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  Affiliation - Who Needs It?
Why Many Grants Call for Institutional Affiliation
  The Affiliation Continuum
  Conclusion: Individualism and the Grantseeker
  No One Works Alone
Guide to Fiscal Sponsorship and Affiliation

Why Many Grants Call for Institutional Affiliation

It is said that fewer than one out of ten foundations and very few government agencies are willing to consider proposals from individuals without institutional affiliation. Corporations are reluctant to make grants to individuals unless they are related to the corporation in some way and/or a direct line may be drawn to the best interests of a particular business. (And even then, most often these are treated as business expenses, not charitable contributions.) Even in cases where grants are made directly to individuals, there is often a nonprofit organization, institution, or university "hovering in the background" somewhere. Before you become discouraged by these facts, keep in mind that although at least 90% of all grants are awarded to organizations, many of these grants — and we don't really know how many — include hidden sponsoring arrangements whereby new groups and individuals qualify for funding under an established sponsor's name. If you were to catch sight of these donations in a grants list, you would have no way of knowing, for example, that the $5,000 grant to the Junior League was actually for one volunteer to complete and issue a booklet on local child-care services. Also there are countless grants and awards given directly to individuals without formal institutional affiliation, which have never been formally tabulated. Thus, the statistics regarding direct assistance to individuals may be somewhat misleading.

The main reason that funders — foundations, corporations, and government agencies — hesitate to give directly to individuals is simple: it costs too much to do so. Reportedly, it takes as much administrative time and work to award a $5,000 grant to one individual as a $500,000 grant to a university. The obvious administrative strategy to keep down the cost is to give a lump sum to one outstanding group (a sponsor) whose function it is to "pass [grant monies] on down the line."

A second reason that funders prefer affiliated applicants is that sponsors serve as a kind of buffer to dilute the funder's responsibility in case something goes wrong. Such responsibility is of particular concern to foundation administrators, whose programs of grants for individuals have been the subject of much Congressional scrutiny in the past. Most foundation grants are awarded to tax-exempt organizations, which in turn select individual recipients to participate in various programs. Foundation trustees thereby defuse their own responsibility for the selection and supervision of individual recipients and are not as answerable in a direct way to the Internal Revenue Service, even in the case in which grantees abscond or misuse the funds. Such cases are rare, indeed, but they have been known to happen. And when they do, they generate much unfortunate publicity.

In the field of scientific research, most grants are made to support the work of individuals. Yet almost without exception, these individuals have formal institutional affiliation of one sort or another. Hence, a third reason for the affiliation requirement: Sponsoring institutions provide a wide range of facilities, equipment, backup, and administrative services, unavailable to the individual lacking such affiliation. In today's technologically advanced society, many new ideas for scientific and other grant projects require relatively complicated procedures, too complex for one individual to conduct in his own surroundings without access to specialized facilities.

For these reasons, many funders (but certainly not all) have policies against direct grants to unaffiliated individuals. Individual applicants must apply under the auspices of a university, or other tax-exempt organization — that is to say, a sponsor. If the grant is approved, the funder's check is made out to the sponsoring organization, which in turn administers the project, doling out funds to the individual as needed and often deducting its own usually small administrative fee.

For the unaffiliated individual, these facts are not presented to discourage you. If you decide to apply on your own, it is important that you understand the traditional reasons that funders have preferred applicants with institutional affiliation. They are based on real constraints upon the funder and are not just arbitrary.

The lesson to be learned is that individuals who seek grants should be familiar with the many restrictions on such funds. If you can, by all means apply on your own, but concentrate on funders that have programs free from such constraints or find ways to work around them. If this is not possible, a small dose of institutional affiliation certainly cannot hurt you. As we will see, sponsors are not hard to find. In fact, you probably already are affiliated with some organization or agency that could perform this function for you. With a little ingenuity you can make it easier for a funder to give you a grant without compromising yourself or your ideas.

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