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How Much Money You Should Ask For — an example from the National Mentoring Programs, with Improving Literacy Through School Libraries Program as a Bonus

In “So, How Much Grant Money Should I Ask For?,” we discussed a sometimes delicate issue for nonprofits: picking a grant request amount. Our standard answer: ask for the maximum because zeroes are cheap. Funders will sometimes cut down your budget but almost never increase it.

Some obnoxious programs, however, won’t tell you how much you can request, which makes it harder to find guidance. Last year, an e-mail blast from the Seliger Funding Report included the National Mentoring Programs RFP (warning: .pdf link), which provides grants to national organizations who then offer mentoring services to special populations. In 2008, the RFP didn’t provide guidance about how much money to ask for or how much was available, so I sent an e-mail and called the Department of Justice (DOJ) to ask if they would tell us or were just going to play hide the salami. Patrick Dunckhorst, Program Manager, wrote back to say:

Thank you for your inquiry. Applicants should request the amount of funding they assess/deem necessary to support the requirements of the National Mentoring solicitation.

To solve the world’s problems I need all the world’s money, but that’s not likely to happen. The DOJ probably received applications with wildly divergent and zany funding requests, perhaps ranging from the absurdly small to all the world’s money. In the Funding Report, I quoted his second sentence and left it at that.

In 2009 the max grant amount is $10,000,000. Evidently Patrick got tired of inquiries like mine, because this year the contact person is Eric Stansbury, and he won’t get questions about the amount available save from those who can’t read.*

* One other recent example of random change: the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries Program, which existed under that name in 2006, 2007, and 2008, is now called the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries Competition. I feel more literate already.