“What If…” Mini Grants

Empowering Syracuse residents of all ages to improve the wellbeing of their communities.

What’s New?

Since launching in 2011, The Gifford Foundation’s “What If…” Mini Grant program has grown its reputation as an accessible way for Syracuse City residents of all ages and backgrounds to access funding and support for projects that make our community a better place to live.

We are pleased to announce a record-breaking grants cycle, and in partnership with our amazing grantees we were able to hit four major milestones in 2023: more applications were submitted, more projects were funded, more grant dollars were awarded, and more orientation sessions were attended than in any other calendar year.

Grant Dollars Awarded (2023)

Applications Submitted (2023)

Applications Approved (2023)

As a result of this increase in applications and approvals, the funds allocated for “What If…” Mini Grants in 2023 have all been awarded. But don’t worry! We will be accepting applications again in January of 2024.

We encourage you to take this time to continue developing your idea and to reach out to us in the New Year when we are able to continue reviewing new requests.

What is a “What If…” Mini Grant?

The “What If…” Mini Grant program is designed to help City of Syracuse residents foster growth in neighborhoods, strengthen their capacity, and improve the safety and wellbeing of their community.

Successful grants will make positive changes in their neighborhood while increasing community participation, awareness, and partnerships.

Two young people dressed very elegantly receive awards from their participation in the GEMS program.

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. Learn More

Who Can Apply?

  • City of Syracuse residents ages 12 and older.
    • Applicants under 18 must partner with an approved advisor and have written permission from a parent or guardian. The Gifford Foundation will help with this process.
    • If the applicant is under 18, we expect that they will actively participate in designing, implementing, and evaluating the project.
    • If you are interested in serving as an adviser for a youth applicant, please click here to learn more and register.

How to Apply

Attend an orientation session.

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

More About “What If…” Mini Grants

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.

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 200 different projects have been funded since the program’s inception in 2011, amounting to more than $600,000 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. Explore the stories below to read about past “What If…” Mini Grant projects.

What If Mini Grants: A Record  Year

What If Mini Grants: A Record Year

In 2023, more “What If…” applications were submitted, more projects were funded, more grant dollars were awarded, and more orientation sessions were attended than ever before.

Nytasia’s Health and Wellness Dance Club

Nytasia’s Health and Wellness Dance Club

At just 24 years old, Nytasia Survia formed her own dance club to teach girls ages 6 – 18 how to process painful emotions and express themselves creatively. A recent “What If…” Mini Grant has helped her to continue growing the program.

Layla’s Got You

Layla’s Got You

A group of young women, ages 16 to 24, have been making waves in the arenas of mental and sexual health. Working as ambassadors for the Layla’s Got You program, they have spearheaded a variety of initiatives and events including having raised more than $20,000 to support an overnight educational retreat.


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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