How to Spot a Scam Grant
Editor’s Note: This blog was originally posted in October 2017. We are reposting it in light of recent grant scams. For example, the Joyce Foundation was recently the victim of a scam that involved Facebook accounts falsely claiming to be affiliated with the Joyce Foundation. The accounts were contacting individuals through Facebook Messenger and offering to provide them with cash grants from the foundation. Government grants have also been used as a front for fraudulent activity. Grants.gov has great information on avoiding government grant scams.
Searching for grants is a long and sometimes tedious process. Once you finally find the perfect opportunity, you may feel elated and ready to get to work. But what if the opportunity is a scam and all the work you are putting in is futile? There are scammers that offer “perfect” opportunities in order to make a quick buck or extract personal information from applicants. When looking for funding sources, it is important to ask a series of questions to ensure the grant is not a scam.
Is the Source Reliable?
The first item to investigate is the funding source. If the funder is a legitimate nonprofit organization, it will have contact information available, including physical addresses (although this is not always the case, some organizations only have an online presence), email addresses that send messages to “real people,” or a phone or fax number. Many organizations have a designated person responsible for grants and grant questions. If you feel unsure about the website or source, try contacting the organization prior to applying. Another resource to check reliability is a 990 finder. Nonprofit organizations have to publish their 990 tax form and specific websites provide databases of these forms, which include registered addresses and member names.
Much Information is Available?
Another telltale sign of a proper funder is information about previous recipients. Many foundations offer examples of past funding, mentions in newsletters or annual reports, or feature news stories. Many organizations also have grant stories available with contact information about the recipients.
are the Guidelines?
Be leery of blurry program guidelines. The organization should have clearly defined program guidelines about the areas they fund, such as education, technology, medical research, or arts and culture. Many foundations even offer specific grant amounts or ranges, as well as specific requirements about how the money may be used and reported. A “no obligation” application is typically suspicious. Most organizations require a grant report or evidence of how the money is being used; some funders even require personal interviews or site visits. The general sentiment is that the more information an organization provides about their grants, the more credible the opportunity. Research the website or source carefully before proceeding with an application.
Charges or application fees are red flags. Applying for a grant should not come with a cost attached for the applicant. Although you should keep in mind that there are competitions or contests that might require an entry fee. For example, the National Geographic Spelling Bee, the Eric Malzkuhn ASL Literature Competition, or the Team America Rocketry Challenge require the applying school to submit an entry fee.
Funders should also not require interested applicants to use a specific service or consultant to prepare the application. If an application asks you to use their service, grant writers, or special forms that need to be purchased for the application, stay clear of the opportunity.
Where is the Best Place to Locate Grant Opportunities?
If you want to ensure that the organization to which you would like to apply to is a “real” organization that has been vetted, cross-checked, and considered genuine, you should use a funding database, such as GetEdFunding.com, Foundation Center Online, or Grant Watch. For instance, GetEdFunding reviews and verifies every grant opportunity to ensure that it accepts unsolicited proposals or Letters of Inquiry, that the foundation or organization is still operating, that there is a contact at the foundation or organization, and that the grant opportunities are still available and the deadlines current.