Few government grants exist for churches, synagogues and other houses of worship. Most of the grants that are available are designated for either community service programs or historic preservation programs. On rare occasions, churches can qualify for government funds through federal relief programs, such as funding to restore buildings damaged by an earthquake or a hurricane. Despite the limitations, government grants can be a viable funding option for churches.
Churches can apply for social service grants through the federal government. These grants are awarded to programs that meet specific community needs, such as those for feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, assisting HIV/AIDS patients, helping substance abusers and providing welfare-to-work support. Grant awards can be used for the program's operational and facility expenses and typically range between $50,000 and $150,000. To qualify, your church must have a 501(c)3 status in good standing, and the program must clearly serve to meet needs in the local community. Once awarded, a specific government grant may be renewable.
Another government funding option available to churches and synagogues are grants for historic preservation. Your church may qualify for this type of grant if it is a designated historic landmark with the "Save America's Treasures" program. Overseen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service, the "Save America's Treasures" program awards $30 million in funding for historic preservation every year. Not every state, however, allows churches to receive historic preservation grants. Historic churches that have received funding for historic preservation through the federal government include the Old North Church in Boston, which dates from the 1700s, and the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, which is the oldest surviving synagogue in the United States.
While your church may qualify for federal funding, your church should consider whether or not a government grant is the best option for the church. For example, if you awarded a federal grant for a social services program, that program cannot also include religious or faith-based instruction as an element of the program. Research the limitations of a grant so that you fully understand how that grant will have to be administered, and also consider other possible sources of funding. For example, a number of private granters provide funds for historic preservation, including the Pittsburgh History & Landmark Foundation, the Mildred Faulkner Truman Foundation and the Cecil B. Day Foundation. Other independent granters target churches with community service programs, like the Frank E. Clark Charitable Trust, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the United Methodist Church and the Mustard Seed Foundation. Many private grants are designated for charities and religious organizations and often do not have the same types of limitations as government grants.
As with any grant, you will need to submit a grant application to be considered for government funding. In addition to proof of 501(c)3 status, you will need to submit a thoroughly researched and well-presented grant proposal that includes an assessment of the church's needs, an outline of the key objectives for the project, a discussion of the methods for the project, a plan for project evaluation, long-range planning for the project and an overall budget for the project. You may also need to identify additional funding resources, provide financial statements and annual reports, and identify church board and staff members.
When applying for a government grant for the first time, you can enroll in a free grant-writing course with a number of federal agencies. You can also take advantage of many of the free resources offered by the Foundation Center, an online directory of private grants and funding opportunities. For example, the Foundation Center offers free grant proposal examples and grant application guides (see Resources). In addition to federal grants, your church may qualify for state and local government grants. Even municipalities often offer small grants to area businesses and organizations. Your local chamber of commerce or public library will be able to help you with locating these grants.