When I was a little girl, my father told me a joke that went like this: When is a door not a door? When it is ajar! I often think of this joke when trying to explain to someone what a “grant” is.

What do we mean when we use the term “grant?” In their book Finding Funding, authors Ernest Brewer, Charles Achilles, and Jay Fuhriman define a grant as “an award of money or direct assistance to perform an activity or projects whose outcome is seen as less certain than that from a contract, with expected results described in general terms. Applications can be submitted without having been solicited (an unsolicited proposal) or through a program announcement (Request for Application or Request for Proposal).”

The way money is awarded–where it comes from, where it’s going, and why it’s going where it’s going–will all come to bear on which program you’ll choose to expend your energy. Choose wisely! There’s nothing more frustrating that finding out after days of toil that you’ve been barking up the wrong (money) tree.

Public or private?

Those just starting the grantseeking process should understand that grants come from two sources, the public sector and the private sector. The public sector usually refers to city, county, state, and federal government. For some grant programs, like the U.S. Department of Education (ED)’s Technology Innovation Challenge Grants or the Commerce Department’s Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Assistance Program, applicants submit proposals directly to the federal government.

Other grant programs, such as the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, are federal dollars which are passed to the states and administered by the state government. The federal government (ED, in this case) provides guidelines that each state must follow; however, the actual competition and selection of grantees is left up to each state. Consequently, each state’s program and application will look different, even though technically each applicant is vying for the same program.

The private sector refers to philanthropic foundations which are usually started by families and/or corporations. These foundations usually have an interest in a special population (such as at-risk youth) and/or a particular field (such as the arts or technology).

Reach and significance

Some foundations only fund programs that are of “national significance.” These are projects with the potential to have an impact on a large number of students and/or teachers.

In contrast, community foundations often will only accept grant proposals from the specific geographic area or community where the foundation office is located. This geographic preference can also be found in corporate grant programs. You will find that some larger corporations will only fund projects in communities where they have local plants.

Generally, grants are classified as being competitive or noncompetitive. Competitive proposals usually require a grant writer to put together a narrative that describes the project in great detail, with sections covering need, goals, objectives, personnel, evaluation, and a budget. Noncompetitive proposals usually require a grant writer to complete an application form with program descriptions.

Usually in noncompetitive proposals, applicants will know in advance the amount of money they are eligible to apply for. In a competitive grant, an applicant is requesting an amount equal to the cost of carrying out the project.

What will you do with your grant?

Once you understand these distinctions, you’re ready to move on to the different kinds of competitive (and in some rare cases, noncompetitive) grants that are available. They are: planning grants, implementation grants, dissemination grants, and products/services grants.

Planning grants are available to fund projects that require an initial planning period, usually twelve months, before being implemented. In these types of grants, applicants show the process that will be followed leading up to the implementation of the project and can ask for the costs associated with this process, such as consultant fees, data collection, printing (if a summary document will be produced), and staff time.

Implementation grants usually follow planning grants and fund the actual start-up of the project. These grants can be multi-year grants.

It’s important to note, however, that just because you get a planning grant, you should never assume that you’ll automatically get the implementation grant. In most cases, you must apply for the implementation grant and go through another review process. A new set of reviewers can decide to deny you implementation funds for a variety of reasons.

The purpose of dissemination grants, as the name implies, is to disseminate information about a project–how it was carried out, how goals and objectives were achieved, what obstacles were overcome. Usually dissemination grants fund public-relation type activities such as advertising, presenting papers and/or sessions at conferences, posting a web site about the project, etc. It is important to understand that dissemination grants are awarded to projects that already have been completed.

The final classification is program/services grants. These are grants where the funded applicants receive either products or services rather than a monetary award. Usually these grant programs are offered by vendors, and applicants must show in their proposals how specific products available from the vendor or services provided by the vendor will play a crucial role in the implementation of the project.

As you can see, grants come in all shapes and all sizes. Savvy grantseekers will become familiar with all of these classifications as they embark on their journey to find funding for specific technology projects. Knowing these classifications will help expand the base of potential funding sources. Good luck!