Grant money can be pot at rainbow’s end providing much-needed funding

Keep abreast of funding source’s mission, goals, and deadlines

The time to start looking for grant money is not when you need it, says Cathy D. Meade, RN, PhD, education program director and associate professor at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Do the groundwork ahead of time, she advises. Assemble a list of the different grant sources that fund patient education projects. Then familiarize yourself with each organization’s mission and goals.

Make note of any and all restrictions on funding, says Annette Mercurio, MPH, CHES, director of health education services at City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, CA. For example, some organizations won’t fund equipment, such as computers, while others won’t fund personnel. One organization might fund prevention education, while another funds basic research. "Learn what each new source is interested in funding," Mercurio says.

About 50% of the work of grant writing is done up front researching grant sources to determine which ones are worth pursuing, says Susan M. Bryant, MEd, vice president of development for the Egleston Scottish Rite Foundation in Atlanta. Spend time surfing the Web, she advises. Many of the government agencies and foundations that have grants available post that information on Web sites. Other sites provide links to grant sources and information on the application process.

For example, the Web site of the Foundation Center ( provides links to different funding sources and information and analyses on funding trends. (For more addresses of useful Web sites, see the resources listed on p. 136.)

Jane Chelf, MDiv, RN, patient educator at Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in Rochester, MN, regularly looks for grant sources on the Internet. When she finds a source she wants to monitor, she bookmarks the source’s site so she can visit it regularly. It’s important to monitor the sites for new requests for applications or changes in the organization’s funding processes and goals. It’s frustrating to learn about a grant source that’s perfect for a project you are working on only to discover that the deadline has passed, says Chelf.

It can take months to write a grant, so lead time is important. When Chelf wrote a grant for a health literacy project, it took three months because she had to do an exhaustive literature review. "The grant application was in addition to everything else I do every day. I advise anyone who is planning on writing a grant to set aside time to work on it," she advises.

In addition to the Internet, many public and academic libraries have grant manuals that provide details on the application process for each organization. Librarians can guide patient education managers to these resources, says Bryant.

If a patient education manager is located near a college or university, Bryant advises meeting with someone at the development office to discuss resources for finding grants. "Even a local community college might be able to make recommendations on research," Bryant says.

Staff at the development offices of nonprofit institutions have a lot of knowledge about foundations and the types of projects they fund, says Mercurio. Therefore, she keeps in close contact with the development staff at The City of Hope. "If someone at your institution is already investigating foundations, it will save you time," she adds.

Mercurio put together a list of projects she wants funded and gave it to the development office. The list provides detailed information. For example, she wrote that her department could use another person for the telephone information service, and the funding need was $65,000 to cover salary and benefits.

Also, when Mercurio created the planning committee for the patient and caregiver resource center, she included a development director so the development office staff would be familiar with the project goals. The committee also developed a proposal so the center’s goals and services were in writing for the development staff to refer to when they approached a potential funding source. During the two years the resource center has been operating, Mercurio has kept her contact in the development office updated.

As a result of these efforts, the development director uncovered a foundation interested in family caregiver issues. Mercurio was asked to quickly write a two-paragraph proposal outlining funding ideas, which the development office then polished to obtain a $20,000 grant for the purchase of equipment for the center.

"It’s important to communicate with the development staff about the programs and activities you are trying to expand and create," says Mercurio.

In addition to building relationships within your institution’s development office, build a relationship with the grant source whenever possible, advises Bryant. If the foundation is local, meet with either the grants person or the president of the foundation to discuss their requirements. Come prepared with a proposal and be able to give detailed answers to any questions, such as who will be tracking the grant and how reports will be submitted.

There isn’t an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with key people at national foundations, so the first impression will be the proposal itself. "What counts in these situations is the quality of the proposal," says Bryant.

Follow the criteria for the written proposal and resist the temptation to be creative and deviate from the instructions, she advises. Although parts of the application may not seem relevant to the project, the grant proposal could be rejected if it is not completed in full. (For tips on writing the grant, see article on p. 134.)

When an organization issues a request for application, it will often identify a contact person, says Meade. Contact this person and explain your idea to see if it is a good fit. "They will never tell you if your project can get funded, but they will provide some helpful suggestions and tell you if it is in line with what they are funding," she explains.

Also, if you discover that a grant source has funded something in your interest area, such as smoking cessation, find out who the investigator for the grant was and call that person, advises Meade. Ask him or her to give you some direction on your project idea, she says.

Have your idea well thought out before approaching funding sources. Meade suggests you write a two- to three-page position paper or abstract on your project. Also, a track record is beneficial because it shows that the grant seeker can provide oversight, especially if you are trying to obtain large sums of money. She suggests grant seekers first apply for small grants to establish a track record.

While preparation is key, once a suitable grant source is discovered it’s important to make the commitment to the application process. The biggest obstacle is having the confidence to get started, says Chelf. (See profile of a successful grant seeker, p. 135.)

(Editor’s note: This article is the first of a two-part series on alternative funding sources. Next month, we will discuss the search for corporate support for educational needs.)


For more information on obtaining grants for patient education projects, contact:

Susan M. Bryant, MEd, Vice President of Development for the Egleston Scottish Rite Foundation, 975 Johnson Ferry Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30342. Telephone: (404) 250-2909. Fax: (404) 250-2356.

Jane Chelf, MDiv, RN, Patient Educator, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, 200 First St. SW, Rochester, MN 55905. Telephone: (507) 284-0433. Fax: (507) 284-1544. E-mail:

Cathy D. Meade, RN, Director of Education Program and Associate Professor, H. Lee Moffitt Center and Research Institute of the University of South Florida, 12902 Magnolia Drive, Tampa, FL 33612. Telephone: (813) 632-1414. Fax: (813) 6332-1334. E-mail:

Annette Mercurio, MPH, CHES, Director of Health Education Services, City of Hope National Medical Center, 1500 East Duarte Road, Duarte, CA 91010-0269.

Ana Soler, CI, Medical Interpreter and Translator, Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Center, 1001 Johnson Ferry Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30342. Telephone: (404) 250-2877. Fax: (404) 250-2629. E-mail: