“What If…” Mini Grants

Our Approach

The “What if…” mini grant program started in 2011 as an outgrowth of the Foundation’s longtime initiatives working on the grassroots level in Syracuse neighborhoods. “What if…” is designed to foster growth in neighborhoods, strengthen the capacity of Syracuse residents who seek to make positive changes in their neighborhood and increase community participation, awareness and partnerships.

We believe that the people who live in a community should decide what happens in their community. Our goal is to provide City of Syracuse residents, who are working on a charitable project, with access to money, resources and connections. 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. “What if…” grants are given for projects with a total budget of $5,000 or less for neighborhoods within the City of Syracuse. The average grant size is $3,200.

One of the keystones of the “What if…” mini grant program is community involvement, so previous recipients of these small, grassroots grants are invited to serve on our Resident Review Committee to review, advise and play a role in evaluating “What if…” proposals.

All What If… mini grant projects must fall within one of the four following focus areas:

  • Projects that create a clean, safe physical environment, promote sustainability, and protect the natural environment such as gardens, neighborhood clean-ups, tree planting, etc.
  • Projects that create opportunities for learning and skill development such as workshops, trainings, afterschool programs, etc.
  • Projects that preserve a strong local, cultural and spiritual heritage such as celebrations, art projects/programs, street festivals, etc.
  • Projects that are supportive of individual and family well-being such as food programs, neighborhood watch programs, youth employment, etc.

The Process

Interested in learning more about the What If… mini grants? Want to apply? Great! The first step in that process is to attend an Orientation Session. Applicants must attend an Orientation Session before they can apply. At this moment in time there are no Orientation Sessions scheduled. To be notified when more sessions are scheduled, email Sheria Walker.

Once you’ve attended the orientation session and are sure that your organization/project is eligible to apply, you will be able to login to your account in Foundant and complete the application. Please note that What If… mini grants have application deadlines by which you must apply:

  • January 17th, 2020 (funding decisions to be released after February 24th)

While typically the Foundation has had 5-6 deadlines per year, in 2020 we have decided to pause deadlines while we review our focus area and grant procedures. The January 17, 2020 is the last deadline for the current What If… Mini Grant guidelines. We will be sharing a deeper focus and new procedures in the upcoming months. Thank you for your patience as we navigate this shift in our funding!

Please plan ahead and keep deadlines in mind when planning your activity and deciding when to apply; decisions may take up to 60 days (see above for approximate funding decision dates). The Foundation will not reimburse organizations for funds previously spent.

Once your application is submitted the ball is in the Foundation’s court. We will reach back out to you, via email (so make sure you check it!) about 2 weeks after you submit your application. That email will have a bunch of ‘due diligence’ questions in it that you’ll need to answer in order for your application to move forward. These questions don’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong, everyone who submits an application has follow up questions.

Your application (and the follow up questions you’ve answered) will then be presented to the Resident Review Committee so that they can make recommendations to the Foundation regarding your request. The three possible outcomes are 1) your application is funded in the full amount requested; 2) your application is funded, but for a partial amount; 3) your application is denied.

The Foundation will reach back out to you, via email, to let you know the decision of the committee. After that the ball is back in your court. You’ll need to take care of signing your grant contract, be assigned reporting deadlines, take care of any fiscal sponsorship paperwork that might need to be done, and then you’ll be mailed your check.

When you’ve finished your project and spent all of your grant money, it will be time to log back into the online grantmaking system to fill out your final report. The final report has three parts to it: answering questions about your project and how it went, submitting a final accounting of every dollar spent (keep track of those receipts as you spend grant dollars!), and a place to upload pictures. We use reports as a way for the Foundation and Resident Review Committee to learn, so please be honest. It’s okay if your project didn’t go as planned. We want to hear it all!


Am I eligible to apply?

We will cover this question in depth at the mandatory Orientation Session, but basic requirements to apply include:

  • Applicant must be a resident of the City of Syracuse
  • Project must take place in the City of Syracuse
  • Applicant/group must be a grassroots organization, this funding is not meant for large, established nonprofits
  • Total project budget must no more than $5,000
Which deadline should I apply for?

Deadlines are approximately 8 weeks before funding will be released, so make sure you apply in time. For example, if a deadline is October 8th, funding will be released around the end of November. Therefore, if you have a project that will start or take place in the December/January timeframe, you would want to apply for the October deadline.

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 Megan.

What is the Resident Review Committee?
In 2013 the Foundation decided that we wanted to dive further into community involvement and formed the Resident Review Committee. The Resident Review Committee is made up of a group of individuals who have previously applied for, received, and completed What If projects. Usually consisting of about 10 volunteer members, they review every What If… application and provide recommendations to the Foundation as to whether or not applications should be funded, and at what amount.  Every year former What If… grantees are invited to submit a short application on why they would be an asset to the Resident Review Committee.
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 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.

If I’ve already attended an orientation session do I have to attend again?

It depends! If you’ve attended an orientation session in the last 1-2 years, then no you do not. If it was longer than 2 years ago, yes you do! If you’re not sure when you last attended orientation you can reach out to either Megan or Sheria at the Foundation.

If I attend an orientation session do I have to apply?

Nope! Feel free to attend an orientation session if you’re curious, but don’t yet have a project in mind.

I can’t make the next orientation session, what should I do?

Contact Megan! We occasionally do one-on-one orientation sessions for those who are unable to attend our group sessions. We also are happy to come to you to do an orientation session if you’ve got a large group of people who might be interested in applying.

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

Absolutely! We don’t want technology to be a barrier for anyone. Reach out to Megan if you need to set up a time to come in and use our computers.

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 2018 you would not be able to reapply until 2019.
  • Are you asking for money for the same thing as you did the last time? For the same exact project? What If… mini grants only fund projects once, so you will need to have a different request thank you did the last time. Give Megan a call if you want to talk more about this.
Can I re-apply if my grant is denied?

Yes, absolutely. The Resident Review Committee always gives feedback and reasons why they deny a grant. Oftentimes you will be asked to reapply after you address whatever concerns they may have had.

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

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

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