The 2005 Center for the Advancement of Health briefing “Making a Healthy Life Available to All” outlines causes for the obesity epidemic among the low-income population in the United States. The report states that “today, it costs more money to eat a healthy diet and live a healthy life that includes regular exercise. The very people who can’t afford to stay healthy are those who can’t afford to get sick.”

On the surface it seems that exercise is free—just step outside and take a walk. But what about the countless thousands who live in unsafe neighborhoods that lack adequate street lighting or decent sidewalks? It’s easier to just sit on the couch. If you’re interested in working with this underserved population, consider applying for a fitness grant or creating an accessible group program.

Got Grants?

A grant is a monetary award allocated on the basis of a written proposal submitted to a private foundation or a government agency. You do not have to return this money. It’s an investment the grantor feels is worthwhile for the betterment of society. In this day of skyrocketing obesity statistics, fitness grants are growing in number and amount.

The process of obtaining a grant, especially a large one, can seem overwhelming. But really it’s just a matter of carefully reading and following directions, a process that includes preparing a proposal, complete with budgets and backup documentation. Every grant foundation has different requirements, so you may have to express yourself several different ways. Ask yourself the following questions before you start researching grants:

  • Whom are you going to serve? Are you working with schoolkids, teens or seniors?
  • What geographical area will you serve? How far are you willing and able to travel? Your clients may not be able to come to you. Will you work with just the local high schools? Will you travel to senior centers around the state? How about inner-city shelters and safe houses?
  • What type of exercise program are you proposing? This will depend on your own expertise. Will you run a group exercise class, a weight training program, a yoga class or a fusion of several disciplines? Remember, you may have to provide and transport whatever equipment is necessary—weights, yoga mats, resistance bands, everything—so keep it as simple as possible.
  • How much will it cost to run this program? You must be very specific with these projections. Obviously, you must include your salary. But don’t forget the cost of transportation (gas prices are going up all the time), marketing and administrative costs (including photocopies, stamps or fees for Web space), equipment purchases and maintenance, insurance and facility rentals. The grant application will ask you to write down the exact numbers, and they need to be just right. Most grants require follow-up paperwork during the year to document how the money has been spent.

Once you know the answers to all these questions, you can start looking for funding. The easiest way to research grants is to type “fitness grant” into any Internet search engine. Your answers to the questions above will lead you to other opportunities as well. For example, grants are also available on the state and local levels; some private foundations fund projects just for high schools, elementary schools and senior centers; and there are grants specifically for inner cities and rural communities. You can also search by discipline: Look for yoga grants; weightlifting grants; and dance, hiking or even rock climbing grants.

Dos and Don’ts of Grant Writing


  • Do be persistent. The largest grants are also the most competitive. You may not receive the first grant you apply for, or the second, or the tenth; but once you get the hang of filling out the applications, the process gets easier. And the good news is, once you receive a grant, it’s easier to reapply during the next cycle and get continuing funding through the same source.
  • Do keep good records before, during and after you apply. The more documentation you have, the more seriously your application will be taken.
  • Do contact the foundation or agency for tips on completing the application. You might want to hire a professional grant writer. Many funders are happy to help “regular” people who are filling out their own applications. If you have a question, don’t guess—ask!
  • Do allow plenty of time for grants to come in. It can take up to a year from when you mail an application to the time you cash your check. Allow plenty of time between program development and implementation.


  • Don’t limit yourself to run-of-the-mill fitness programming. The whole idea is to teach people to fall in love with moving their bodies. If you love ice skating and want to teach others to do it, do a grant search. You may also find a way to introduce inner-city kids to the joy of mountain biking through a grant program.
  • Don’t lower your salary drastically just because you are applying to work with low-income people. Too often, grant applicants feel guilty charging their regular rates. Many grants are limited to nonprofit organizations. It’s common for applicants to set up their program as a nonprofit and pay themselves an acceptable salary.
  • Don’t limit yourself to just one source of funding. Apply for as many grants as you feel fit your program. Chances are good that you won’t receive more money than you can use. But if you do become overfunded, consider expanding your program by hiring other fitness professionals to assist you.
Group Programs

One way to serve low-income people without going the grant route is through group programs. Personal fitness trainer Douglas Taurel, of Hoboken, New Jersey, found a cheaper way to train people through his boot camp. The camp meets three times a week for 12 weeks. “I charge $250 per person, which breaks down to less than $7 per hour for the clients,” he says. “My normal rate is $85 per hour, so they get a significant value.” On the other side of the coin, with 15 people per session, Taurel makes more than $100 an hour, so “everyone wins.” Taurel keeps his overhead to a minimum by meeting at a local park and using body weight exercises like push-ups, lunges and squats. “Everyone can work at their own fitness level, so it appeals to a wide range of people.”

Many people view personal fitness trainers as a luxury available only to the rich. But if you take it upon yourself to find creative ways to offer your services to a low-income group, everyone benefits. Your clients get the information and training they need to become healthier, happier people. And you get to make a living while serving people who really do need you—not just to fit into a smaller bikini on their next vacation, but to have a decent quality of life.

tell us what
you are doing

Are your clients obese, disabled or just starting to exercise after years of sedentary living? We want to hear how you are motivating, challenging and retaining clients on a long-term basis. In 200 words or less, detail the specifics of your program and your client(s), and provide your name and contact information. If your success story is compelling and unique, we may use it in a future issue or on the Inspire the World to Fitness® section of the website.

E-mail: [email protected]

Mail: Sandy Todd Webster

10455 Pacific Center Court

San Diego, CA 92121-4339

Fax: (858) 535-8234

get ready, get application, go!

Here are some websites to jumpstart your fitness grant search:

Dallas Women’s Foundation,

Federal Grants Wire,

General Mills Champions for Healthy Kids,,

For more information on grants, see “Grant Writing for Dummies” by Jill Hoffman in the September 2003 issue of IDEA Health & Fitness Source.

Inspire the World to Fitness®

IDEA’s campaign unites our members with those of other organizations in a joint effort to reach out to nonexercisers. Our commitment is to provide you with information and sources so you can act locally.