“What If…” Mini Grants


What’s new?

For the first time in Gifford’s history, Syracusans as young as 12 years old can apply for a “What If…” Mini Grant!

  • Yes, adults can still apply.
  • Orientation sessions will be held throughout the year – sign up here.
  • Applications can be submitted following the orientation.

Can adults still apply?

Yes! We fully encourage Syracuse residents of all ages to apply. The only difference is that this year we have expanded the age limits to include Syracuse youth. However, this is not meant to discourage adult applicants. If you are interested in applying as an adult, you will still need to follow the same basic steps as described below in the How To Apply section.

If you have received a What If grant previously and are interested in applying again, please contact Sheria Walker.

What is a “What If…” Mini Grant?

“What if…” Mini Grants are designed to foster growth in neighborhoods and strengthen the capacity of Syracuse residents who seek to make positive changes in their neighborhood while encouraging creativity, collaboration, and innovation. We believe that the people who live in a community should decide what happens in their community. Therefore, we look for projects that are driven by neighbors, grassroots organizations, or others who are actively involved in making our city a better place. We are deeply committed to lifting up the ideas, voices, and initiatives of our Syracuse neighbors who have not been heard.

The Gifford Foundation recognizes that many individuals, neighborhood associations, and other informal groups may have insightful ideas into the specific needs of our community. However, these same groups or individuals may not have the 501c3 nonprofit status or capacity necessary to qualify for most philanthropic grant programs. Therefore, the “What If…” program provides an accessible pathway to acquire the funding and guidance necessary to make those ideas a reality.

One important group that is rarely heard from is young people. Just like adults, Syracuse youth are affected by changes in public policy, economic shifts, transportation challenges, and much more. But unlike adults, they rarely have the same means or  opportunities to put their ideas into action.

The decision to invite youth applicants was inspired by several key goals:

  • To give youth a stake in the improving the health and wellbeing of our city.
  • To offer youth real-life project management experience.
  • To bring to light the ideas and vision of a demographic that has been traditionally left out of our civic discussions.

This year’s “What If” program is designed to empower young people by giving them the resources and support necessary to solve the problems they care about, in the way that they choose.

Previous “What If…” projects have included an after-school youth mentorship program, a community-wide dinner for parents and students at the Ed Smith Elementary School, and a voter registration/education drive. More than 150 different projects have been funded since the program’s inception in 2014, amounting to more than $500,000 in total grant dollars.

We invite you to approach us with your ideas about how to build community support, show comradery, and solve the problems that you and your neighbors are facing. Use the button below to read about past “What If…” Mini Grant projects.

Application Processing Deadlines

How to apply

Attend one of our orientation sessions.

Contact Sheria Walker at sheria@giffordfoundation.org for details.

You will also receive the access code needed to access the application within our grants system, so it is extremely important to attend.

Make an account.

Create an account on Foundant – our grants management system. You can log back in anytime to start an application or edit an application in progress.

Submit your application.

Gather the information you need to show how your plan will work. Then, use the access code you received at orientation to begin the process within our grants portal – Foundant.

If you need additional help accessing your account or would like to schedule a time to have an option orientation session with a Gifford team member, please contact Sheria Walker.

Planning Your “What If…” Mini Grant

Want to be an adviser?

If you are interested in serving as an adviser for a youth applicant, please click the button below to read about the process and sign up.


Consider reviewing our Application Guide to help you prepare as you plan your project.

Am I eligible to apply?
  • Applicant must live in the City of Syracuse
  • Project must take place in the City of Syracuse
  • Applicant/group must be an individual or a grassroots organization. This funding is not meant for large, established nonprofits (mature organizations should see our Community Grants page).
Why can't I see the "What If..." process listed when I log into Foundant?

It is important to attend orientation before applying for a “What If…” Mini Grant. At those meetings, you will receive a special access code. When you log into our grants portal – Foundant – you will see a place to enter the access code which will then take you to the application.

If you have any questions or encounter difficulty accessing the system, please contact Sheria Walker at sheria@giffordfoundation.org

What is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit status?

Basically a 501c3 status is a federal tax status that nonprofit or charitable organizations can file for. It changes the way they are recognized by the government allows them to have special permissions in things like paying sales tax. Here is a great resource if you’d like to learn more:


Do I need to have a 501(c)(3) nonprofit status?

Nope! If your group does not have a 501c3 status, you can absolutely still apply for funding. You will need to find a fiscal sponsor who agrees to receive the funding on your behalf. The Foundation can help guide you through this process.

What is a Fiscal Sponsor?

A fiscal sponsor is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit that is willing to accept money from us on your behalf.  Our grants must be paid to a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit (including churches) or to a public entity, such as a town, public school, or state agency. If you need one or have further questions regarding fiscal sponsors contact Sheria.

What’s the difference between Community Grants and What If Mini Grants? Can I apply for both?

Community Grants and What If… mini grants are two very different grants with two very different audiences. As such, organizations may not apply for both. Community grantmaking is meant for more established organizations in our tri-county service area (Onondaga, Madison and Oswego counties) and has a direct focus on supporting requests that address organizational capacity building. What If… mini grants are specific to grassroots groups or individuals within the City of Syracuse.

Help! I’ve forgotten the password to my account.

No worries! Contact Sheria Walker.

Help! I started to fill out my application and now I can’t find it in my account anymore.

Contact Sheria Walker for help with this.

I don’t have access to a computer, can I still apply?

Absolutely! Yes, reach out to Sheria Walker and we will work with you to help provide access to an application.

Can I apply more than once?

Yes, but only after you can meet the following requirements:

  • Have you turned in all reports that were assigned to you? Is the project done and are all funds spent?
  • Is it is a new calendar year since you last got a grant? For example, if you got a grant in 2021 you would not be able to reapply until 2022.
Can I re-apply if my grant is denied?

Yes, absolutely! We always strive to give feedback and reasons why a grant is denied. Oftentimes you will be asked to reapply after you address whatever concerns we may have had.

I got the grant, but things aren’t going as planned, what should I do?

Call Sheria if you need to talk about a new timeline, new budget, an extension on your reporting deadline, etc.

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