NCUF Innovation Grant Application Tutorial

Welcome to the National Credit Union Foundation’s virtual grant application tutorial. From here you will be able to: access information about the Foundation’s Innovation Grants program; access the new guidelines and Grant Application form; get answers to frequently asked questions; and see descriptions of successful grant projects from previous grant cycles.

TABLE OF CONTENTS (click each to jump to section)

Section 1 - About the NCUF Grant Program
Section 2 - Important Application Information
Section 3 - Types of Projects Supported
Section 4 - Measuring Success
Section 5 - Partnerships
Section 6 - Leveraged Funds
Section 7 - Project Sustainability
Section 8 - Project Budget
Section 9 - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Section 1 – About the NCUF Grant Program

The Foundation’s grants build stronger communities and empower consumers by enabling not-for-profit, member-owned credit unions to serve more people with low wealth and modest means. Consistent with the goals of NCUF's signature program, REAL Solutions®, Innovation Grants help credit union members reach life-changing goals through innovative services in the following five areas:

Financial Education

Ongoing NCUF grant commitments support credit union participation in national financial education programs including Biz Kid$ and the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). New Innovation Grants can assist credit union organizations participating in these programs, or other initiatives consistent with the financial education components of REAL Solutions: providing financial counseling, product awareness, and staff training.

Transaction Services

Consistent with the membership acquisition services of REAL Solutions, new Innovation Grants can support transaction services that help credit unions attract underserved consumers. Examples include check cashing, money orders, prepaid stored value cards, remittances, second chance/fresh start checking, and tax preparation.


Consistent with the savings-building services of REAL Solutions, new Innovation Grants can support programs that help credit union members with low wealth establish and maintain savings. Examples include prize-based savings, safe accounts, savings challenges, and step-up CDs.


Consistent with the credit-building services of REAL Solutions, new Innovation Grants can support initiatives that help non-prime borrowers build and improve credit through credit unions. Examples include alternative credit reports, citizenship loans, first and last rent loans, flexible loan policies, non-prime used car loans, score builder loans, and thin file loans.


Consistent with the asset-building services of REAL Solutions, new Innovation Grants can support responsible programs that help credit union members with lower credit scores qualify as first-time homebuyers. Examples include foreclosure assistance loans, green loans, Home Loan Payment Relief (HLPR) mortgages, Individual Taxpayer ID Number (ITIN) loans, and timely repayment rewards.

Click here for the Grant Application form.

Click here for general guidelines including eligibility, review criteria, and the application review process.

The FAQ section of this tutorial contains answers to many of the questions that have arisen in the past.

Section 2 – Important Application Information

When is the deadline?
The NCUF Innovation Grant deadline is set during the first half of each year. The 2010 deadline is June 30.

Who can apply?
Credit unions, state credit union leagues, state credit union foundations, credit union service organizations, and other credit unon-owned organizations. The Foundation will not fund projects that do not involve credit unions.

When will we know if our grant application is approved?
If the grant request is up to $100,000, notification will be sent on September 30. If the grant request is over $100,000, notification will be sent after NCUF Board meets in the fall.

When can projects take place?
Projects can take place beginning January 1, 2011 provided that a Grant Agreement from NCUF has been signed and submitted. The grant period will be one year in length, concluding on December 31, 2011.

How much are the grants?
The grant amounts will be determined based on the grant request, the project budget, additional funds leveraged for the project, and other key factors, such as the quality of the application and the availability of funds. There are no minimum or maximum grant amounts; grant requests will be evaluated based on the reasonableness of the project budget (i.e., don't inflate the project budget).

Is there a match requirement?
No, however, the Foundation expects applicants to secure additional funding from other sources and will look more favorably upon applications that demonstrate a commitment to bring other funding partners to the project.

Section 3 – Types of Projects Supported

You may already have a project in mind for which you will request funding. Remember that the Foundation funds high-impact projects that enable credit unions to help people of modest means through the following services:

  • Financial Education

  • Transaction Services

  • Savings

  • Credit

  • Homeownership

  • To see descriptions from previously successful applications, click on the following links:

    Descriptions of Current Grants

    Success Stories

    Highlights by State

    You may find a project similar to your own, or you may discover that you have a unique idea.

    Section 4 - Measuring Success

    In Section 4 of the grant application, we ask you to develop project goals and ways to measure success with your project. This is a very important part of your application, so please take the time to create measures that are quantifiable.

    If your project receives funding, these success measures will become a part of the Grant Agreement with the Foundation. In essence, this will serve as the contract that outlines the terms and conditions of your grant.

    We will ask you to report on your progress toward your goals and we will monitor your efforts accordingly. Failure to file reports could jeopardize your grant funding, which would be paid in three installments.

    Section 5 – Partnerships

    In Section 5 of the grant application, we request information on your project partners. The Foundation encourages applicants to collaborate with other organizations, such as other credit unions, community groups, agencies, schools, and funders. Partnerships can enrich the scope of a project, attract additional resources and expertise, and “ground” a project in the community.

    Think creatively about other organizations that can work with you to carry out your project. In addition to bringing resources and staff to a project, they may be able to help you promote the project, reach a target population, or add a new component that would enhance the project.

    Work with your partners as you plan the project so they can become an integral part of the process. Include letters of support from them in your application to reinforce their role in the project.

    Section 6 – Leveraged Funds

    In Section 6 of the application, we ask you to provide a list of organizations that are contributing funds to your project as well as the amount of their funding.

    It is important to attract additional funds to your project. Not only will this bring you the necessary resources to implement your project, but it will also offer you the chance to establish relationships with other funders and partners, which can help you to sustain the project after the Foundation’s grant has concluded.

    The Foundation looks favorably on projects that demonstrate a range of funding sources.

    Section 7 – Project Sustainability

    The Foundation views its funding as a strategic investment in important projects that help credit unions make a real impact in their communities. This can help you attract other funding, secure project partners, and get your project underway.

    At the same time, we believe that it is important for you to have a plan to keep your project in force once the Foundation’s grant period has concluded. Our funding should be pivotal, but not the sole source of support for your project over the long term.

    Section 8 – Project Budget

    Your project budget should include income as well as expenses.

    On the income side, include your grant request as one of the items. Also include the other funding that you will leverage, as well as your own funds to complete the income side of the budget.

    On the expense side, include costs for all the pertinent items of your project. If necessary, make a realistic estimate of your costs. Wherever possible, place an asterisk next to line items that would be funded by the proposed Foundation grant.

    Make sure that Total Income equals Total Expenses. Check your calculations to verify that they are accurate.

    Section 9 – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Q. Can we apply for a project that is already in place?
    A. Yes, but it must meet all the criteria in order to qualify for a grant.

    Q. Can we apply for a project that has received funding from the Foundation in the past?
    A. Yes, however, the Foundation expects grantees to seek other funding for projects so that they don’t become dependent on the Foundation’s grants. If the project has received funding before, the new application should indicate that the project has grown or somehow evolved to warrant a continued investment by the Foundation.

    Q. If we don’t have funding from our league and/or state credit union foundation, are we still eligible to apply to the Foundation?
    A. Yes, however, it strengthens your chances to have league and/or state foundation support.

    Q. Can we apply for a grant to upgrade our equipment?
    A. Innovation Grants focus more on innovative products and services rather than infrastructure. To upgrade or purchase equipment, ask the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) if you are eligible to apply for a grant from their Office of Small Credit Union Initiatives.

    Q. Can we apply for a grant to hire new staff?
    A. Applicants are generally discouraged from applying for funding to hire new staff unless the application includes a plan to sustain the new position after the grant period has ended. The Foundation does not support requests to hire new staff for organizations that are not credit unions.

    Q. Can we apply for matching funds for Individual Development Accounts (IDAs)?
    A. In general, the Foundation does not grant its own funds to be deposited into the accounts of individual credit union members, such as matching funds for IDAs.

    Q. What do you mean by project partners?
    A. Please see Section 5 above.

    Q. What do you mean by leveraged funds?
    A. Please see Section 6 above.

    Q. What can the grant funds be used for?
    A. Grant funds are to support the innovative products and services of credit unions, credit union leagues, credit union foundations, or related organizations that work in a significant way with credit unions. Grant projects must achieve at least one of the Foundation's five grant-making objectives: financial education, transaction services, savings, credit, and homeownership.

    Q. What if my project budget shows a deficit or surplus when I add it up?
    A. When preparing your project budget, your Total Income should equal your Total Expenses. There should not be a deficit or surplus indicated in your budget. Be sure to include your grant request on the income side of the budget.

    Q. Our project is a multi-year project. Can we apply for funding for more than one year?
    A. In the past the Foundation supported multi-year projects. However, with limited Community Investment Funds and a competitive applicant pool, that is not likely for the foreseeable future. While you may apply for a multi-year grant, you should not assume that, if funded, you will receive funding for more than one year. You should prepare for the possibility that you might receive a one-year grant to get your project started, and that your work with project partners and the leveraged funds you bring to the project will allow you to build commitments that will sustain the project beyond the period of the Foundation grant.

    Q. We already have a grant from the Foundation that is still in force. Can we apply for another project?
    A. This is not generally encouraged, as the Foundation prefers to use its resources to jump-start new grantees. Organizations that have a current Innovation Grant should not apply for another grant in consecutive cycles unless they have submitted a Progress Report to demonstrate that they are fully meeting their success measures.

    Q. We were turned down by the Foundation last year. Will this affect our chances to get funding this time?
    A. Not necessarily. The Foundation looks at each application on its own merits. That being said, if you were turned down for funding for the same project in the past, it would help you to seek feedback from Foundation staff about the reasons your application was denied for funding and ask for suggestions that might improve your chances in the next round.

    Q. Do we need to be participating in REAL Solutions® to be eligible to apply?
    A. No. Only the types of programs funded through Innovation Grants are aligned with the Foundation's signature program, REAL Solutions. Even if you are not currently participating in REAL Solutions, we encourage you to apply for a grant to support programs that will achieve similar life-changing goals for credit union members with low wealth and modest means.

    Q. How do we submit an application?
    A. If possible, please place your application (including attachments) in a single electronic file: either a Microsoft Word document (.doc) or an Adobe portable document file (.pdf). E-mail the file to