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Public Agency Vs. Private or Corporate Foundation: What's the Difference?

Public (Typically Federal and State) Agencies:

  • Engage in an open, transparent process with all information (dates, award amounts, eligibility, reporting requirements, etc.) made public;
  • Issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) or other announcement for specific areas of research or types of programs that address identified priorities of the agency;
  • Provide application and administration information through program officers, who may limit the information given personally due to the public nature of the process;
  • May have one deadline, or a multi-year program with recurring application dates;
  • Allow indirect costs at specific negotiated or capped rates to offset operating and administrative costs of the grant. Cost sharing may be required;
  • Pay awards through a cost-reimbursement process (managed at RIC by the Grant Accounting office); and
  • Require a more formal, research-driven proposal writing style.

Private Foundations:

  • Range in size and scope from small local foundations (<$50,000 grants) to large international foundations making multi-million dollar awards;
  • Provide differing levels of information, depending on their size and resources. The only required public information is IRS tax filing known as Form 990 (available on;
  • RFPs typically issued by large foundations only. Stated funding priorities determine awards, with eligibility determined by geography, subject area, program type, and other factors;
  • Are more dependent on personal, often long-term, relationships and information to establish credibility of the grantee and proposed project;
  • Have different deadlines, ranging from rolling to quarterly to annual;
  • Typically pay the grant award at the start of the project. May have minimal accounting requirements. Multi-year grants may require reports before releasing continuation funds;
  • Reporting requirements may be minimal. Reports or follow-up letters should be sent annually at minimum, even when not required, to develop and maintain the long-term relationship that can enhance credibility and improve chances of long-term funding.
  • Typically do not allow, or allow only minimal, indirect costs in the budget request. Are more likely to require cost sharing, particularly for operating costs such as space, technology, etc.
  • Require a more informal and personal writing style. ​

Page last updated: October 11, 2017