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How to find, win, and use grant money for individuals

If you have a desire to provide job training or other services for your community, you may be able to get federal or corporate money to do it. Wendy Finger looks at the types of grants available for individuals and how to get them.


My earlier article on training grants available to corporations led many readers to ask about grant opportunities for individuals. While some of these e-mails were from people looking for some easy quick cash, others were from individuals looking for a way to get started in the world of consulting and freelance training.

There is grant money available for individuals who have a talent to offer. I recently entered into a joint venture that used grant dollars to conduct part of a customer service skills assessment for entry-level employees. The individual who came to the company to conduct the assessment was contracted through a community college. She was one of three partners identified in the grant proposal. Her fee for six months of part-time work was $20,000. This is good money, and it is also a good way to begin life as a consultant. But before you start seeing dollar signs floating in front of your eyes, there are some things you need to know.

Be ready to work hard and to wait
Grant writing and administration is not for everybody: it is not quick, and it is not easy. People who apply for (and are awarded) training grant dollars generally receive the money because they see a community need and have a plan to fill that need. Most government training grants available to individuals focus on three key areas:
  1. Providing disabled individuals with marketable skills
  2. Offering welfare-to-work (or similar entry-level) training support
  3. Assisting educational institutions in keeping pace with the hyper-drive world of technology

Working with these groups is very different than serving as a corporate trainer. A person who is successful in helping to move students into the corporate world can gain valuable exposure to corporate managers. Subsequent work (either grant-funded or corporate contract fees) can follow.

Learning from a partner
Before striking out as a solo practitioner, I suggest teaming up with an established institution that has consistently succeeded in obtaining grant funds. An established partner can help in two ways. The partner offers credibility with grantors and also can show you the ropes. Community colleges, vocational schools, and local nonprofits can make excellent partners as you begin your quest for training grants.

Choose a partner wisely. As a technology trainer, you have a skill the institution will want. Use that skill set to your advantage. Begin your partnership serving as a contract-fee instructor. Teach courses already funded by grants. This will give you valuable insight into the expectations of a grant-funded training program. Look for programs that also offer a chance to work on the administrative side or that are progressive and willing to expand current programs.

Establishing your skills and reputation
There is a skill to grant writing, which takes time to hone. Treat the time spent as an instructor as your internship. Let the institution serve as your mentor. Learn about the nuances of grant administration from your partner. The pay for part-time instructors is not great. However, this is a great way to learn how grant-funded programs work and to bridge into developing your own strategic plan for a new grant-funded program.

Once you have established a relationship with a sponsoring partner, work with this person to propose a new program, one you can run. The grant will still go to the partner, but will be passed through to you as the contractor performing the service. The process requires a minimum time investment of at least six to twelve months (maybe more). This may seem like an eternity to a person trying to establish viable self-employment. Yet, unlike the world of technology, the nonprofit and government worlds do not move at lightning speed. Organizations want to have confidence in the recipients of their money.

Grant information on the Web
If these cautions have not scared you off, there are numerous places to begin your pursuit. Try using the following phrases for keyword searches on the Internet:
  • Technology training grants
  • Training grants
  • Technology grants
  • Technology business grants
  • Workforce development

My searches sent me to the Web pages of several states, universities, and corporations. You may choose to narrow your search by region. To do this, just add the name of your state to the search parameters.

Some of the more intriguing Web sites I found were:
  • eSchool News online
    This online newsletter provides information on competitive training grants. Funding from Bellsouth, Intel, the New Jersey Department of Education, the Federal Department of Education, and numerous foundations are listed. Grant awards mentioned spanned most regions of the country and were for a broad range of programs. The site includes links to information on grant writing seminars and chat rooms.
  • IBM’s community relations page
    This wonderful philanthropy page is well buried in IBM’s Web site. All projects funded by IBM this year are highlighted here. There is also information about current grant request applications.
  • The Learning Space
    There is some good “quick and dirty” information on this site. Information is in press release format and highlights new federal training grants available for the coming fiscal year.

In addition to these Web sites, I found information on states offering funds for training programs. The states ranged from Ohio to California and from New England to New Mexico. Most of the state funds will go to organizations, but don’t let that stop you. Learn who those organizations are. Those organizations will need help meeting their goals and will have money to spend.
Do you have experience writing or receiving training grants? Do you have any additional questions about how to go about looking for grants? Send Wendy a note with your comments and queries.

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