Federal Grant Application Process

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With the decline in funding from foundations, corporations and individuals during the recent economic downturn, your organization may consider applying for federal or government grant funds for the first time as a way to diversify its revenue. While some organizations may be too small to benefit from federal or government funds, or may have purposes that do not make them appropriate grant recipients, many organizations that could apply for these grants do not do so because they think it is too complicated or confusing.

While it is true that applying for government funding, especially federal funds, has always been highly competitive and more time intensive than a foundation grant, the payoff can be great. Government grants, particularly those from the federal government, are usually very large. However, government funding is usually for a very specific project and has many conditions attached. It should not be viewed as a strategy for meeting your organization’s core expenses. If your organization finds an appropriate opportunity and has determined that it will apply, you must be prepared to manage the grant should your organization receive an award. Your organization may need to consider adding additional accounting or financial management capacity, building a comprehensive evaluation program and shifting resources to accommodate a substantial, yet time-limited infusion of resources.

Applying for a federal grant is very different from applying for support from a foundation or corporation. While a fairly typical foundation grant can be completed in a couple of days, the advice to those preparing a federal grant is to allow around 100 hours of staff time for the process. There are many steps in the process and some that need to be completed before you begin filling out an actual application.

Pre-Application Steps

  • Obtain a DUNS Number. If your organization does not have one, visit the Dun & Bradstreet website.
  • Register with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR).
  • Create a Grants.gov username and password. The E-Business Point of Contact (POC) at your organization must respond to the registration email from Grants.gov and login at Grants.gov to authorize the Authorized Organization Representative who will submit the grant. Please note that there can be more than one AOR for an organization.

Tips for Preparing the Grant Application

  • Act quickly: Once your organization has identified an appropriate opportunity, it is typically important to be prepared to act quickly, which is why it is important to do all of the pre-application work. Many government agencies have email lists and they will automatically send you grant announcements. Many RFP’s have very short turnaround times of six to eight weeks.
  • Divide up tasks: Most government grant applications have multiple parts to complete, require research and for the most part will be all original writing – there is very little if anything that can be cut and pasted from other proposals. For these reasons, it is critical to form a team that will take responsibility for completing different sections of the proposal, including writing sections of the proposal, working on the budget and preparing the attachments and certifications.
  • Manage the process: It is also helpful to assign a project manager to ensure that the process proceeds in a timely manner and is on track to submit the proposal ahead of the deadline. This person might also be the person who is assigned as the main contact for the program officers in the department. Choose this person wisely. It is critical that the program officers can easily reach someone in your organization. Decisions are often made quickly and parts of your proposal might need to be adjusted.

The Request for Proposal

Government grants are generally announced in the form of a request for proposal (RFP). The RFP will include a lot of information and it is important to take the time to carefully read through all of the details. There is often both a summary and a full RFP.