A Grant Seeker's Guide To The Internet:
Revised And Revisited


Andrew J. Grant, Ph.D.


Suzy D. Sonenberg, M.S.W.

The original version of "A Grant Seeker's Guide To The Internet" was published approximately two years ago by Research Grant Guides, Inc. in the Second Edition of the Directory of Computer and High Technology Grants. Much has changed since then. The Internet has become a household word and news of its expansion appears regularly in all sectors of the media. The World Wide Web, the hottest and fastest growing service on the Internet, didn't even exist when the original article appeared. The Web is a user-friendly method of accessing the most exciting features of the Internet.

Today Internet access is widely available at reasonable rates. Information about grants and other useful material for nonprofit organizations abounds. Any organization with a computer and modem will be able to conduct sophisticated searches and keep current right from their offices. In this update, we'll take a tour of what's new and expanded. We'll also point out some areas related to grants for which information is still scarce on the Internet.

Getting Connected

Perhaps the greatest change is today's easy accessibility to the Internet. The original article proposed several strategies for connecting. One suggestion was for nonprofits to approach a local university through which to obtain access. Today, there are many options at reasonable cost.

There are several national and many local Internet service providers through which individuals and organizations can purchase an account. Service providers are companies specializing in making the Internet available through telephone dial-in systems. Costs are based on the number of hours of use. Most plans range from $20 to $30 per month for a base number of hours, usually twenty or thirty. For occasional use, there are plans for as little as $9 for nine hours per month. Usage above the base period is generally billed at $1.50 per hour in excess of that included in the plan. Recently, providers have begun to offer unlimited access for off-peak use, which usually means late nights and weekends. With careful monitoring of use, a nonprofit could limit its cost to the basic $20-$30 monthly fee. This is a reasonable investment considering the vast amount of information available. As we'll note in a later section, an Internet account could pay for itself many times if the organization finds it can cancel some of its subscriptions to printed resources now available on-line.

Finding an Internet provider also has become simple. There are advertisements in any computer magazine or daily newspaper and listings in the telephone directory. There are even several magazines devoted entirely to the Internet. Performance Systems International (PSI) in Herndon, Virginia and Netcom in San Jose, California are two of the largest providers. Their ads are easy to find. The national companies have many phone numbers all over the country; access is usually available with a local phone call. Obviously, a local provider also will minimize the cost of connecting. Not every locality will be able to avoid telephone toll charges, but before long this will change, too. Thus, cost is much less an obstacle.

In addition to service providers, the major on-line services now offer Internet access. On-line services are companies offering a variety of activities to customers who dial in. These can include, but are by no means limited to, computer hardware and software technical support, shopping, financial services, weather information, software sharing, hobbies and socializing. Familiar names are America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy. Each uses its own special access software.

These companies realized that they would become noncompetitive if they didn't expand to offer Internet access in addition to their other services. They are an excellent alternative to service providers, but tend to be a bit more costly. Typically, an on-line service currently charges $9.95 for five hours of access with a charge of $2.95 per hour beyond the first five. Connect charges add up quickly. For example, the same thirty hours available for $30 through PSI (not even including the unlimited off-peak usage) would cost $83.70 on the on-line services. The advantages are that they offer services other than just Internet accessibility, there are more local phone numbers and they tend to be easier to set up. Like the service providers, they advertise extensively and are easy to find.

The other issues to be considered are hardware and software. Nothing exotic is required. Even a 386 DOS machine with a relatively inexpensive modem can connect to the Internet. To take full advantage of the graphics, especially with the World Wide Web, a 486 or Macintosh with a speedy modem have become the standards of the day. The modem is a communications device that connects (either internally or externally) to the computer on one end and to the telephone line on the other. It transmits, through the phone lines, the data that appears on the screen as text and graphics. The fastest modems run at 28.8 kilobytes per second. The faster the modem, the less time it takes for the text and images to fill the screen. Excellent modems are available for as little as $200. The more expensive models have additional features, but if cost is a factor, a $200 28.8 modem will do just fine. An additional benefit is that most modems also double as computer fax machines and come with software that accesses all their features.

Whether one uses a service provider (like Netcom) or an on-line service (like America Online), special software is required. The on-line services provide the software for free, as do some service providers like Netcom. Other providers require the customer to purchase this software separately from a computer software vendor. The software includes several programs that serve as tools for working with the Internet. Internet Chameleon or Internet-In-A-Box cost between $79 and $100. They contain many of the most useful tools and are available from most retailers and mail-order vendors. Software, like the Netscape Web browser, which has been available free, can be downloaded (retrieved) from the Internet. It allows the user to access the World Wide Web and is considered a much better product than some of the browsers that come with retail software packages. All these programs are relatively easy to install and set up.

Internet Tools

Internet tools, or protocols as they are called, are a group of software programs that help search for, collect and display information. They are available either free or for purchase as noted in the preceding section. Increasing sophistication of the tools has made the Internet easier to use and more attractive to a wide range of people and organizations. Let's review the evolution of these tools to gain an understanding of what the Internet offers and what has changed.

When it first started, the Internet was a mechanism for scholars, mostly scientists, to share information and collaborate on studies. It didn't matter if the scholars were on the same campus or around the world. They were able to use the Internet to send each other messages and drafts of research papers at low cost and with great speed. The tools consisted of three basic protocols known as electronic mail (e-mail), telnet and ftp.

Electronic mail (e-mail) is one of the most popular Internet protocols. It allows Internet users to send messages to other users. E-mail is known as an asynchronous communications form. This means that the sender and recipient don't need to be connected at the same time for the message to be delivered. If the recipient is not logged on (connected) to the computer e-mail program, the message waits until the next time the user checks messages. By way of contrast, the telephone is a synchronous communications for-both parties need to be there in order for a conversation to take place. Adding an answering machine converts the phone to an asynchronous device.

E-mail is efficient and inexpensive. There is no cost in addition to that of the charges paid to the service provider or on-line service. Messages can be sent all over the world. They can be as short as one word or can contain the text of an entire article or paper. Delivery can be within minutes, but generally takes a few hours. Even when there is a great deal of traffic on the Internet, delivery is almost never longer than twenty-four hours.

Telnet is a protocol that allows users to sign onto other computers. There are many Internet sites that are public. That is, anyone can access the programs and information they contain. Generally, universities and some large libraries are public sites. If an individual, for example, needs to use a database, they would use telnet to "go to" the remote computer and use it as though they were at a terminal physically connected to that university or library.

Ftp stands for file transfer protocol. This tool allows anyone to connect to another computer and transfer files to or from it using their own PC. Many government agencies and some foundations, for example, are making their guidelines available on the Internet. With ftp, those guidelines can be printed and ready for use within minutes. Compare this with the weeks it can take to request and receive them in the mail.

Originally, Internet protocols required knowledge of commands that had to be typed into the computer. Information was displayed on the screen only as text. When using telnet and ftp, it was necessary first to locate the information being sought through additional search protocols or through word-of-mouth.

For example, about two years ago one of the authors needed a copy of the United States Constitution for a graduate course about the grants system. He could have used a duplicating machine to make copies from an almanac, but that would have been inefficient and the copies would not have been very good. He also could have had it retyped, but that would have been even more inefficient. He thought that someone, probably another university faculty member, must have a copy of the Constitution somewhere on the Internet. Using a search protocol named Archie (from the comics, like Veronica, another Internet search tool), he entered the keywords US Constitution. After some time a long list of "hits" appeared in the form of ftp locations. Many were articles about the Constitution, but a few were copies of the document itself. Using the ftp protocol, he transferred to the first site on the list indicating a copy of the Constitution and retrieved the item-it was in Russian. Several other sites did not offer public access. Finally he found a public site with a copy of the Constitution in English and retrieved it. It was then sent via e-mail to the students. The total time was under an hour, far less than that required to duplicate twenty-five copies for the class. Plus, there was now a copy on the hard drive (with a back-up copy on disc, of course) to use for future classes.

Until a short while ago, very few people outside of universities and the scientific community had the access or the ability to get much use from the Internet (this was still primarily the case as recently as the publication of the first edition of this article). The tools noted above-e-mail, telnet and ftp-are still the basis of all operations on the Internet, but new, additional software protocols that incorporate them have made it much easier to navigate on-line. This greater ease of use has been responsible for the extraordinary expansion of the Internet.

The Internet for Everyone

The first great improvement was gopher software. Gopher eliminates the need to know and use ftp and telnet commands. It uses menus to move around the Internet. A menu is displayed as a text list of numbered items on the screen. Gopher started on university based systems, but it is also found among the tools sold in Internet software suites. After typing the word "gopher" at the command prompt, the user would be greeted by a list of topics, usually about the host university. There may be information about faculty, registration, campus events, financial aid, and happenings in the surrounding community. This is far from an exhaustive list. The particular items will vary from site to site. One element found in almost all gopher lists is an item called Other Gopher Servers Around the World. Selecting it (by typing its number at the cursor or highlighting it and pressing the Enter key) would bring up another menu listing major world regions. Selecting any of these brings up yet another menu of regions within that area. For example, one could do this until it resulted in a list of all the U.S. states and territories, plus one or two general categories. Selecting a state would bring up another menu of all the sites in the state with gopher programs running on their computers, known as servers. Selecting a particular site again brings up the menu for that site. Eventually, the menu items would be differentiated as additional menus or documents. These documents can be downloaded into the user's computer. They usually are text documents, but could also include computer programs or graphics files containing pictures or other images.

The word gopher elicits two images. One is the linguistic construction "go fer" referring to the software's ability to retrieve items on the Internet. The other is to the garden animal, which burrows deeper and deeper into the ground, similar to the software's use of menus through which the user must burrow to get to the information desired. Gopher software is nothing more than a way of using telnet and ftp without the need to issue commands. Each time an item is selected and the screen brings it up, the user is being transferred (i.e. using telnet) to a remote computer or directory. Each time a document is selected for downloading, the user is activating the ftp protocol. Gopher, with its use of the point and click menu system instead of issued commands, made the Internet much more accessible to many more people.

It also introduced the concept of browsing the Internet. Rather than zeroing in on a particular piece of information, as the author did in his search for the Constitution, users could now simply move from menu to menu, site to site, university or organization to university or organization and browse around just to see what may be interesting and available.

Gopher, however, was only the beginning. The single most significant event in propelling the Internet into widespread use was the development of the World Wide Web (WWW). The Web was born with the invention of a product called Mosaic. Mosaic is known as a Web browser, and takes ease of use far beyond that made possible by gopher. It made advances in several areas. First, it pioneered the use of hypertext. In a hypertext document displayed on the computer screen, most text is displayed in one color, and every now and then a group of words may be displayed in another color. For example, if the document is predominantly in black text, the hypertext may show up as blue. Each instance of hypertext is a link to another computer site or different area within the same host. Using the mouse (Mosaic and other Web browsers are used only with graphical interfaces like Windows or the Macintosh-for DOS environments, a text based browser called LYNX is available) to click on the hypertext transfers the user to that site. Thus, the ability to telnet to a remote computer had been reduced to a single mouse click. Similarly, where the hypertext link refers to a document, program or image, that item can be downloaded with a single mouse click.

Another advance was the ability of Mosaic to display graphic images with photographic quality, and to a lesser extent to play sound files. The Internet, almost overnight, became significantly easier to use and vastly more interesting. After approximately two years, several companies have released other Web browsers with capabilities far beyond the original Mosaic. The most popular is Netscape, which can be obtained on the Internet for free or purchased in retail stores for approximately $40. The current version includes a full e-mail program, audio player and newsgroup reader.

The Web's easy navigation and downloading features created increasing demand to get onto the Internet. As more users signed up with an increasing number of providers and on-line services, more and more governmental, commercial, nonprofit and educational organizations began offering services on the Web. Web sites are known as home pages. They include text and graphics and are developed with the use of hypertext markup language (HTML). The address of the site is known as its Universal Resource Locator (URL). Thus, one can browse through the Web by clicking on links to move from home page to home page or one can enter the URL in the browser software to go directly to the site. Once at the site, there inevitably are links to other related sites, making it easy to locate resources of interest. Netscape also has a search feature that uses keywords to describe the search topic. The search results are displayed as hypertext links. A user can conduct a search, and then simply click on the listed sites to get there in a matter of seconds.

Many publications, including books, directories, and magazine and newspaper articles routinely list interesting sites. Professional organizations are establishing home pages to help members identify resources. URLs are written in a specific format, which at first may feel a bit awkward, but becomes second nature in no time. For example, to get to the Netscape home page to download the software, the user would enter the URL, http://home.netscape.com/ in the browser software (if there is no other Web browser available, the software can be downloaded by going to Netscape's ftp site). The http:// is a standard preface used in all URLs. Some home pages are interactive. Federal Express allows customers to check on the status of a package right on the Internet. Go to http://www.fedex.com/cgi-bin/track_it and there will be a space to enter the package tracking number. In seconds, the screen displays where the package is and gives the name of the person signing for it if it has already been delivered.

Grant Seeking on the Internet

Grant seekers in nonprofit organizations of all sizes and interests can use the Internet to learn about available grant opportunities. The Web certainly is a robust resource, and we shall concentrate on pointing out some helpful sites in the balance of the article. But grant seekers should not overlook other important features available on the Internet. E-mail listserve lists and newsgroups are vital sources for networking. Listserves are discussion groups of people with similar interests-corporate and foundation relations for example. By sending a subscription request to a listserve, a user will be able to write to all members of that list with a single e-mail posting. Each subscriber receives in e-mail all the messages sent to the list. Newsgroups are similar, but instead of receiving the list postings in e-mail, the user needs to access the newsgroup through software for that purpose and browse through the messages. As noted above, Netscape includes a newsgroup reader.

The first question, of course, is Where does one find out how to locate mailing lists (these use e-mail to link large numbers of people who are interested in a topic), newsgroups and URLs? There are several comprehensive lists of resources on the Internet. An excellent place to start is a home page called "Internet Resources for Nonprofits".This excellent page lists hundreds of other home pages, newsgroups and listserves directly or indirectly related to grant seeking. Another is "URLs for Grant Seekers". University development and grants offices often provide valuable information with links to foundation, corporate and other information links. A great example is found at Amherst College's development office . Another good source is The Foundation Center home page.

By consulting just these four home pages, a grant seeker will find references to many more sites. Many of the sites appear in various places. Seeing the sites repeating as one moves among the home pages is a good indication that the search has been comprehensive. That is, the grant seeker will have located most of the useful sites. The beauty of the Web is that a handful of sites often lead to as much information as is available.

By far the greatest volume of information on the Web about grant opportunities will be found on government home pages. Recently, the US Government Printing Office made several of its publications available on-line for free. Full text searches and downloading articles from the Federal Register and Congressional Record can be conducted on the Web. Considering the subscription rate for the paper Federal Register is $575, this service alone could pay for a year's worth of Internet access.

The Federal Government's bible of funding opportunities, The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), is at gopher://portfolio.stanford.edu:1970/1100334 (even though this is a gopher address, it can be accessed with a Web browser-there's no longer a need to run a separate gopher program). Many federal agencies have their own home pages with information about their programs. A few that readers of this Directory will find useful are: National Science Foundation , the National Institutes of Health , the U.S. Education Department , the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Information Agency.

The URLs in this section will enable a grant seeker to find much of the information available as well as information related to specific interests, such as health, education, the arts, social services and almost any other topic of interest. All these sites are free. There are others through which their owners offer grants search services for a subscription fee. One especially interesting site to institutions of higher education is "Academe Today", published by The Chronicle of Higher Education. It is available only with a user name and password, but these are provided to all subscribers of The Chronicle. "Academe Today" offers access to this publication's large, searchable database of grants that have been awarded to colleges and universities for the past five years. It also has a searchable database of all articles published in The Chronicle for a five-year period. That and the weekly job postings are well worth the price of a subscription.

Despite this enormous amount of information, there are still notable absences on the Internet, particularly the foundation world. Foundations have not established a presence, as we explain in the following section.

Where are the Foundations?

Despite the fact that they have the resources to make a significant impact on the Internet, private grantmakers have been reluctant to get on-line. The results of an informal poll conducted in the summer of 1995 by a publication of the national Council on Foundations appear to support our observations that members of the foundation community have been slower to embrace the opportunities offered by the new technology than have been those who seek their support.

As this is written, fewer than three dozen foundations nationwide have sites on the World Wide Web, although this number is growing from month to month. Those foundations that are there in the forefront tend to be the larger and nationally focused foundations such as MacArthur , Carnegie , Rockefeller , and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation , or those with a particular understanding of or interest in communications technology such as the Benton Foundation and several corporate foundations.

Their Web sites tend to be purely informational and non-interactive. That is, one can gather information that the foundation has placed there about its mission, program, structure, and grantmaking. In some cases there is a response box for limited feedback, but in most instances there is not even an e-mail address to which one might direct further inquiries. In addition we did not find, on a cursory review of the existing foundation Web sites, any foundations that indicate a willingness to receive proposals via e-mail.

Conversations with representatives of a number of these foundations reveal that the sites were either established with outside help or through the expertise of a single staff member who is solely responsible for on-line communication with grant seekers because only he or she has the expertise among foundation staff. On further examination it seems likely that this lack of staff knowledge or comfort with existing and emerging communications technologies has been one of the more serious current inhibitors to the broader use of this technology by the entire foundation community.

At the 1995 annual conference of the Council on Foundations, a cyber (slang for the Internet) track was incorporated into the 3-day program. Well attended, but not stunningly so, this track featured an array of presentations designed to entice, educate and excite funders about the technological revolution, and to encourage their participation both through their grantmaking and their own on-line activities. While many responded positively to the presentations, the question most often repeated at the end was, Why should we get on-line? To what end? Unfortunately, the best answer offered was, "To provide broader access to your foundation." Unfortunate because many foundations, doing a lot more work with far fewer staff than one might imagine, are seriously concerned that the type of broad access implied by a Web site might be their undoing in terms of volume of inquiries and requests for funding.

Nevertheless, as slow as the foundation community is to move in new directions, this particular tide is gaining momentum and new sites are to be found on the Web on a regular basis. What does this mean to grant seekers? Well, for one thing it means being able to research foundations from their offices as opposed to going to a library.

It also, through the use of hypertext links, broadens the context for the grant seeker. For example, a quick check of The Foundation Center's grantmaker information page offers the reader not only information about The Foundation Center's services and a glossary of grantmakers, but hypertext connections (one-click transfers) to information about how to research foundations, a short course in proposal writing, an explanation and copy of a widely accepted common application form, giving trends, and alternative funding resources.

Another thing to think about is that there is now a unique opportunity to interact with funders in a venue that hasn't yet been layered with protective screens. The survey described earlier in this article yields the interesting information that an equal proportion of grantmakers and grant seekers are currently using e-mail-52% of those surveyed. Consequently, whether or not foundations have set up Web pages, many are already on-line and directly accessible in a way that they are not via telephone or through other connections.

The question of whether funders themselves are on-line is sometimes less interesting than the question of how they feel about supporting grant seekers in their efforts to get on-line. Common wisdom however, supports the theory that the more sophisticated the funder in the use of technology, the more likely that funder is to make grants for these purposes.

There is much concern and discussion in the foundation community, particularly among those foundations that understand the implications of communications technology, about providing access to people who are out of the loop so that the "information super highway" doesn't become the civil rights issue of the 21st Century. The focus is on making certain that not only the technological elite (i.e. people and organizations with computers) have access, particularly as more public service activities (like the Federal Register) become available on-line and as dialogue begins to take place in cyberspace.

Grant seekers hoping to find technology grants would do well to approach those foundations that have demonstrated an understanding of its possibilities through their own behaviors. One potential source is the "Apple Partners in Education Program". In the case of those grantmakers that are still technologically uninformed, an educational process will be necessary and may be daunting. On the other hand, those foundations on the cutting edge of this issue like the Benton Foundation, are good resources. That foundation has, on its Web page, an evolving list of interesting examples of how nonprofits have used communications technology.

It is clear that use of the Internet will continue to grow, especially as its commercial value is fully understood by more companies and industries. Information available to grant seekers is already extensive, despite the reluctance on the part of the foundation community. Our references to home pages will get the grant seeker started on a journey incredible for its efficiency and sheer volume of information. Enjoy the trip!

Internet Web sites (or home pages) identified in this article include:

  • Netscape
  • Federal Express
  • Internet Resources for Nonprofits
  • URLs for Grant Seekers
  • Amherst College's Development Office
  • The Foundation Center
  • The Federal Register and the Congressional Record
  • The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance
  • National Science Foundation
  • National Institutes of Health
  • US Education Department
  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • US Information Agency
  • Academe Today published by The Chronicle of Higher Education
  • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
  • Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • Rockefeller Foundation
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • Benton Foundation
  • The Foundation Center
  • Apple Partners in Education Program

  • Dr. Grant is President of Grant Services Corp., a consulting firm specializing in grants development, proposal writing and computer networking. The firm is located in Woodbury, New York, and offers consulting services on a national basis. Dr. Grant has had a twenty-year academic career in grants development and research administration. He teaches proposal writing and grants management at Hofstra University.

    Andrew Grant holds a Ph.D. in Public Administration from New York University. He also has an M.A. in Education and a Master of Urban Planning, both from NYU. His B.A. is from SUNY Binghamton. Dr. Grant's e-mail address is ajgrant@interramp.com.

    Suzy Sonenberg has been Executive Director of the Long Island Community Foundation (an affiliate of The New York Community Trust) since March, 1988.

    After receiving a Master's Degree in Social Work from Adelphi University in 1976, Ms. Sonenberg spent 8 years as a nonprofit administrator and grant seeker before joining the funding community. She has taught social policy on the graduate and undergraduate levels at Adelphi School of Social Work, and often appears as a guest lecturer on "fund-raising from foundations" at various institutions of higher learning in the New York Metropolitan area. Her e-mail address is suzylicf@aol.com.