Statement of Need

Although this is one of the most important parts of any grant application, it also tends to be one of the most poorly written. One of the reasons for this may be that many grant writers just assume that the need for the project is obvious. Do not assume anything. The grant writer must make the case for both the need for the project and the need for financial assistance to do the project in a very clear, comprehensive, concise, and compelling manner. These are the four C’s for writing any grant application. This section is no place for vague, general, weak, or “stretching” statements.

Grant reviewers are not fond of flowery language. They tend to regard this type of verbiage with suspicion. It is as if the grant writer does not really have anything substantial to say and relies upon words designed to disguise the fact that there is no substance to the proposal. Whenever I read something like that, I feel rather insulted, as if I had been confronted with a particularly bad sales pitch. What counts with grant reviewers is a simple, direct statement of the facts. Please let your facts shine through and speak for themselves. They do not need to be embellished or exaggerated. Do not, under any circumstances, tell falsehoods in your application. This will damage your credibility with the funding agencies and word will get around. Your success rate will plummet rapidly. At the risk of sounding redundant, I will say it again: it is not worth the risk.

As I have said before and will certainly say again, it is very important to be specific. The use of statistics, when available, makes a very compelling case. Individual histories and anecdotes are also helpful. In short, anything which can help the reviewer to get a clear picture of the project should be added to this section of the narrative. The basic elements of a well-written project need section are just commonsense. They are as follows: general description of the situation, the number and type of people affected, the extent to which these people are affected, and what will happen if the project is not done.

It is also extremely important to discuss the need for financial assistance in order to carry it out. The applicant must clearly demonstrate that without grant funding, the project will not move forward. If the applicant has been turned down by other potential sources, it is necessary to specify that and to include copies of the letters rejecting the request for funds. It is always helpful for agencies to know that they are not the only source which is being requested to provide funding. An applicant will have more credibility if it can be demonstrated that potential funding sources were carefully researched and a funding strategy was well thought out.

Another angle to demonstrate financial need is to show the allocation of funds in an organization’s total budget in order to demonstrate that no applicant monies are available. This information will show that all available funds are going toward operating costs and cannot be used for new projects or that other needed projects are consuming the entire budget of the organization. In many cases, a copy of the applicant’s most recent audited financial statement must be submitted along with the application.

In the case of municipalities or counties, information regarding the economic situation of the community is critical. If an area is considered to be economically disadvantaged and demonstrates high unemployment, low median income, and a high rate of poverty, then the assessable base or value of the real estate upon which taxes are calculated is low. This dictates that the local government has only a limited ability to raise taxes and thereby realize additional revenue. It may very well be that the population of this political jurisdiction cannot afford to pay additional taxes which could fund new programs.

In the case of nonprofits, financial need may be demonstrated by a statement that the organization has a small donor base or that a reduction in donations over a certain period of time has occurred. Information should also be given on the nonprofit’s operating costs in order to show the amount of money which is being spent to keep the organization going.

Being Realistic About Your Capacity to Carry Out a Funding Strategy

Once the strategy has been developed, it is necessary to analyze how your resources match up with the work you will have to do. I advocate doing everything possible to commit resources in order to not miss out on any available funding. In this section, I will be more specific about how you can determine your ability to take on the ambitious project of applying to multiple grant sources. Obviously, if your analysis shows that your organization is unable to carry out the strategy fully, it would be foolhardy to try to do so. You will need to look at the manpower, skills, capabilities, and experience contained within your organization. In addition, your budget needs to be large enough to give you the proper equipment and supplies with which to work. If lack of funds does not allow you to purchase modern technology which will make your job easier, it is more productive to think about how to improve that situation first. Building organizational capacity takes time. Throw away your preconceived ideas and see the big picture.

The advantages of making a structured analysis of capability are as follows:

• Being prudent about committing resources will allow the organization time to develop capacity naturally and without pressure.
• The funding will probably be approved eventually anyway.
• The organization will avoid any missteps which will give funding agencies a poor impression.
• The organization will be able to focus on “first things first” and build its strengths in order to prepare for a productive fund-raising effort/

If an organization tries to take on a major grant seeking effort before it is ready, the following chain of unfortunate circumstances is likely to occur:

• Staff will feel overwhelmed and therefore perform poorly.
• This will lead to a lack of credibility with the funding agencies.
• This will in turn impact your ability to get future grants.
• All of these unfortunate events will cause poor morale among the team.
• None of this has gotten the problem solved.

This can be summed up in one sentence-be ambitious and work hard and do things in logical steps as you are able.

Grants for Individuals

I have found this to be a topic of immense interest in today’s world. I have had an unprecedented number of inquiries from individuals just in the past year. Perhaps this is because more people are daring to “dream their dream” and want to find ways to live it. I think that we as a society are beginning to see more avenues for individual expression. There seems to be a feeling that all things are possible and that the sky is the limit. I see this as a very beneficial thing. However, the grant world has not yet caught up with this new trend. Grant opportunities for individuals are very few in number.

On the face of it, this is probably because funding agencies feel that making grants to individuals raises a heightened risk of funds being misappropriated. The lack of financial controls and checks and balances in this type of situation has caused grant makers to become somewhat nervous and leery. I can well understand this.

The vast majority of grants available in this category come in the form of scholarships or fellowships. A significant portion of the remaining grants is given to researchers who often must be affiliated with a university or other research institution in order to qualify for funds. The only way that requirement can be avoided would be if the researcher was of such significant standing that this affiliation was considered unnecessary.

Most of the grants remaining after scholarships, fellowships, and research grants are deducted from the equation are given to support creative projects, primarily in the arts or in writing. It is very difficult to take the time to write or create art while working full time. However, most individuals undertaking this type of work are forced to fit it in around other obligations, which include making a living. Of course, there are the lucky few who are able to support themselves in this fashion once they become established. I once talked to an author who had written a book which was quite popular in certain circles. He was interested in finding a source of income to support him while he was writing the second book, as he was finding it almost impossible to juggle the intense research schedule for the book with another job. Despite an exhaustive search, he was unable to find a grant to help him. This example shows the scarcity of support for talented, creative individuals.

There are two very simple ways to check the available grants for individuals. gives information on grants available to individuals from the federal agencies which participate in this initiative. The Foundation Center provides a reasonably priced subscription to an online database which deals only with grants to individuals. I am unaware of any search mechanism which tracks state grants for individuals. In this case, the applicant would have to go his or her state web site and review the guidelines for every grant which looks as if it would be suitable for the activity in question.

In order to find grants for individuals on, go to the website ( and click on “Find Grant Opportunities” on the left-hand side of the home page. At that point, click on “Advanced Search” and search by applicant eligibility. One of the choices here is “individual”. The searcher can further narrow the request by specifying either open opportunities, closed opportunities or archived opportunities. One of the reasons to check closed and archived opportunities is to become aware of grant opportunities which may be available in the future. Many programs are only open for applications once a year. It is possible that a very promising program may have just closed the application period, but will become available again. I would recommend that the individual interested in government grants check every two weeks or so. This is due to the fact that funding opportunities may be open for only a short time. The searcher may also specify the funding activity categories or funding type (grant, cooperative agreements, procurement contract, or other).

The individual seeker of grants from foundations may access the Foundation Center’s database by going to The best bet is to purchase a one-month subscription for $19.95. Most people would be able to research and save information on opportunities of interest to them within the thirty- day period. Other options are to purchase a three-month subscription for $36.95 or a one- year subscription for $99.95. Generally, the one-year subscription is most useful to organizations which counsel individuals on a continuous basis, such as university career centers.

This subscription will enable the individual to receive quarterly updates, daily search tips and links to free web resources. There are a variety of search options, including the foundation city and state, the foundation name, the field of interest, geographic areas served, place of support, and a text search. Subscribers to the general database of foundations can also search for grants to individuals.

Be Specific and Give Concrete Examples in Grant Applications

Following are two examples of how to describe the same project- a mentoring program for victims of domestic violence. The first example is the “fuzzy” one:

“The Newland Shelter for Victims of Domestic Violence needs money for its programs. We help victims of domestic violence and their children. The shelter fills a big need in the community. Our clients are very grateful for the help that they receive from us.”

This type of non-descriptive paragraph raises more questions than answers. The following items are missing from this description: amount of funding being applied for, exactly how the funds will be used, description of the full range of services given at the shelter, estimated number of potential clients, and the number of persons on the waiting list.

The following is a vastly improved project description:

“The Newland Shelter for Victims of Domestic Violence is applying for $30,000 in order to hire a counselor who will work twenty-five hours per week to train our clients in job-seeking skills. The shelter provides housing and meals for a two-year period for victims of domestic violence and their children. While our clients are resident here, they must take classes in child care, financial management, housekeeping, and other life skills. In addition, we provide a comprehensive counseling program which helps them to overcome emotional problems associated with the abuse they have endured. This grant will enable the new counselor to train all fifty of our clients in job seeking skills. Due to limited funding, we are unable to serve the sixty-five persons on our waiting list.”

It is patently obvious that the funding agencies will be much more likely to approve an application which contains the second example. It would be next to impossible to get funding based on the description given in the first paragraph. Grant makers want to know the exact picture and do not like vague writing.