Who wouldn't love to get a grant to bring the idea of your dreams to fruition. Ads are everywhere that claim free grant money is just waiting for you -- all you have to do is send in money to learn how to get those grants. Don't take the bait. Promises like that are not made by reputable grant makers. Grants are out there -- even for individuals -- but most of the information you need to find them is right in your public library or online.
Private foundations are restricted by the IRS on the types of grants they can make to individuals. Based on certain criteria, grants can be made to individuals for: scholarships and fellowships to be used for study at a specific school or university; a prize or award given for the accomplishment of a charitable purpose; achievement of a specific project or to produce a report or other document that "improves or enhances an artistic, scientific, or teaching capacity, skill or talent of the grantee." The law also allows some grants of direct support to be given to the needy. See Section 4945 of the Internal Revenue Service code.
Foundations that do give grants to individuals have their own criteria and requirements. The best source is the book titled "Foundation Grants to Individuals" published by the Foundation Center, a national organization that connects grant makers with grant seekers. Most libraries have it, or the reference librarian can offer recommendations for other guides. Or you can subscribe to the online database for $9.95 per month at the link provided with this article. Your state may also have a directory of grant makers. For example, the Indiana Grantmakers Alliance publishes the "Directory of Indiana Grantmakers."
Grant categories covered in the Foundation Grants to Individuals guide are in the following general categories: General Welfare, Arts and Cultural, Research and Professional Support, and Educational Support. Grants for scientific research can be found at www.grantsnet.org.
An example listed under General Welfare is Blue Horizon Health and Welfare Trust, which helps with medical expenses for needy residents in two specific townships in Connecticut. An Arts and Cultural example is John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which gives fellowships to "published authors, exhibited artists, researchers, and others in arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences." Under Research and Professional Support, the Arthritis Foundation supports qualified individuals who are conducting research on arthritis. An Educational Support listing is Reilly Foundation, which gives scholarships to children of employees of Reilly Industries.
Once you find a foundation that gives a grant for which you wish to apply, read the funder's guidelines and follow them carefully. Make sure the project you wish to fund matches the grant maker's mission and criteria. The Foundation Center's guide gives general advice on applying for grants. The Center also publishes a guide that offers guidance for novices in grant proposal writing.