How to use in-kind contributions to secure education grants

Funders often ask you to provide matching funds for a project. These funds are your "contribution," or your share of the project’s cost, illustrating your commitment to the project for which you are requesting additional financial support.

Grant makers can request matching funds in a variety of ratios. Many funders ask for a one-to-one match. So, if you’re requesting $10,000, you need to show $10,000 in matching funds. There was a federal grant program that is no longer in existence that required a three-to-one match. For every dollar an applicant requested, the applicant had to show three dollars in matching funds! This might seem like an insurmountable challenge, but I believe most applicants did not have a problem securing this level of matching funds.

Matching funds can take the form of cash or in-kind contributions. Funders often will place limits on the amount of matching funds that can come from in-kind sources. In-kind contributions are those that have a dollar value, but they are not cash. For example, if a community-based organization offers to provide a training session for your teachers that it usually charges $1,000 for, but it will not charge your district, this is a $1,000 in-kind contribution.

If you are using volunteers in your project, don’t forget to count their time volunteering as an in-kind contribution. According to the Independent Sector (, the dollar value of an hour of volunteer time in 2006 was $18.77. The value for time in 2007 will be posted sometime this spring. This web site also includes an hourly value for each state. (If you use these figures to claim volunteer time as an in-kind contribution, be sure to cite the Independent Sector as your source for this information.)

Keep in mind that you likely will need to document in-kind contributions before and during the project. The first way to do so is to ask partners who are making in-kind contributions to put this information in writing. They should specify the type of contributions they are making and include the dollar value of their contributions. I recommend you include this type of information in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This documentation then can be included in your grant proposals (MOUs often are requested) and will allow readers to see how you came up with the total value of your in-kind contributions.

The second way to document in-kind contributions is to send a letter of acknowledgement after you receive them. Again, the letter can include the type of contribution that was received and the dollar value of the contribution.

Funders might provide you with an In-Kind Contribution Report as a part of your grant management responsibilities. If they don’t, you can (and should) develop your own report, which lists:

• Services that were performed, by whom, for how long, and at what value;
• Goods that were donated and their value;
• Volunteer services that were provided, by whom, for how long, and at what value; and
• Facilities that were provided, the dates, and the value.

Be sure to attach an explanation of how the values were determined and any supporting documentation.

You might be required to submit this information when you close out the grant. If the funder audits your project, you’ll likely be asked to provide this information. It will be far easier to provide it if you have been keeping the documentation throughout the project, rather than waiting until the end!

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