A lady we’ll call “Debbi” in Spokane, Washington, recently got a call from a gentleman claiming that she “won” a government grant. All she had to do to claim it was to donate $99 to the charity of her choice by wiring him the money, and he would send her a check for $5,000.
Later on, an alert bank teller from up near the Canadian border called our office to verify that a customer who tried to deposit a cashier’s check for $986 in order to receive a $10,000 grant was about to get sucked into a scam. The scammer had told the customer that she needed to pay him commission to receive her grant.
Yes, there are grantwriting professionals, and they do not work for free, but even if you employ one you are not guaranteed to receive the grant you apply for. According to a college class I audited a few years ago, a top-notch grantwriter will achieve success roughly seven to 10% of the time. And you would never pay the funder to guarantee that you got the grant. That smells like jail time.
How grant scam savvy are you? Which of these bullet points is real, and which is a scam?
- You “win” a grant you didn’t apply for.
- They cold call to tell you this.
- The grant is “from Washington D.C” or “a government grant”
- The grant’s for you because you paid your taxes, have financial needs, or “because we know your son is in the military.”
- After weeks of work, the Gates Foundation has chosen your application from 499 others to improve educational opportunities for high school dropouts in King County, Washington.
- The funder chooses you because your organization performs a social good, like rehabilitating gang members or providing clean water to tornado-affected areas.
- The funder’s mission and your organization’s mission match
Answers: Only the bottom three are legitimate. So, to sum up the red flags in the above scenarios: Scammers were trying to weasel money out of people (the biggest indicator) by giving them vague or nonsensical information (another big one) and claiming the consumers qualified because they or their families needed something. Notice the opposite emphasis here.
Remember, all robins are birds—but not all birds are robins. If a scenario doesn’t make logical sense to you, grab the other end of the kaleidoscope and give it a twist. The pieces should come together quickly enough. Funders give grants so that you can help them fulfill their mission—not so they can help you take care of your needs. Charities help individuals take care of their needs, but not by giving them grants. Charities receive grants so they can do this, one bird at a time.
*First three words from a speech by the witty Dick Epstein, CEO of the Toledo, Ohio BBB. Dick, you really should trademark that phrase.