Often, you’ll hear it said that a grant is a gift. I’ve phrased it that way myself. It’s a convenient, shorthand way to differentiate them from loans, to put the emphasis on the fact that they do not have to be repaid.

But in other, important ways, grants are different from gifts, as we like to think of the term. When you think of a gift, it’s more like something that is given to you, maybe for a special occasion. It’s something that is bestowed out of the kindness of the giver’s heart (well, sometimes out of a sense of obligation, but you get the point…). It’s usually chosen for you based on what your wants, needs, and interests are. You don’t have to do anything special to get it; someone just presents you with a gift because it’s your birthday, it’s Valentine’s Day, they like you, or whatever reason.

Giving the gift makes the giver feel generous and helps bring the giver and the recipient closer together. There may be some hoped-for outcome or expected reciprocity, but in theory at least, gifts are supposed to be given without expectations or demands for something in return.

Now compare that to government grants. Grants most definitely have strings attached. The reason that you would get one is that you have done something (such as upgraded your home’s energy efficiency, and now qualify for an energy rebate) or promise to do something (for instance, you will use the government money to seek higher education). In many cases, you’re contractually obligated to do what you say, or else you may have to pay back the grant or face other penalties (which is reasonable; governments grants would be wasted money if people could just promise anything, then take the money and run).

To get a grant you, often have to make a case for why you’re capable of using the funding well. Government grants exist because the government has a need to fulfill, and you must show how you’re able to do so. Grants often are competitive, so that the most able candidates for carrying out the project will be chosen to receive them.

Then also, to qualify for a government grant, you must fill out an application or create a grant proposal and in doing so, follow a set of guidelines very carefully. In some cases, you must also provide reports, either periodically, or at the end of the period of the grant award to show that you used the government grant as specified.

That’s quite a bit different from a “gift” in the way that we normally think of it, isn’t it? Can you imagine if to get your birthday gift, you had to apply for it, show you deserve it, compete with others whose birthdays are on the same day, then show that you had used the gift properly? Government grants are still a terrific way to fund your project, though. They have some strings attached, yes, but you’re still getting money, goods, or services that you don’t have to repay. So grants and gifts are different, but they’re both still wonderful to receive.