Misconceptions about grant funding processes abound, leaving many early-stage startup founders feeling discouraged and uncertain. Without accurate information, potential applicants miss out on funding opportunities that could truly catalyze their ventures' success. This comprehensive blog post sets the record straight by tackling the top 8 myths about grants and replacing fiction with facts. Here they are:
Myth #1: Grants Are Easy to Obtain
Fiction: Getting grant funding is a smooth, effortless process.
Reality: The truth is grants are highly competitive and difficult to secure. Applications often require extensive time investments to prepare documentation, budgets, impact projections, and other required elements in meticulous detail. Even very strong applications face low success rates. It is extremely common for organizations to submit multiple proposals before ever being awarded their first grant.
For instance, the application process for the Lush Charity Pot grant takes a minimum of four months just to receive initial feedback from the funder after submitting. Other highly competitive opportunities like the Africa Online Safety Fund powered by Google and Impact Amplifier require applicants to pass through multiple stages spanning several months from start to finish. Persistence through a lengthy and rigorous process is crucial.
Myth #2: Grants Are Free Money
Fiction: Grant funds are like free handouts that recipients can use however they want. Reality: While grants do not need to be paid back like loans, they should never be thought of as "no strings attached" free money. Every grant comes with specific obligations, requirements, and expectations about precisely how the funds will be utilized by recipients. Organizations must closely track spending and provide regular detailed reports showing the grantmaker impact toward goals and accountability for the funds.
For example, the EU SIFA FW III grant program disburses funds to grantees in tranches or instalments. To receive approval for the next scheduled tranche, organizations must submit comprehensive documentation and evidence showing exactly how they spent the previous tranche on allowable expenses. If these stringent reporting requirements are not fully met, the grantmaker can end the grant relationship entirely and potentially pursue legal action.
Myth #3: You Can Secure Grants for Any Purpose
Fiction: Grantmakers provide funding for anything an applicant wants to pursue.
Reality: Grants are awarded by funders for very specific causes and issues aligned with their priorities, not anything an individual or organization wishes to dedicate the money towards. Funders carefully assess how well a proposed project fits within their priorities related to areas like education, scientific research, health initiatives, environmental conservation, or community development.
Grants are expressly not intended for religious or political purposes, scholarships for individuals, or other personal financial needs an applicant may have. For instance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focuses grantmaking squarely on poverty, health and education projects.
Myth #4: Grant Proposals Are Not Necessary
Fiction: Interested applicants can simply request grant funding through a brief, informal letter.
Reality: With very few exceptions, a detailed, well-written grant proposal is an essential requirement to apply for nearly all grant opportunities. This comprehensive proposal is what outlines the entirety of what the applicant aims to accomplish through their project or program. Key elements include goals, budget, timeline, evaluation methods, expected outcomes, and other vital information that allows the grantmaker to thoroughly assess the proposal.
While some applications call this required document a "Letter of Interest" or "Statement of Interest" instead of an official "proposal," the purpose remains the same. Applicants who fail to dedicate time to developing this robust proposal document have little hope of convincing funders that their project merits investment. For example, USAID expects interested applicants to initially submit a Statement of Interest before being asked to submit a full proposal while the Tony Robbins Foundation requests a Letter of Interest rather than a traditional proposal. But these documents fulfill the same role.
Myth #5: Grants Cover All costs and Expenses
Fiction: Grant funding will be sufficient to pay for all costs needed to operate a project or organization.
Reality: Grants are typically limited to covering only specific budget items and expenses directly related to carrying out the proposed activities. Funders outline very clearly what types of costs are allowable and unallowable within the parameters of the grant to ensure recipients use funds properly and as intended. Beyond the grant funds, recipients often need to secure other sources of funding and financing strategies to fully support their operational needs.
A great example is that the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) requires that grantees match a significant percentage of the granted amount with their own organizational funding sources as a condition of the grant. Cisco is another funder that explicitly states its grant dollars cannot be used to cover any existing staff salary costs or overhead expenses - they must directly support program implementation.
Myth #6: Early-Stage Startups Cannot Win Grants
Fiction: Grants are reserved for established nonprofits and companies.
Reality: Many grant programs actually target and specifically intend to support early-stage startups and younger organizations. Oftentimes, eligibility criteria will reflect this in requirements such as being less than 5 years old as an organization or making less than $100,000 in revenue annually. Age and size restrictions like these are clear indicators an opportunity was designed for new and emerging organizations.
Startup accelerators and incubators are perfect examples, as essentially all of their grant investments focus on very early-stage companies just getting started. These programs provide excellent opportunities for pre-seed and seed-stage startups that may not yet qualify for traditional financing options. Many nonprofits and corporations have also launched special grant initiatives aimed at empowering new organizations and young entrepreneurs.
Myth #7: Grants Last In Perpetuity
Fiction: Once awarded, a grant will provide recurring funding indefinitely with no end date. Reality: The vast majority of grants are awarded for set, defined time periods such as 12, 24, or 36 months in duration. Very few funders are willing and able to make open-ended commitments with no predetermined end point. Grant seekers must understand grants are time bound and temporary, not a perpetual source of financial support.
Smart organizations think ahead to how they will sustain programs and operations when a grant reaches its finite end date. Most grant applications actually require applicants to describe their strategies for continuity after the grant term concludes. Whether pursuing ongoing grants or other funding sources, organizations must plan ahead so the lights stay on when the initial grant sunsets.
Myth #8: Grant Funds Can Be Accessed Immediately
Fiction: Applicants get access to grant funds quickly after submitting a request.
Reality: After compiling and submitting an application or proposal for a grant opportunity, grant decisions often take several months at minimum to be made by the funder. And funds are rarely dispersed as an immediate lump-sum payment. More commonly, grants are structured to be paid in milestone-based installments over time.
Accessing installments is dependent upon grantees demonstrating progress toward objectives and providing mandated reports at predetermined intervals. For instance, a 12-month grant may be structured as quarterly installments as specific benchmarks are successfully achieved. Grant funding is rarely quick cash - patience and diligent reporting is required for this unique investment relationship.
The Bottom Line
While competitive, grants are very achievable for early-stage companies armed with realistic expectations instead of misconceptions. If utilized strategically, grants provide critical resources to empower founders to transform ideas into growing, sustainable ventures.