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The five different types of grant maker

This is an extract from my course Grant Writing For Freelance Grant Writers. If you’d like to learn more, you can join the course here. If you’d like to discuss how to apply this thinking to your own work, send me an email or book in a strategy call today.

I think it helps to break down grant makers into five different types.

Each type of grant maker has broadly different goals from the other types. If you understand the goals of the grant maker, then you can propose a project that’s going to meet those goals.

And that means your project, or your client’s project, it is more likely to be successful and more likely to get funded.

This particular way of breaking down the grant makers into different types is mine, this is just something that I’ve come up with. I’m sure there are other ways of doing it. But this is the version that I find helpful.

Circular graphic showing the five types of grant maker - government, local government, philanthropists, corporates and foundations.

Grant maker Type 1: Government

The first type of grant maker is government.

If you’re in a system with multiple tiers of government (as we are in Australia) this category includes both state government and federal government. In some countries, you of course only have one tier of government. This also applies to international governments, such as bodies like the UN.

The goal of governments in grant making is to enact policies. They’ll have passed legislation or a set of policies, a set of resolutions, perhaps, and they’ve allocated money to those policies. And part of the way that they’re going to achieve them is by making grants.

So for governments, grant making is always about achieving the goals that have been set out in the policy.

Government is very formal in its decision making for grants.

Governments have to consider probity and fairness. They have to consider freedom of information or FOI, which is a process by which anyone can say to a government, “hey, can you please provide us the basis for that decision?” and they need to produce documents and things like that. People working in government often ask, “are we comfortable for this to be a front page news story?”, and it’s always something they’ve got to consider.

So that means the decision making is really formal. It is really only based on the grant application. There’s no other information that comes into it.

(Usually. We do, of course, sometimes have political interference in grant making. But that’s a conversation for another time. It does normally work the way that it’s supposed to, which is that there is this very structured decision making process for government grants.)

Grant maker Type 2: Local Government

The second grant maker type is local governments.

This is separate from state, federal, or international government. This is the governments that are focused on local communities. So it might be your local Shire Council or might be your local City. It’s the government that does things for the local community. They collect the bins, they approve building developments, you know, it’s the local government.

Local government’s main goal is to ensure that their local community is vibrant, positive, a nice place to live, has a strong economy, there’s tourism, like, all the good stuff. It’s really locally focused.

Local government tend to be quite formal in their decision making, but they are typically dealing with smaller sums of money than the state, federal or international governments are dealing with. It’s usually tens of thousands of dollars as opposed to hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Not always, but generally.

You can see that the goals of local government are going to be a bit different than the goals of state and federal government.

So the way that you might pitch a project would vary depending on the goals of that grant maker. You need to show them that the project is going to meet their goals, depending on what those goals are.

Grant maker Type 3: Philanthropists

The next type of grant maker I’ve got is philanthropists.

Philanthropists are wealthy individuals or families who choose to give away sums of money.

They have a variety of different motivations for doing this. Many of them are motivated by altruism – they’re good people who want to create something positive in the world, often acknowledging that they themselves have done pretty well under capitalism. A lot of philanthropists want to do something useful for other people who maybe haven’t benefited from the system in quite the same way they have.

Some philanthropists are a little bit more self-interested with their philanthropy. They are trying to create a positive reputation for themselves or often for their businesses. And look, sometimes it’s a dual thing – you can want a positive outcome for yourself and for the world as well.

Philanthropists are humans, of course, and there’s a lot of variety in humans and human decision making.

What this means is that the decision making process on grants from philanthropists is way less formal. There’s no official oversight. A philanthropist can just give money to whoever they want to give money to – there’s no rules or body saying what they’re allowed or not allowed to do or how they’re allowed or not allowed to make their decisions.

When applying for a grant from a philanthropist, sometimes you will be asked to submit a written application, sometimes not, and sometimes it’ll be a handshake or a dinner or something like that.

There’s a lot of flexibility when we’re dealing with philanthropic grants.

Grant maker Type 4: Corporates 

The next type of grant maker is corporates.

Corporate grant makers are large profitable companies who’ve decided that they want to give away some of that money.

Like philanthropists, the motivation for this does vary.

Sometimes it’ll be an organisation with a really strong corporate social responsibility policy. They might be an organisation who really understands that their place in the world is to not destroy it, and maybe, maybe to try to benefit their community or benefit the world.

Sometimes corporate grant makers are seeking positive PR. They might have a new factory opening, and they want to show the local community that they’re a good organisation, a good employer to have in the community. So they might give grants to the local primary schools or something.

Again, this varies because when it comes to humans and decision making and motivations, there’s a lot of variation here. But if you start thinking through what a particular corporate might be seeking to get out of making a grant, then you can better pitch a project in such a way that it’s going to sound like it’s going to meet their goals. That’s the aim of all this.

Like philanthropists, there’s no real oversight over corporate grant making decisions. They are often more flexible. They might want a written application, they might not. It depends.

Grant maker Type 5: Foundations

The final type of grant maker is foundations.

Foundations are kind of like a bit of a hybrid between philanthropists or corporates, and government.

It’s kind of a way of philanthropists and corporations adopting some of the structures of government to bring more structure to their grant making. Setting up a foundation has some tax benefits for those organisations or individuals. But from our perspective as grant seekers, the main thing is that it creates structure to the giving process.

Often foundations will have it written into their existence that they only support specific causes. Some will require specific formal applications, and they might have a formal oversight process, for example they might have a board that has to approve all grant making activities.

Operating as a foundation brings in some of those formal grant making structures, it increases level of probity, it can increase the level of fairness. But again, it’s a bit hybrid. So it can sort of be less formal as well, it depends.

As a grant seeker, you might be looking at any of these. And so it’s really good to understand who’s who in the zoo, and what these different grant makers are looking for, because it helps you understand their goals.

If you understand the grant maker’s goals, you can propose a project that meets their goals, and that’s the kind of project that’s going to get funded.

If you found this system helpful, you can learn much more in my course Grant Writing For Freelance Grant Writers. You can join the course here. If you’d like to discuss how to apply this thinking to your own work, send me an email or book in a strategy call today.