grants, nonprofit development, startup nonprofits

Can a grant pay for salaries?

Can a grant pay for salaries?

It is a question I get a lot, and like most things in the world of grants, the answer is….

it depends.

Here are some scenarios of when it is possible to fund employee salaries with grants, and when getting a grant to pay for salaries is simply not realistic:

You could PERHAPS get a grant to pay for an employee salary if…

  • You have been invited to submit a proposal by the funder. This means they know you, are familiar with your work, and want to support you.
  • The RFP (request for proposals) or grant opportunity description says the funds can be used for salaries.
  • The grant offers ‘operational support’. This is the gold standard of grants, as is it can be used at your discretion to support organizational needs, including staff member salaries.
  • You have at least five years of existence as a registered 501(c)3 organization
  • You have consistently delivered well-established programs with measurable, positive impacts on your constituents. The salary would help you do something bigger, better, or keep it going strong.
  • You have existing income streams to support the other costs of your organization. Funders do NOT want to support your organization, particularly when it comes to personnel.

You likely WILL NOT get a grant to pay for an employee salary if…

  • You are a start-up organization (especially within your first three years).
  • The grant is intended for program support (although sometimes salaries can be included as part of the overall program).
  • You have no data to prove that your program works and imparts positive impacts on those whom you serve.
  • You rely heavily on grants (over 30% of your operating budget).

While there are no hard rules, these are my general observations of what I have seen when it comes to successful requests for salaries….and unsuccessful requests.

Do not make a salary request your first grant request

It is my recommendation not to request funds to support salary expenses at all within the start-up period (the first five years). If you are a new organization just starting out, request funds to support a specific program, and ensure nearly 100% of the funds go directly to programmatic costs. Do as much as you can with volunteers and your Board of Directors for the first five years, then when you have proven results and a successful program, consider a salary request.



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