What is a micro-grants program?
Why might you want to establish a micro-grants program?
When should you establish a micro-grants program?
How do you establish a micro-grants program?
What is a micro-grants program?
Micro-grants are small, one-time-only, cash awards given to community groups and others for short-term community projects. The micro-grants projects are designed and implemented by the community groups themselves, not by the sponsoring organizations. They are bottom-up, not top-down. They are usually awarded on a competitive basis - the sponsoring organizations decide which proposal best meet its guidelines, and are most deserving of the limited mini-grant money available.
Many coalitions and other organizations are using micro-grants to stimulate community action and increase the sponsoring organization's visibility, while broadening the audience for the organization's work. Micro-grants are potentially powerful as well as cost-effective interventions. When used correctly, they can engage citizens in creative community betterment efforts, and generate real accomplishments citizens can take pride in.
Why establish micro-grants programs?
Micro-grants may seem like a good idea to you and your organization. But since they do involve using some of your limited resources, maybe you need a little more motivation as to what micro-grants can actually do for your community!
There are some benefits of a successful micro-grant program:
- They inspire creative and innovative thinking
- They are an excellent way to reach "hard to reach" or "yet to be reached" people, because they are awarded to groups (like parent teacher associations, scouts, neighborhood organizations) that have access to many more citizens than traditional health and human service organizations
- Many grass-roots groups are not eligible for traditional grant funding. For example, they may not have federal tax-exempt status (a common grant requirement), or, they may not have another organization to act as a fiscal conduit for them. Thus, micro-grants give them a chance to get hold of resources that would otherwise go only to bigger fish.
- The small amounts of money (the usual range being $400-$2000 per micro-grant) tend to discourage large agencies from applying, while encouraging smaller, innovative groups who might not otherwise respond
- Micro-grant money tends to buy products, not staff. In-kind contributions of staff time increase with micro-grant use. And having to make money go a long way forces people to bring other resources into play, thus increasing the amount of matching and volunteers projects receive.
- They can bring new partners into your efforts
- They can build political and community support
When should you establish a micro-grants program?
If your organization has some money available to spend as it wishes, then you may want to consider establishing a micro-grant program. So when is the best time to do this?
- You want to utilize some program funds to get grassroots groups more involved
- You know that citizens already have many good grassroots ideas
- You are aware of possible matching resources in the community
- You want to create closer ties between traditional service organizations and grassroots groups
- You are looking for ways to get the most bang for your buck
How do you establish micro-grants programs?
Make the decision
The first step is to decide that you want to do it! This most likely means you will need to review your organization's budget. Then ask yourselves: "Of our overall available funds, are we able to, and do we want to, allocate some of the money for micro-grants?"
If the answer is "Yes" to both of these questions, then you will want to ask: "How much do we want to allocate?" A recommended amount to start with is $5000.
These decisions will set the course for the rest of your micro-grant program. The next steps will lay the rest of the groundwork.
Establish your purpose
You and your group should now decide what your goals are for the program. What are you providing the micro-grants for? Whom do you want to reach? What outcomes do you desire?
Develop micro-grants committees
In practice, you will probably want two search committees:
- A planning (or steering) committee - You will need a group to set up the guidelines, publicize the program, receive the applications, monitor micro-grant activities and oversee the whole process.
- A review committee - you will also want a group to review the actual micro-grant applications. This may be composed of community members, or a mixed group of people from your agency and from the community to ensure fairness and an impartial review. You certainly want to avoid a stacked deck, or even the appearance of one.
Establish micro-grant guidelines
The guidelines you or the committee develop should be as simple as possible. They should reflect the best interests both of your organization and of the community. What should the guidelines contain?
Usually they include a brief description of:
- The overall purpose of the micro-grant program. (It's usually a one-time start -up grant)
- The types of activities that are eligible and not eligible.
- The types of activities, if any, that will receive funding priority.
- The types of applicants who can and can't apply. (Can individuals apply, or just groups? What about geographical limits?)
- The maximum amount of money that can be awarded.
- The ways in which that money can be spent. (Printing, postage, supplies, and small equipment purchase may be eligible; salaries, construction, large equipment, and paying off debt generally are not)
- The application review process, including the review criteria.
- The deadline for applying.
- Any other information specific to your particular micro-grant program.
- Instructions for filling out and submitting the application form. (In many cases, the application form itself may be included)
- The name, address, and phone of a contact person from the micro-grant program, in case a potential applicant has questions.
All of this guideline information can be included on one page, or two at the most.
Now is a good time to also be clear about your policies on payment for the recipient's projects. Do recipients get paid up front, or after completion of their project? Many groups won't have the money to start the project out of pocket. On the other hand, giving up front money to a group that is untested and that you know little about may be unwise. Some projects give a partial award to start with and pay the rest upon completion of the project work.
Develop a micro-grant application form
The application you develop should be relatively short - most will be one or two pages, definitely no longer than four pages.
The key questions you want to ask are:
- The name, address, and phone number of the person who will be in charge
- Organizational affiliation, if any
- The nature of the planned activity
- "What activity are you proposing?"
- The goals of that activity.
- "What are the goals of that activity?"
- The procedure for carrying out that activity
- "What steps will you take to carry out that activity?"
- The desired outcome of that activity
- "What are the specific outcomes you desire when the activity is completed?"
- The amount of money being applied for
- "How much money are you applying for?"
- How much money will be spent
- "How do you propose to spend the money?"
- How will the activity be evaluated
- "How will you evaluate the activity, to see how well it has achieved its goals?"
Another common question is how the activity might be continued once the micro-grant funds have been spent. You may also want to ask about the experience of those who will be in charge of the activity, and about other possible funding the applicant has for the project. In some cases, you might also want to ask for references or letters of support.
You may want to give applicants the option of presenting their application orally to the committee. Also, make sure you remind applicants that you and your staff members are available to help them fill out their application. Many groups will be intimidated or confused by even a simple application, and will need your technical assistance. Just make sure you are even-handed about the help you give; don't show favoritism to one group over another.
Announce and publicize the availability of grants
One way to publicize is to develop a simple flyer that your group can post around community gathering places, shops, businesses and churches. The flyer can be mailed to all community and neighborhood groups on your mailing list. E-mail is also a possibility. In addition, you may try to get a newspaper story.
In general, you will want to generate a lot of word-of-mouth publicity about the micro-grants. You will need to talk them up, and once again, help people turn their applications in. The more you can spread the initial word, the larger and better the applicant pool will be.
Review the application
Once you have received the applications, your review committee can start ranking the applications according to your predetermined application guidelines. Ideally, this will be a "blind" system, in which the reviewer does not know the name of the applicant. In a small community, this can be difficult to avoid; but any bias can be micromized by having a diverse review committee.
Rate the applications; award the grants
In order for the review committee to rate the applications, you will need to give each member a rating sheet. Each reviewer assigns points on each review criterion for each application - for example, 25 points for creativity, 25 points for feasibility, etc. Each reviewer then gives an overall point total to each application, the applications with the top scores will be awarded the grants. See the Tools section for a sample Reviewer Sheet.
Announce the recipients
The review committee has made its decisions. You are now ready to announce the recipients of the grant awards! This should be done with as much fanfare as possible - ideally in the context of a community event. Invite the press, as it will help motivate recipients and generate good public relations for the program. Require all recipients be present. Ask the recipients to present their projects to, so that both can be introduced to the larger community.
Monitor the projects
Once the recipients have received their awards, it is up to the monitoring committee to meet with the micro-grant recipients and help keep the projects on course. One representative from the committee can be assigned to each project. That representative can provide technical assistance and moral support, as well as making sure that money is spent appropriately, etc. Some groups will have no problems whatsoever, while others may struggle mightily--most groups will fall somewhere in-between.
At this stage, the monitoring committee might wish to develop a written document (sometimes called a Memorandum of Agreement) for the micro-grant recipients to read and sign. This can help make expectations clear, and increase accountability all around.
Receive reports or finished work
In order for you to evaluate how well the micro-grants programs worked, the grant recipients should prepare a final report or product by a target date. Make sure you make this clear in your application guidelines and when you award the micro-grants, so recipients know about their obligations well in advance.
Evaluate your results
After the reports come in, it's a good time to take a step back and evaluate. How well did the micro-grant program work? Did it meet your expectations? Did the community benefits justify your time and money? What changes - in your guidelines, in your promotion, in your review process, or in your program monitoring - might make the micro-grant program more successful?
Very few programs run perfectly, especially the first time around. So it is natural to want to make some changes. Here is your chance to make them, so that the overall program will be stronger in the future. And then you are ready to...
Repeat the grant cycle
When you have made your corrections - and assuming that you have the desire and ability to keep your program going - you are now ready for another micro-grant cycle.
The grant cycle is the time from when your organization announces the availability of the micro-grants until the recipients are notified and awarded the grant. You could award micro-grants in several different application rounds and cycles. For example, two or three times a year. You will have to decide based on how much money you have available for this, and when your own funding for the micro-grant project might end.
The micro-grant cycle might take around four months to complete. Here is one possible timeline:
- Month One: Announce availability of micro-grants
- Month Two: Deadline for applications
- Month Three: Review of applications by review committee; funding decisions by the committee
- Month Four: Notify recipients and award grants
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (n.d.), CADCA Strategizer #8: Coalition micro-grant programs, Alexandria, VA.
Paine, A., Francisco, V., Fawcett, S. (1994). Assessing community health concerns and implementing a micro-grant program for self-help initiatives. American Journal of Public Health, 84,316-318.
Riessman, R. (1993). Putting it together: The safe roads success story. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.