In addition to simply being places of worship, churches have long undertaken charitable efforts within the communities they serve. Churches and faith-based organizations work with at-risk children, operate homeless shelters and feed the hungry through food pantries and meal programs. Some provide counseling and assistance to victims of domestic violence and others work with those struggling with substance abuse. In all these cases, churches can apply for grant funding from the federal government and private foundations that support these types of programs.
There is nothing that stops a church or faith-based organization from applying for federal or foundation funding, but a misconception exists that the grants that are available to non-profit organizations that work in their communities are not open to similar faith-based programs due to their religious affiliation. As one of the first executive orders of the Bush Presidency, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was created to address that misconception and ensure participation by the faith-based community in federal programs. Under the Obama Administration, the office changed its name to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and continues to involve faith-based programs in its overall mix of providing federally-funded social services.
While there is no difference between a faith-based organization and a non-profit organization in the eyes of government and foundation grant makers, most grants are issued through a competitive process and there is no guaranteed funding for faith-based initiatives. Funding is usually awarded to whatever organization can best provide services under each federal program. In most cases, your church will need to have 501c3 non-profit status to compete for grants. You may want to file a separate non-profit to handle community programs separate from your church’s normal operations and non-secular programs. Please also note that grants awarded by federal agencies can not be used to support religious activities of the church, only its secular programs and projects.
The Department of Health and Human Services provides Grants.gov as a one-stop source for information on all open grant opportunities offered by the federal government. And since there are 26 agencies that make grants and over 2,000 grants available, without Grants.gov it would be extremely difficult to find the program that is most likely to fund any specific activity. Use the website’s grants search to find grants by keyword or browse availability by eligibility, category or agency offering the government grant. Each individual grant listing offers information on deadlines for application, program guidelines and contact information for the agency that handles the specific grant opportunity.
Searching for foundation sources for church and faith-based programs can be a bit tougher since information on foundation grants is far from all in one place. The Foundation Center is a great resource for this, offering support for philanthropy through a number of services. The center provides a free foundation finder on its website, allowing you to search for a specific foundation or search for foundations by state, city or zip code. It also provides a paid service called Foundation Directory Online, with access to 108,000 private foundations and corporate giving programs located in the United States. The Foundation Center also provides free funding information through a network of 470 libraries, community foundations and non-profit centers nationwide. To find one near you, visit the cooperating collections map and click on the location in your area for the address and hours these resources are available.