In a troubled economy, people scurry in all directions trying to find money to make ends meet. Unfortunately, that also includes non-profit organizations who find they need to cut necessary programs and projects in order to keep their doors open. Some organizations that have been serving their communities for decades are facing the reality that this might be their last year. It's generally at this point that someone on the board or within the organization will offer up the idea of finding federal grant opportunities.

What they don't know is that although the US Government awards billions of dollars annually to fund just about every social need one can think of, it can take months to search through the Grants.gov site and find a grant that matches exactly the population and services your organization serves. And, it takes many more months to pull together all of the documents and program/project requirements needed to satisfy the grant request.

Further, organizations that are desperate for funding usually are in need of operating expenses to keep their doors open. The government seldom (if ever) funds operating costs for programs already in place. So, it's important for non-profits to look at funding while they are still viable and able to sustain themselves through other funding streams, such as fundraisers, local grants and corporate giving.

As a non-profit, it's actually critical to have other streams of income before applying for a government grant. Although the government will do audits after they award money, part of the decision to fund an organization is based on how much community support is currently in place. Having corporate and local support demonstrates that the organization is viable and is providing a valuable service or program to the population it serves.

Sometimes, there is no one on staff or on the board who has the time or expertise to write a grant. Then they are faced with needing additional funding to pay a grant writer for this service. Grant writers are often asked if they would be willing to write a grant and get paid if, and when, the grant is accepted. There are many reasons why grant writers will not agree to do this, but the major reason is that it's not ethical. There is no line item in a grant request to fund a grant writer.

Grant writers are also approached by individuals who believe the government will fund startup costs (even for a non-profit) or will they funnel money into a for-profit business for equipment and expansions. Almost every corporate giver, local, state and federal grant agency (and there are 26 under the government's umbrella) will make it clear that they do not fund individuals.

They will, however, fund profit organizations and research companies if the product they are offering will benefit the general population, such as solar energy or medical research.

If you're curious about whether or not your organization meets the requirements, peruse www.grants.gov [1]. You do not need to register to search the funding opportunities.

Susan Layland

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS