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Magazines > Searcher > November/December 2003
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Vol. 11 No. 10 — Nov/Dec 2003
Library Grant Money on the Web: A Resource Primer
By Bill Becker

What if a library — a public, academic, school, government, special, private/corporate, or research library — seeks corporate, foundation, individual, or government grants? How can a professional searcher help?

What if the library in which you work, or one which you service as a client, asks you to search for relevant funding sources on its behalf? Or a fundraising staff member of your local public library or an associated friends group or foundation asks your assistance? How do you find grant money for libraries on the Web?

The Role of Grant Money in Libraries

More than ever, librarians must "do more with less" from their traditional funding sources. In the case of public libraries, municipal funding has been slashed. Public librarians must now increase services while decreasing budgets, looking beyond their usual sources of support for both operating expenses and specific programs/projects (usually for outreach or literacy).

But some librarians take exception to the expanding role of outside grants and donations. They warn library staff, patrons, friends, and community leaders to first address the issue of the proper role of grant money in the library budget. To them, each library's community of trustees, staff, users, and friends must first determine the limited ends for which they will seek and use grant money, and when, under what circumstances, and for what purposes, they will definitely NOT seek or use it.

Eliciting grant money seems innocuous enough. Grant money is more money in the till, as author Steve Coffman noted in the September 2002 issue of American Libraries. To Coffman, public libraries should become more like public broadcasters — e.g., NPR and PBS — in terms of fundraising. That is, they should become active outreachers and solicitors of outside money.

But, opponents argue that, at least in the case of public libraries, outside funding invariably depreciates government funding. Applying for grants, soliciting donations — basically obtaining gobs of outside money — could eventually drive away government funds. According to these naysayers, libraries should not act like NPR/PBS — submitting grant proposals, soliciting donations, fishing liberally on the outside among patrons — lest it become impossible for them to rely on government funding later.

A former public and corporate librarian, who declined to be named for this article, said of outside funding, "One morning you wake up and you've got McLibrary. But it's come at a cost to local government's 'sponsorship.' Before long, the 'public' in 'public library' becomes lost or obscured. Government takes its money and runs. Now you're back to where you started. Only now you've got individuals and corporate bigwigs in place, but for who knows how long."

Lately, some NPR and PBS stations have dropped corporate sponsorship, although maintaining several forms of voluntary funding throughout their network. The same former corporate and public librarian answers Coffman's argument as follows: "Where NPR/PBS get their money back is from syndicating to the different PBS stations. They can put on a show that libraries can't, and this makes a big difference. If someone's flipping by on channels, they'll see it. A library hardly has that kind of built-in audience. To make fundraising work, a library has to find some reason, some place to scrounge up contributors. For serious fundraising, the library must wean itself from lesser forms like used book sales, bake sales, etc."

Public library patrons in particular have been taught to expect that a city will provide library or information services, along with essential services like fire and police. Thus, for overhead, and ongoing day-to-day working expenses and operations, public librarians should look to traditional sources. "You don't want to reach a point where librarians feel that they MUST have outside funds," said one source. "If a library goes in applying for money competing with organizations serving the homeless or victims of AIDS for grants — that's gotta be tough going." Thus, at least for public libraries, grant money should primarily focus on "extras, things that have a built-in sunset factor, activities and programs for which it can be said 'You do it once, it's done, and it stays done.'"

Resources I: AFP, the Foundation Center, TGCI, CNM

The chief professional association for fundraisers, and hence for grant-seeking professionals working across the spectrum of nonprofits, is the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), formerly the National Society of Fund Raising Executives (NSFRE), at offers sections on ethics, public policy, publications (including AFP's online bookstore), professional advancement, local chapters, jobs, and youth in philanthropy (along with a member gateway/dashboard).

The AFP has also listed certain organizations and their Web sites as among the top basic resources for grant-seekers in public, private, and academic institutions. Among these, one stands out in visibility and reputation: The Foundation Center [], which publishes the revered Foundation Directory.

The Foundation Center's site is perhaps the best-known resource for the grant-seeker or grantwriter, comprising a grantwriting database, thorough search engine, and potent user interface. The site is highly developed and useful. Fee-based areas enhance its utility for grantwriters. Some entities maintain a subscription at the cost of several hundred dollars per year.

The Foundation Center is a good first destination on behalf of a patron or client. The fee-based areas certainly cost money, but the site's utility is manifest. It is a good place for almost any searcher to start a quest to find grantmakers. Once at the site, one can click on links to the Web sites of foundations, corporations, individual and family trusts, and even those of other libraries and educational entities.

A recent search of the Foundation Directory returned more than 1,450 foundation listings covering libraries by type (public=451) and generally (>1,000 under library/library science). The latter results are too numerous to help the typical searcher, but using narrower, more specific search terms will trim away the quantity of results. For example, "librarians/librarianship" returned only three results — either because Foundation Center operatives only recently added those descriptors to the database's indexing thesaurus, or because the descriptors were about to be dropped. The results of the second search were as follows:

1) 3/6/1


ID NO. AMER411 EI NO. 362166947

American Library Association

2) 3/6/2


ID NO. CLEV021 EI NO. 341431418

Cleveland Education Fund

3) 3/6/3


ID NO. GEOR048 EI NO. 510180861

Georgia Humanities Council

(Formerly Georgia Endowment for the Humanities)

Other general fundraising or grantwriting sites listed by the AFP include the Grantsmanship Center []; the Center for Nonprofit Management []; the Rochester Grantmakers' Forum []; and the Taft Group [].

Many resources bill themselves as guides to locating grants. But most merely list foundations or general fundraising sites. The Web boasts both diverse and focused resources — resources of potentially greater or lesser use and benefit to libraries, especially public libraries, which more routinely and urgently seek supplemental funding, owing to their outreach, education, and community service programs. Success hinges, too, on the art of grantwriting; a researcher is well advised to access a diversity of grantwriting resources on the Web.

The Four Questions

Each grant researcher starts with four questions: 1) From what grantors (i.e., among those whose mission more or less relates to the library's intended use of new funds) is money available to a library or library organization? 2) How much money is available from each? 3) What is the annual cycle of proposal submission and program reporting deadlines? 4) What are each grantor's requirements for submitting grant proposals?

Below are Web resources that can help answer these queries. They are broken down into the following categories (with examples given of each): 1) professional, "trade," or scholarly associations supporting libraries and education; 2) federal government or federal government-related databases/sites; 3) general fundraising organizations; 4) grantor sites — foundations, corporations, individual and family trusts; 5) recipient sites — those of other libraries and educational institutions; and 6) miscellaneous sites offering guides and lists.

Professional/Trade Association Lists/Sites

The preeminent trade group for libraries and librarians, boasting a membership of approximately 60,000, is the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA qualifies as both a resource organization and a funder/grantor. The complete list of its awards, grants and scholarships can be found at Basically, assistance is granted for projects/programs falling into five categories: diversity; continuous learning and education; equality of access; intellectual freedom; and literacy.

One of ALA's major divisions is the Library Administration and Management Association (LAMA). LAMA's fundraising and financial development section (FRFDS) can be found at A list of relevant Web sites, "Selected World Wide Web Sites for Library Grants and Fundraising," divided into nine categories, is at

Here one can also subscribe to the FRFDS-L listserv, a moderated discussion list, long-established and well known. It focuses on fundraising and resource development issues, serving as an exchange for ideas, information, and techniques. Topics include grantsmanship; foundation, trust, and endowment development/administration; annual giving/direct mail programs; and capital campaign planning-implementation.

Another important ALA listserv is the ALA Washington Office Newsline (ALAWON). It covers a wide range of federal government activities of relevance and moment to librarians, including newly available grants, fellowships, and scholarships. ALAWON's subscription page is located at

Finally, an important non-ALA listserv, covering all aspects of fundraising for fundraising professionals, is FUNDLIST. This is an online forum for discussion of fundraising issues maintained by Steve Hirby, director of development at Lawrence University and administered by Johns Hopkins University. To subscribe, send an e-mail to with "subscribe fundlist yourname" in the body, leaving the subject blank and omitting all e-mail addresses from the body.

Another "trade" association is the American Educational Research Association (AERA), which strives to improve the educational process by encouraging scholarly inquiry related to education. Its mission includes innovative library services.

AERA's grant page lies at AERA offers a comprehensive program of scholarly publications, training, fellowships, and meetings to advance educational research, disseminate knowledge, and improve education's capacity to benefit society. It is affiliated with U.S. Department of Education organs such as the Institute for Educational Sciences (IES — successor since 2002 to the department's Office of Educational Research and Improvement).

Less a professional or trade association than a special interest group is the Texas Center for Adult Literacy and Learning (TCALL, formerly the Texas Literacy Resource Center, TLRC, part of Texas A&M's educational development department). Its server's Web address is The Center has prepared and compiled a guide to grant proposal writing that will prove useful to many librarians. The guide covers such topics as developing proposal ideas, grantwriting tips, and follow-ups to applications.

Government Grant-Related Sites

U.S. government agencies have long served as a source of library funding through agencies such as the IES. The IES Web page at offers descriptions of grant programs and states who may apply for them and the procedures to follow.

Another federal government source is the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) []. The NEH is a federal agency that supports learning and library projects in the humanities. Its Web site provides online grant application materials, schedules and deadlines, and basic information as to what the agency funds, who is eligible, and how to apply.

Other government agencies known to have assisted libraries are the National Science Foundation (science and technology programs) at and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) at

Other federal grant-related sites include the Federal Grants Register []; Tram []; FundsNet (pay site­$45/year) []; the Federal Money Retriever (pay site­$40/year) []; the Internet Nonprofit Center []; and Grants Web [].

One example of a useful state government-related grant site is Grants Action News []. Here, one can download a monthly newsletter from the New York State Assembly offering sections on institutional eligibility, funding levels, deadlines, and other information pertaining to New York state — even federal — grants. One issue offered information on consultation grants for museums, libraries, and special projects; available support for a documentary heritage program; available funds for records management improvement aimed at local government; challenge grants to fund special initiatives in local history; and grants for state historic preservation, as well as available grantwriting resources.

Fundraisers distinguish carefully between corporate/foundation grantmaking on the one hand, and government grantmaking on the other. The two channels offer two separate application processes that usually, in turn, involve different funding cycles. There are other distinctions, too. The reporting requirements for government grants can be quite burdensome. Still, government grants can be big money sources.

General Fundraising Sites

An important online resource that helps the grant-seeking researcher get up and running is the Evergreen State Society's nonprofit frequently asked questions (FAQ) file []. The file contains research and discussions of grants/grant-seeking from the old Usenet group SOC.ORG.NONPROFIT's FAQs File: Grantseeking and Grantwriting. It provides answers to FAQs encountered by the group. Professionals in the field provide answers and typically render sound advice.

Grantor (Corporate/ Foundation) Sites

Perhaps the best-known source of philanthropy for librarians and liberal arts/literacy educators is the Carnegie Corporation of New York []. The corporation carries forward the legacy of Andrew W. Carnegie, the turn-of-the-century steel magnate who endowed scores of public libraries across the U.S. and essentially created the "free library" system.

Carnegie continues to give sums to large municipal and university-based libraries, including national and university libraries in developing countries. A search on the site's database of grants awarded since 1990, using the descriptors "library/libraries," revealed that approximately 125 grants were made, ranging in size from $7,500 to $1 million or more.

The beneficiaries were institutions ranging from university libraries in New York to public central libraries in New York, San Francisco, and Baltimore, U.S. presidential libraries, and national and/or university libraries in less-developed countries such as Botswana, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

As with any dynamic nonprofit, Carnegie's mission is evolving — specifically into one that directly addresses areas beyond libraries and information access, such as education (in particular, urban school reform, literacy, higher education, teacher education, and the liberal arts), international peace and security, international development, and U.S. democracy.

One of the foundations with which Carnegie works hand in hand, especially to foster urban school reform, is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — another foundation fabled for its largesse to education in general and to libraries in particular.

Gates' Microsoft Corporation realizes much of its profit from education and the information industry. The Gates Foundation returns Gates' exquisite wealth to society in the name of, principally, enhancing access to public libraries, their computers, and their networks, including the Internet, by patrons living in low-income and disadvantaged areas. According to information at, by the end of 2003, the Gates Foundation will have funded the installation of approximately 40,000 public access computers in nearly10,000 libraries across all 50 states, to the tune of $250 million. The installations include hands-on training and ongoing technical assistance.

Gates also funds international library initiatives. Under the banner of helping foreign libraries "improve individual lives through information and technology," the Foundation has supported efforts to bring public access computers to libraries in Mexico ($30 million), Canada ($18.2 million), Chile ($9.2 million), and other countries, as well as to 161 Native American sites domestically ($8 million). However, these programs may offer individual libraries little direct assistance from the Foundation: For example, in Chile, the Foundation partnered with government, business, and more than nine Chilean nonprofits to equip all 368 of the country's libraries with free, unfettered Internet access.

In the late 1990s, several public libraries received cash grants for education and community service from the AT&T Foundation []. AT&T offers grants to an array of nonprofit institutions besides libraries. As another example, the Westinghouse Charitable Giving Program also has grants for non-profits, including libraries, especially for education and community service. Go to, a page that covers the program's mission, areas of support, guidelines, restrictions, and application process.

A slew of corporate grantmakers are listed at Foundations sites tend to feature lists of recipient institutions (recipients must be listed on a foundation's state and federal tax returns in any case). Grantwriters and funding researchers, armed with the name of specific corporations, foundations, trusts, or individuals who have recently made the news or otherwise attracted their attention, can go to specific donors' sites to investigate.

Recipient (Library/Institute) Sites

Why go to another library's or educational institution's site? To peel the onion, open doors within doors, expose the successive iterations of a Chinese doll. Invariably, the Web sites of institutions similar to one's own reveal the source of their funds. You can determine whether your own facility or institution should make an application to the sources listed by the instant recipient library or institute. That a library or institute should list its benefactors should really come as no surprise. It's "part of the deal"— in the same way that on university campuses, buildings and facilities are named for the generous donors who made them possible.

A funding searcher's typical canvass of recipient sites might be as follows: 1) go to the Foundation Center site, doing a subject search of grantors' interests based on the type of agency he/she represents; 2) find the names of relevant grant-giving foundations, corporations, and trusts; 3) go to their sites using the links to the listed recipients of their grants; 4) once at the agencies' sites, find yet other foundations, corporations, and trusts relevant to their service mission and with a proven granting history to a like agency; for whatever reason, there are scores of potential funding sources that may not have been listed initially after a "subject" — i.e., mission — search on the Foundation Center database. "You can get lists and resources from agencies doing much the same thing in the way of service to society as yours does," said Cortney Peterson Morris, a development associate at AbilityFirst, a non-profit for those with disabilities located in Pasadena, California.

Books, Booklists, Bibliographies.

What about books, booklists, and bibliographies on the Web? Flintridge's course manuals, from its grass-roots grantwriting seminars, are found on many such lists and are well regarded. So are the Center for Nonprofit Management's resources and the books required for its array of respected courses on grantwriting and fundraising.

Better-known books on research familiar to university librarians also have a role: Seasoned grantwriters have generally cut their teeth on them, working on research projects undertaken much earlier, as undergraduates or graduates in the arts and social sciences. Books on research process and standard style guides, such as the American Psychological Association (APA) style manual and The Chicago Manual of Style, should occupy due space on the bookshelves of professional grant-seekers.

Ready, Set, Go

Clearly the Web provides a reservoir of instrumental fundraising and grantwriting information for librarians. At the very least, looking for money on the Web is a great way to "productify" interstitial time between duties and tasks. Using the Web in this way cuts down on the grunt work necessary by all involved in garnering supplemental funds for libraries: librarians, grantwriters, outside fundraisers, research assistants.

As usual, however, the new technology simultaneously throws down a gauntlet. These functionaries must scope potential resources more thoroughly and carefully than ever, so as not to miss the one source that can conceivably come through big time, the diamond in the rough.

But who better than the professional searcher, in the form of a librarian or not, to rise to this challenge, benefiting libraries and their very deserving programs, projects, and services for their equally deserving user communities and constituencies?



Bill Becker has served as communications manager at AbilityFirst, a social service agency in Pasadena, and as marketing director of Becker& Hayes, Inc., a library/facility planning consulting firm. Recently he authored National Security, one of 40 volumes in Gale's Information Plus series. He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna and Yale colleges.
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