Below are guidelines for Sparkplug Foundation grant-making. These guidelines describe about half of the questions we ask ourselves when considering grant applications. The other half of our consideration is described in Defining Our Terms.
Sparkplug is a small foundation, which is why we try to make grants where a small, one-time grant can have a big impact. Generally, we try to make grants that help projects become sustainable. So we usually don't fund daily operations, or things like plane tickets, one-time performances, etc.
We believe that communities "on the ground" are the best qualified to say how funds should be used. So we try very hard not to make demands of our grantees that get in the way of their work. At the same time, we try to offer assistance and supportive feedback. And we're looking into new ways to bring community input into our grantmaking. (We're open to feedback, too. Call us!)
Sparkplug gives preference to projects run on small budgets, projects of smallish organizations, and projects that are less likely to receive corporate, institutional or government funding. Along the same lines, we don't fund university-based projects, schools or organizations with budgets larger than $1 million.
Sparkplug funds only secular (non-religious) institutions. Please see Defining Our Terms for more information about how we understand secular vs. religious projects.
START-UP FUNDING, INCLUDING MULTI-YEAR FUNDING
Sparkplug is committed to helping new organizations get their start. We recognize that starting up is a process that takes more than a year, and we are expanding our grantmaking to multi-year support in limited cases.
If you're a new organization interested in a start-up grant spanning 2-3 years, please let us know in your application -- but please apply for first-year funding only. We'll be in touch if we think we can do more.
Apart from that, although we won't necessarily refuse "repeat" applications, Sparkplug is unlikely to fund the same organization twice. Occasionally we will consider funding the same organization for a new project.
FUNDING TO INDIVIDUALS & NON-501(C)3 ORGANIZATIONS
Not all projects fit into a larger organization, so we sometimes make grants to individuals. And sometimes it doesn't make sense for an organization to be a 501(c)3, since that label places legal limits on the kinds of work it can do -- so we make grants to non-501(c)3 organizations too.
But since the Sparkplug Foundation is bound by U.S. laws on charitable giving, we generally require those grantees to have 501(c)3 fiscal sponsors, so that there is a clear line of accountability for how funds are spent. We do this for two reasons: first, so that we can make grants without having to monitor our grantees' finances; second, so that your work (and ours) will not be burdened unduly by federal tax audits. We find that this gives us the most possible freedom to fund grassroots grant applications. Of course, the project itself must fit the IRS guidelines for charitable giving. For example, we do not fund for-profit businesses, election campaigns or lobbying.
For articles about problems with 501(c)3 status and foundation funding, check our Resources page.
Sparkplug makes grants anywhere in the United States, and in Israel/Palestine. We can only make grants outside the US where we have the capacity to verify in detail the use of funds and we must receive detailed financial reporting for the work. Because we're a small foundation, our international capacity is very limited. We urge grant applicants in Israel/Palestine to find a US 501(c)3 sponsor.
HOW TO USE A SPARKPLUG GRANT
Sparkplug funding is for materials and activities that help your work become more sustainable. It can cover organization-building materials like flyers, pamphlets or websites. It can cover training/recruiting expenses like meeting costs. And it can cover long-lasting items like software (things that you only need to buy once, but that can really advance your work.)
The Sparkplug Foundation funds operating expenses like salaries and stipends or space rentals only as one time expenses that are part of creating a new organizations or project. For instance, we have funded short-term salaries for people to teach community members how to be organizers -- because creating a crew of local organizers makes it possible for the organization to carry its work forward.
HOW A SPARKPLUG GRANT CAN’T BE USED
We cannot fund general operating expenses, regular ongoing salaries, office space rental, etc.
Since Sparkplug tries to fund new organizations or new projects, and we can only make a limited number of grants, we can't fund the expansion of an existing project (like adding offices) or the operating expenses of existing projects such as ongoing salaries. And we can't, by law, fund lobbying or election campaigns.
We try not to fund technological equipment like computers, because they eat up a lot of funding and because you can often get them donated, rather than buying them. If you need computers etc, we encourage you to ask businesses in your area for donations. (Not sure how to do that? See our Resources page.)
We often see funding requests for video/film projects. We may fund visual arts in the context of an Education & Teaching project or a Community Organizing project only. We don't fund visual arts by themselves even if they're educational or closely related to social justice. Likewise, we do not fund dance, animal rescue, athletic programs, or tuition grants or scholarships. Sorry!