests with regards to the virus, so if you adequately prepare, find the right RFP (Request for Proposal), and have time on your side, you actually have a shot at being awarded funds by a foundation (for non-profits) or the government. Here's how to start.
- MAKE YOUR LONG STORY SHORT. Condense the history and future of your organization as tightly as possible. Potential funders have a lot to read and a well-written, succinct narrative is paramount.
- SEE THE FOREST THROUGH THE TREES. Appreciate that there may not be an exact match opportunity for your vision right now. Practice patience.
- CROSS THE BRIDGE WHEN YOU COME TO IT. Don't plan on grant monies. Plan what can/ will happen without them, and relish in the monies if they happen.
- ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. If you are awarded funds, use them well or be prepared for sincere and abrupt backlash (I.E. retracted funds).
- And if you aren't awarded funds, try, try, try again!
Step 1: Understand who you are
NON-PROFITS: You have the luxury of finding grant opportunities in both the federal and
foundation worlds. Grants favor the 501c3 but you still need to find one that shares your vision.
Most databases will make you pay a minimal fee to search opportunities but start with Candid.org and Grants.gov. Also, take a look at the philanthropic sides of banks like Wells Fargo,
Bank of America, and J.P. Morgan. They all serve private foundations eager to help non-profits.
SMALL BUSINESSES: Federal grants have a lot to offer you; your best sources will be either local (state) sources (start with GrantWatch.com), the SBA website, and Grants.gov.
Step 2. Find the right grants for you
Now that you know who you are, go to Google and type in "Grants for Fill-in-the-Blank". That's it. You have the uncannily easy liberty of searching your exact interest and passion to see who wants to give you money. It will be a small pool of funders, undoubtedly, but ones who are extremely interested.
Step 3. Understanding what a grant is
Grants have a 4-part lifecycle:
1) The Hard Part: A Battle for Eligibility
This opening is where most trip up or give up. Do not give in to the temptation of molding your project to fit a funder's vision. It must be a harmonious match, lest all your effort will be for naught.
2) The Harder Part: Writing / Compiling
You'll need to write (or outsource) a compelling proposal that convinces the funding organization that your project is not only worthy but better than your competitors' and completely in line with their mission. On top of that, the organization of materials for a complete proposal can be surprisingly overwhelming. A technical narrative, abstract, schedule, and budget are usually only the basics when it comes to completing the package.
3) The Hardest Part: Waiting
It's in their hands after you submit. You did the work, now do what entrepreneurs do worst: wait (potentially months) for an answer.
4) The Best Part: "Free" Money!
Of course, it isn't free. You worked hard to get this far, and now you'll work harder to execute. You talked the talk, now you must walk the walk.
Step 4. Do this in this order.
- REGISTER EVERYWHERE. Obtain all your government assigned codes and registrations before you bother to search for a suitable opportunity: EIN or TIN, DUNS number, CAGE code, register with SAM.gov, Grants.gov, SBA (if a small business). Getting all these can have an annoying wait time; you don't want to waste it scrambling while the funder's clock is running down. Don't fight time. You'll lose.
- SEARCH according to your eligibility. This will be time-consuming. Searching by keyword is not a good idea. PLEASE NOTE: Grants.gov alone is a beast. There is a lot to get lost in there so be strategic and methodical in your navigation. It's a procrastinator's worst nightmare- so many things to click, so much stuff to learn. Going through the process in the right order at the right tempo can reap benefits.
- CONTINUE TO SEARCH. You might not find an applicable RFP. Search every day or put that task on the list of daily activities of someone you trust.
- KNOW WHY YOU NEED FUNDING AND WHERE IT'S GOING. Hoping to take home a bonus? Don't bother. Brand new business in need of capital? You might be better off finding investors, but this can be a potential path. Need supplies, additional employees, research time, or want to create a new facet of an existing program? These are pretty good allocations. You needn't set an exact dollar amount or timeline to your plans but have a general overview written down.
- DO YOUR RESEARCH. When you find them- the organization you just KNOW will want to give you money- research them as if you're writing a book about them. What's their mission? Their history? Who have they funded in the past? Who are the people in charge? Find their idiosyncrasies, understand their goals, and capitalize on the fact that unlearned, inexperienced grant seekers will not do this and pay (by not getting paid) for it.
- WRITING THE PROPOSAL. Please do not use the internet for this one. Examples of proposals will do you very little good because this part is wholly dependent upon your purpose. If you are not very articulate or perhaps too verbose, think of who you like listening to. Who debates well? Who has a personable yet professional manner? Who adept at finding their way around databases they've never used before? That person should head your proposal. And yes, your proposal should change for every submission you do. No one proposal is suitable for multiple funders.
We hope this article was informative and will help in your efforts to obtain a grant!