All organizations face financial resource pressures at different times. Today’s challenges in particular make it likely that funding issues are an important topic for most organizations. Certainly organizations promoting accessibility and disability initiatives are not unique in this respect. At these times, organizations are obliged to set goals to prioritize needs and identify both internal and external funding resources. Diligently identifying the right sources of external funding to support specific accessibility and disability projects will greatly enhance the likelihood that an organization will succeed with desired projects. Funding resources for accessibility initiatives do exist. This information is intended to help businesses and nonprofits find and utilize them effectively.
The benefits of external funding through grants
While internal funding may permit the completion of many projects utilizing only minimum resources, securing external funds will enhance those efforts in a number of ways:
- Internally-funded projects with budgetary constraints may be expanded to broaden the reach and provide accessibility assistance to many more people;
- The use of external funds can help to accelerate the timetable for work on desired projects;
- The utilization of grants can also establish a useful measure of accountability and organizational discipline as grantors will require that certain benchmarks and timetables are adhered to in order to assure that the donated funds are employed efficiently for maximum return;
- Once an organization receives its first grant, it is more likely to receive others, says Donorbox;
- Receiving grants is an effective step to help develop an organization’s visibility, reputation and overall brand;
- Above all, securing the right grants can help an organization seriously contemplate projects that otherwise would be only a dream.
Understanding the nature of grants and the grantor community
A grant has been defined by Donorbox as:
a bounty, contribution, gift, or subsidy (in cash or kind) bestowed by a government or other organization (called the grantor) for specified purposes to an eligible recipient (called the grantee)…Grants are usually conditional upon certain qualifications as to the use, maintenance of specified standards, or a proportional contribution by the grantee or other grantor(s).
Grants are most frequently made to a business or nonprofit organization for a specific and well defined purpose or program. While there are grants that are general in nature (PDF), paying for example the day to day operating costs of an organization, grantors generally have a very certain focus on the target of their giving, such as:
- A specific population, for example, the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the Kelly Brush Foundation for those with spinal cord injuries;
- Certain types of nonprofit organizations or businesses such as animal shelters or environmental groups; and
- Particular forms of support, for example, housing resources, service and support animals, and certain equipment.
Necessary preparation to apply for grants
It can often be time consuming to engage in the grant search and application process. Initially, it is important that any organization desiring to begin the search for external funding understand the need to position the organization to be effective in the process.
This may require a search for additional personnel with fundraising expertise. Grant writing skills are critical and despite the misplaced perception that a good writer who understands an organization can effectively prepare a grant application, grant proposals are unique. It takes training and time to prepare a successful grant application. Additionally, the organization must be prepared to be patient for there is often a long period from the initial idea of an accessibility related grant to that date when money actually hits the bank account.
The search for promising grants and grantors is often a challenging and frustrating task. There is always a significant amount of competition in the pursuit of external funding. As a CEO of a grantor recently stated, "I get at least 10 phone calls, emails or letters per day from organizations soliciting support. It is impossible to even respond to all of the requests, let alone to fund them."
An organization may only get one shot at the right grant and it is important to prepare to present the very best case for supporting a particular project or program. Funding prospects are typically inundated with requests for grants that far exceed an ability to accommodate all.
The search process
Organizations seeking grants, understandably, jump first to the most ubiquitous resource, the internet, to search for prospective grants. As discussed below, Google is an incredibly valuable tool in this regard, but organizations will benefit from first looking to more immediate resources for leads such as
- The organization’s Board of Directors. This is networking 101. It is likely that some of an institution’s board members are aware of or connected with grant options flowing from foundations or other corporations they serve or simply through business acquaintances or social contacts. Such inquiries simply expand your search tool as others explore funding opportunities on the organization’s behalf.
- Similarly, it is important to announce an effort to reach grantors throughout the organization as everyone on the staff is a potential resource which can lead to useful contacts and sourcing opportunities.
- Local grantors organizations: Many metropolitan areas and other communities have regional associations of grantmakers. These organizations vary dramatically with some focused on specific targets for grants while others are more broadly directed.
The internet is of course the most comprehensive resource for an initial search for relevant grants for a nonprofit or other business seeking funds to expand its disability and accessibility focus. One of the leading such sites is Grantwatch.com. This is an excellent resource for searching for available disability grants geared toward adults and children with disabilities and their families.
Another valuable site is the AWS Foundation grant listing. The AWS Foundation awards grants to assist both children and adults with "enduring intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities live as independently as possible, be included in the community and function at their highest potential." There are many others and part of the learning process for improving your organization’s approach to grants is to spend sufficient time exploring these options and finding the best way to navigate through the listed resources.