Grants—What are They Exactly?

Grants, grant proposals, and grant projects come in all sorts of types and varieties. Name a project or a research topic and there is likely a funding agency that makes grant awards for that type of project or research topic.

However, in general, grants can be largely divided into two broad categories:

  1. General utility or ongoing operation grants
  2. Program/project development or program/project support grants

This first type of grant, the general utility or general purpose type of grant is fairly straightforward. This type of grant is awarded to entities which are already in existence and that already have ongoing projects.

Many types of non-profits operate this way and rely on grant awards throughout the award cycle as their primary method to meet their operating budgets.

These general purpose grant awards are intended for ongoing operations expenses such as payroll, utilities, or other operational expenses as well as for possible projects that fit within the mandate of an existing organization.

The funding agency makes such grant awards because it is familiar with the applicant organization’s mission and typically supports the objectives and values of the organization in question.

However, most grant proposals and awards fall within the other broad category. The program/project development or support grant comes in a variety of forms which consist of the following:

  • A Planning Grant: this is a type of grant that is awarded specifically to fund the planning/research phase for a project that will require yet another grant application. As you get more involved in the activity of grant writing you will see that a significant amount of time is spent in the planning and research phase of many types of projects and these often involve access to financial resources that may not be present otherwise
  • Research Grants: these are grants that a funding agency awards to an individual or organization that is undertaking specific research in a given field. The funds are to be utilized solely for the purposes of this research project and not for any other purposes such as researcher living expenses or similar non-specific uses
  • Start-up or Seed Grants: as the name implies, these grants are for a start-up non-profit or similar organization in order for it to get established. These types of grant awards are usually graduated or decrease over several years until the full award amount is depleted. The original funding agency is funding the start-up phase and intends for the new enterprise to develop alternative sources of funding
  • Technical Consulting or Managerial Grants: these grants are expected to not relate directly to an organization’s mission. These grants support related projects or activities that are designed to assist the requesting agency in its daily business. For example, a non-profit may seek such grants to assist it with fund raising activities, managerial consulting expenses, or a marketing or fund raising position salary
  • Facilities/Equipment Grant: these types of grants are usually for a capital expense such as new equipment like a bus or even a new building. The requesting agency in this case must indicate in the grant proposal how such a purchase will further the organization’s long-term mission and how it intends to budget the maintenance and care of the facilities or equipment
  • An Endowment Grant: an endowment grant is perhaps the most commonly known type of grant award. In an endowment grant, and funding agency awards a specific sum of money which is then invested by the requesting agency for the interest earnings. The primary concern for both the funding agency and the applicant is to ensure that the endowment remains in an interest bearing account and not be misappropriated for ongoing operating expenses or other unrelated purposes

Program/Project Related Investments: these are known in the industry as PRIs and are common as well. While technically not a grant because these PRIs must be paid back, they are a form of grant writing activity because they are applied for in the same manner and the projects or programs they are intended for must qualify for a traditional grant award