Why Many Grants Call for Institutional Affiliation
It is said that fewer than
one out of ten foundations and very few government agencies are
willing to consider proposals from individuals without institutional
affiliation. Corporations are reluctant to make grants to individuals
unless they are related to the corporation in some way and/or a
direct line may be drawn to the best interests of a particular business.
(And even then, most often these are treated as business expenses,
not charitable contributions.) Even in cases where grants are
made directly to individuals, there is often a nonprofit organization,
institution, or university "hovering in the background" somewhere.
Before you become discouraged by these facts, keep in mind that
although at least 90% of all grants are awarded to organizations,
many of these grants and we don't really know how many
include hidden sponsoring arrangements whereby new groups and individuals
qualify for funding under an established sponsor's name. If you
were to catch sight of these donations in a grants list, you would
have no way of knowing, for example, that the $5,000 grant to the
Junior League was actually for one volunteer to complete and issue
a booklet on local child-care services. Also there are countless
grants and awards given directly to individuals without formal institutional
affiliation, which have never been formally tabulated. Thus, the
statistics regarding direct assistance to individuals may be somewhat
The main reason that funders foundations, corporations,
and government agencies hesitate to give directly to individuals
is simple: it costs too much to do so. Reportedly, it takes as much
administrative time and work to award a $5,000 grant to one individual
as a $500,000 grant to a university. The obvious administrative
strategy to keep down the cost is to give a lump sum to one outstanding
group (a sponsor) whose function it is to "pass [grant monies] on
down the line."
A second reason that funders prefer affiliated applicants is that
sponsors serve as a kind of buffer to dilute the funder's responsibility
in case something goes wrong. Such responsibility is of particular
concern to foundation administrators, whose programs of grants for
individuals have been the subject of much Congressional scrutiny
in the past. Most foundation grants are awarded to tax-exempt organizations,
which in turn select individual recipients to participate in various
programs. Foundation trustees thereby defuse their own responsibility
for the selection and supervision of individual recipients and are
not as answerable in a direct way to the Internal Revenue Service,
even in the case in which grantees abscond or misuse the funds.
Such cases are rare, indeed, but they have been known to happen.
And when they do, they generate much unfortunate publicity.
In the field of scientific research, most grants
are made to support the work of individuals. Yet almost without exception,
these individuals have formal institutional affiliation of one sort or another.
Hence, a third reason for the affiliation requirement: Sponsoring institutions
provide a wide range of facilities, equipment, backup, and administrative
services, unavailable to the individual lacking such affiliation. In today's
technologically advanced society, many new ideas for scientific and other grant
projects require relatively complicated procedures, too complex for one
individual to conduct in his own surroundings without access to specialized
For these reasons, many funders (but certainly not all) have policies
against direct grants to unaffiliated individuals. Individual applicants
must apply under the auspices of a university, or other tax-exempt
organization that is to say, a sponsor. If the grant is approved,
the funder's check is made out to the sponsoring organization, which
in turn administers the project, doling out funds to the individual
as needed and often deducting its own usually small administrative
For the unaffiliated individual, these facts are
not presented to discourage you. If you
decide to apply on your own, it is important that you understand the
traditional reasons that funders have preferred applicants with institutional
affiliation. They are based on real constraints upon the funder and are not
The lesson to be learned is that individuals who seek
grants should be familiar with the many restrictions on such funds. If you can,
by all means apply on your own, but concentrate on funders that have programs
free from such constraints or find ways to work around them. If this is not
possible, a small dose of institutional affiliation certainly cannot hurt you.
As we will see, sponsors are not hard to find. In fact, you probably already
are affiliated with some organization or agency that could perform this
function for you. With a little ingenuity you can make it easier for a funder
to give you a grant without compromising yourself or your ideas.