Designing a Grants-to-Individuals Program

1. Define the Purpose

  • Questions to ask: Are we trying to address a problem or support ongoing good work? What is the funding situation in the given field? What are the social conditions surrounding the problem or good work? Is change or good work best supported through individuals or organizations? What is the relationship between individuals and communities in this field? If we fund individuals, what kind of impact can we reasonably expect them to have on their communities? A poorly defined purpose leads to ineffective programs whose impacts can’t be measured because they haven’t been articulated in the first place.

2. Settle Money Questions

  • A funder of medical researchers said, “A lot of our funding is for salary support, and people in these fields earn a certain amount of money. But we also want to fund people so they have the money to do what they need to accomplish. And we want to fund as many people as possible within that.” Striking the balance isn’t always easy.
  • Set a time frame. One funder aims to build a “critical mass” of scholarship to inform public policy in a particular area. The focus changes every several years — long enough to make an impact in the research area but not so long that it passes a point of diminishing returns.
  • Add services that make the program effective. Many funders also provide nonmonetary support to individual grantees. Designed to benefit grantees and advance the program’s purpose, services may include things like technical assistance, networking opportunities, and help with disseminating the results of funded research.

3. Set Grant Criteria

  • Some funders seek qualities that are more subjective but still vital for achieving the program’s goals. A funder of social entrepreneurs explained that the program treats “being entrepreneurial” as a formal criterion: “This personality type is rare. We say one in ten million.” Another foundation seeks individuals “whose genuine passion and calling in life is helping underserved populations.”
  • According to a national arts funder, diversity in her field is important “in all its forms, and that means gender, race and ethnicity, geography, aesthetics, genre, and more.” Funders looking to attract a diverse group of candidates set eligibility criteria accordingly, and their programs. “It was part of our theory of action . . . that gender and racial balance in the cohort [of grantees] would help establish a dynamic, equitable group culture.”

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Grants to Individuals.