Many small neighborhood and grassroots non-profits need grants to continue their programs. Organizations with goals like improving the arts in a community, neighborhood and community building, and health programs often seem to be competing for the same limited number of dollars. If an organization is too small to hire a fulltime grant expert, it can be difficult to wade through the paperwork required to obtain those necessary grants.

A good idea is not enough to obtain a grant, and it takes organization, a strategy, and knowledge of the process to successfully apply for them, says Deborah Aubert Thomas, director of grants and programs for the Princeton Area Community Foundation.

To help local organizations apply for foundation-sponsored grants, PACF will offer free grant information sessions on Tuesday, August 26, and Friday, September 5, at 9 a.m. at the foundation’s offices at 15 Princess Road in Lawrenceville. For reservations call 609-219-1800. Attendance is not required to apply for PACF-sponsored grants.

Thomas joined the foundation in February after a stint with the Institute for Women’s Leadership, Rutgers University, and Girls Incorporated, a national youth development organization. But work in grant funding was not always her dream, in fact, she says, a pair of pantyhose is responsible for her move to the non-profit world.

A native of Brooklyn, Thomas graduated with a degree in marketing and communication from the Fashion Institute of Technology-SUNY in 1989 and began her career working on a fashion magazine. “One day I found I was totally stressing about finding the right color pantyhose for a fashion shoot, when I stopped and said to myself, ‘This is so not it! I want to do something that matters in the world.’”

She returned to school and received a master’s degree in nonprofit management from the New School University in New York and began her new career with a position with Women in Philanthropy. “That is where I really became interested in working in the area of philanthropy, but I also found that most people come to this area after working in several other positions first.”

Thomas also holds a master’s in media, culture, and communications from New York University, which she obtained in 2003.

The Community Foundation, created in 1991, “exists to encourage charitable giving and make philanthropy a shared community value across central New Jersey,” explains Thomas. The organization manages more than 200 charitable funds created by community members, each with its own grant focus. Grants are awarded specifically for non-profits with 501(c)3 corporation status as well as neighborhood associations in any Mercer County community, as well as communities surrounding Mercer in Hunterdon, Somerset, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Burlington Counties.

Last week PACF announced its latest round of awards, which have provided more than $400,000 to 27 nonprofits since January. The foundation has granted $30,000 to each of the following agencies:

New Jersey Future to address the obstacles to building vibrant, compact, economically diverse communities in the Route One corridor by devising strategies to implement regional planning.

Thomas Edison State College Foundation to support Leadership Trenton.

The foundation granted $25,000 to:

Housing & Community Development Network to provide training and support to strengthen the network, focus its policy agenda, and increase its impact on local, state, and federal legislation.

Trenton Downtown Association to build community in Mercer County through educational and recreational events.

It granted $15,000 to :

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer County, to provide long-term one-to-one mentoring.

Boys & Girls Club of Trenton/Mercer County to expand and enhance the Club’s Career Launch Project which offers youth job-readiness skills, internship experiences, job placement, and career/educational planning.

Catholic Youth Organization of Mercer to support CYO’s Trenton Center non-school hours enrichment program.

Crawford House to provide individualized addiction treatment services for women

Crisis Ministry of Princeton and Trenton to provide emergency rent/mortgage and security deposit assistance

Greater Trenton Area YMCA for gang reduction programs.

Isles Ready, Set, Grow! program to improve child nutrition.

Lawrence Neighborhood Services Center to provide instruction, mentoring, and tutoring of children in after-school programs.

Lawrence Non-Profit Housing, to support after-school and summer enrichment programs at Eggerts Crossing Village.

Literacy Volunteers in Mercer County to support Basic Literacy and English for Speakers of Other Languages instruction.

McCarter Theatre to provide arts education to students in Mercer County Schools.

Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness to refocus community investment from emergency and transitional shelter to prevention and rapid settlement in permanent housing.

Mount Carmel Guild of Trenton to support the Emergency Assistance program

Princeton Adult School to support English for speakers of other languages courses.

Princeton Outreach Projects to support the Trenton After School Program.

Trinity Counseling Service to expand the Childhood Intervention Initiative

Ujima Ministries to provide computer instruction and meals for clients, many of whom are homeless.

The foundation also granted $10,000 to each of the following organizations:

Child Care Connection to develop and implement an oral health education program for child care providers in the Trenton area.

Community Action Service Center to support the Summer Academic Enrichment Program.

Greater Mercer TMA to support a community-based transportation program for Mercer County senior citizens and visually-impaired adults.

Young Scholars’ Institute to support four pre-college enrichment programs offered to Trenton area youth.

New Jersey SEEDS to help motivated, high-achieving 7th and 8th grade Mercer County students attend independent schools.

Princeton Senior Resource Center to introduce the newest generation of “seniors” to retirement issues, including time management, relationship changes, and finances, emphasizing the ways that civic engagement replaces the five functions of work.

The grants were made possible through local donors including the Harbourton Foundation, Tristan Beplat Fund, Charles L. and Ann Lee Brown Fund, Blair Family Fund, Jane M. Campbell Fund, Community Foundation Founders Fund, Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Fund, Leroy E. “Brick” Purvis Charitable Fund, Barbara B. Smoyer Memorial Fund, Marjorie R. Smoyer Fund, Stanley C. Smoyer Fund, Frank E. Taplin, Jr. Fund, Trenton Fund, Weymar Fund, Whitehead Fund, and the Willy N. Fund

Along with agency funds, the foundation also administers “donor advisor funds.” These are funds set up by private individuals with the goal of supporting a specific type of charitable work. “Our organization invests the money so that it grows and the donor then advises how the grants for that particular fund are to be made.”

Thomas is proud of the fact that less than 2 percent of the foundation’s assets are used for administration and investment management. “That puts 98 cents of every dollar directly to work for charitable purposes,” she says. Last year, the Community Foundation awarded approximately $2.5 million in grants.

While the information sessions at the foundation are geared specifically toward applying for foundation grants, much of the information can be applied to grant applications for any foundation, says Thomas.

Do your homework. The first step in applying for a grant is to research the organization you are applying to and make sure that it funds your specific program area. For example, one focus of the foundation is programs in low-income neighborhoods. A grant for this type of program would have a good chance of success.

Grant writers should also be aware of the geographic location for a foundation. Some organizations fund grants only for a specific region while other organizations have a national focus. Another tip, she mentioned, is to make sure that the dollar amount you are asking for is within the size of grants the foundation you are applying to funds. For instance, if your project has a $100,000 budget, but the foundation only funds grant up to $50,000 you will have less chance of receiving an award.

Submit only what is requested. You may have applied to other organization for grants, but each foundation has its own forms and wants to see information in a specific format, says Thomas. “Don’t just submit a past proposal. Even if you have all of the material gathered for a different organization, read the information for the next foundation carefully and follow the instructions,” she says. Submitting the wrong information will quickly move your grant application to the bottom of the pile.

Don’t miss a deadline. The Princeton Area Community Foundation has two deadlines per year, in September and April. Other organizations may have one or more deadlines, but check each foundation you plan to apply to, to make sure that your work is submitted on time. There are too many other groups that will have their proposals submitted by the deadline, submitting late will usually mean that your proposal won’t even be considered, says Thomas.

Tight funding at many non-profits means that searching for outside funding sources through grants is necessary to meet the needs of clients and to develop new programs. To be successful, grant writers must keep in mind the need to match the program with the interests of the foundation they are applying to, as well as to make sure that they completely and accurately fill out any of the materials the foundation requests.

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