The Complete Guide to Finding and Winning Travel Grants

by Preethi Burkholder Aug 29, 2007

GRANTS ARE AWARDED for travel research, humanitarian work, airfare, lodging, education, career advancement, and to cover living expenses while you are in another country.

I have won many grants to do humanitarian work in Sri Lanka. Through grants I have helped build homes for tsunami victims, started a guava jam project, and bought books and pencils for children in low income areas.

The grant proposal is the basic document that enables applicants to get money. First off, there are three types of grant proposals:

  • A Letter of Inquiry (LOI) – A letter of inquiry is a one to two page summary that outlines the project. Funders request a brief description of the project before making a decision on whether to ask for a longer and more comprehensive proposal.
  • Letter Proposal – A letter proposal is a three to five page description of the project plan, the purpose for which funds are being sought, and background information on the applicant requesting funds.
  • Long Proposal – The most common document that funders seek is the long proposal. The long proposal is three to ten pages long. It contains the cover letter and the proposal summary accompanying it. The common format includes a need statement, goals and objectives, methods, budget, and evaluation.

Knowing where to look for money is key. Researching funders that are likely to give money to carry out your work requires time, patience, and perseverance.

Always remember to look at the funder’s current guidelines. Grant profiles, contact information, and funding criteria change frequently. The internet is an excellent source to look for funders.

You are likely to find the most current information available online, simply because web sites are easier to update than print publications.

How To Research Funders

Researching the right places is a critical component of increasing your chances of winning a grant for emergency expenses. The research phase is fun but requires patience.

If you have a family member or a friend who is willing to perform a good-will hunting on your behalf, you are likely to save a lot of time, energy, and effort. The reality, however, is that you are the most likely person to do the best job of researching potential foundations that are likely to cover emergency living expenses.

Get started here: The Foundation Center

This is the first place to begin your research on private foundations, community foundations, and corporate giving in any part of the country.

The Foundation Center Online provides links to individual foundations’ websites, offers news about foundations and giving trends, links to research materials, links to foundations’ 990 tax forms, and much more.

If you want to look at private foundations go to the home page and click on “Grantmaker Websites,” then click on “Private Foundations.”

National Funders – Where To Look

Expand your funding hunt to national sources as well. Here are some excellent sources:

  • The Federal Register – When it comes to finding federal grant opportunities the first step is to go to the source: the Federal Register Online. The Federal Register is the official daily record of all meetings, notices, regulations, and other functions of the federal government.
  • Grants.Gov is a centralized grant site for the federal government. The home page has a link to grant opportunities released during the previous week.
  • Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) – The Catalog online is searchable by a variety of categories and key words. Click on “Search for Assistance Programs” on the Home Page to get to the search page. Then click on “Find a Grant.” This brings you to a list of categories, each of which has its own subcategories. Each subcategory has a number of grant programs.

When dealing with any funder, remember to read the instructions carefully before applying. Simple as it may sound, this advice is very important. Because grant makers receive so many applications, they are often quick to discard those that do not strictly comply with their instructions.

You may have excellent grant proposal writing skills and an uncanny ability to submit award winning proposals, but if you don’t know how to read the guidelines and obey them, the likelihood of winning funding is slim.

Ten years ago hard copies of directories were the standard method of hunting for grants. They are still widely used, but the internet is gaining more popularity when it comes to researching funders. Sometimes the internet version is more up to date than hard copies, which are only published once a year.

How To Evaluate A Potential Travel Grant

Look at each individual foundation’s profile. Most foundation listings are profiled as follows:

  • Eligibility: Tells if individuals or organizations can apply.
  • Funding Criteria: gives an indication of how large or how small the grants are. Some give a range, such as grants between $10,000-$500,000 are awarded
  • Restrictions: tells the categories of support
  • Contact Address: tells you who and where to contact to receive an application form.
  • Areas of Funding: tells the fields that the foundation prefers to fund.
  • Submission: tells how applicants can submit their work, whether by regular mail, e-mail, fax, or hand delivery
  • Deadline: tells when the applications are due.
  • Purpose of the foundation: You also want to make sure they share an interest in your project. Do they target a location? Check for geographic priorities. If the foundation only makes local grants and your organization is on the other side of the state cross its name off your list. If the foundation makes national grants, your project must have national importance if it is to be considered.
  • Limitations: Look at the restrictions or limitations. Statements of limitations include “grant funds are generally limited to charitable organizations already favorably known to the foundation,” and/or “grant funds are committed.” Both statements mean the same thing, that the foundation already is working with established organizations and committed money to those same organizations year after year.

Sample Guidelines for Grant Applicants

Guidelines vary from funder to funder. Some are very basic while others are more complex. Here are three sample guidelines taken from private and federal funders:

Sample Guidelines #1

To apply to the foundation, please submit a three-page application. Applications over three pages will not be considered. Electronic submissions in Microsoft word or PDF formats are also accepted.

On the first two pages include the following:

  • 1. Title of the project
  • 2. A brief (two sentence) description of the project
  • 3. Overall objective and significance of and benefit from your project
  • 4. Clearly and in detail set forth the specific goals of your project, how you will accomplish these goals, and the time frame for the project. The foundation will primarily focus on stated goals and the plan to accomplish them in reviewing all requests
  • 5. On a separate single page please provide:
    • a. The dollar amount requested and the specific budget for the project and its justification.
      The foundation generally does not provide funds for organization overhead, routine equipment, standard photographic equipment or personal computers. Any related funding, active or pending, including “in-kind” funds should be explicitly described including the budget.
    • b. The applicant’s name, address, and phone number
    • c. Any affiliations of the applicant
    • d. Identify all previous requests to the foundation

Use regular mail. Do not use a mail service that requires staff signature.

Debunking Travel Grant Writing Myths

Myths about grant writing can derail even the most skilled and motivated grant seekers. Don’t fall for the traps carefully laid out by a few self-seeking individuals.

Here are some myths to watch out for. Buying into any of these myths can keep success at arm’s length for many grant writers.

Myth #1: If you Craft an Excellent Proposal, You will Always get Funded

Not exactly. Even if a grant writer submits an exceptionally persuasive grant proposal, there is always the likelihood of a funder rejecting it.

The grant proposal is not the only factor that determines whether or not a proposal is funded. Most established grant writers would agree that the success of grant proposals depends on four factors:

  • 1. The quality of the nonprofit organization
  • 2. The innovative nature or critical importance of the proposed project
  • 3. The emerging priorities of a funding source or the competition level in a particular grantmaking cycle
  • 4. The skills of the grantwriter in building a compelling case. No matter how carefully and strategically a proposal is prepared, these other factors impact the outcome

Myth #2: There is No Money Available.

This is not true. Billions of dollars are waiting to be claimed.

Furthermore, those who are entrusted with dispersing this money are just as eager to give it away as organizations and individuals are to receive it.

With philanthropists like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Warren Buffet giving away billions of dollars in grants, the grant writing well is flowing quite strongly.

Myth #3: The Money Only Goes to Big, Prestigious Institutions; Not to Individuals or to Small Nonprofits

Wrong again. It is true that over ninety percent of grants are given to nonprofits and that individual applicants qualify only for a meager sliver of funding.

It is also true that enormous amounts of money are given to the same institutions, year after year. However, these reasons do not mean that small institutions and individuals do not qualify for grants.

Small institutions and people who are “unknown” to the general public are getting hundreds of millions of dollars too. Knowing where to look for them is key.

Myth #4: Successful Grant Seeking Requires Connections

Connections can help but they are not required. Connections may play a role in federal grants but private foundations are open to applications from anyone who fits the guidelines.

Myth #5: The Contact Information of Funders is Usually Kept a Secret

Far from it. By law, philanthropic organizations and federal funders are required to make their charity giving public knowledge. The 990PF reports are the tax returns filed by private foundations.

Legally, nonprofits are required to disclose their tax returns to the public, interested in learning about their grant giving trends. Knowing how to research funders is important.

Preethi Burkholder is a professional grant writer and author of ten books.

Discover Matador