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Doing This One Thing Will Help Your Nonprofit Secure Government Funding

government funding

The United States government awards federal grants across all sectors, as a means to fund ideas and projects that address community needs. There are 26 federal grant-making agencies and more than 900 federal programs in the US government, and billions of dollars in grants are awarded each year. All government funding opportunities are consolidated onto a single website: grants.gov. This website serves as a tool to search for federal funding opportunities and is also the platform used when applying for a federal grant. If your organization is considering applying for government funding, it is important to understand both how to navigate the platform to find any opportunity you may qualify for and how to register. While federal grants tend to be complex and are highly competitive, learning how to prepare for and conduct a government funding search can yield positive results and lead to successfully funded projects. 

Keyword Searches Explained

Before diving into the grants.gov platform, it is important to first do your homework and arm yourself with the proper information to maximize your search. Like many other funding search platforms, the federal government’s website utilizes a search bar where you can add keywords to narrow the search results. A useful and recommended strategy is to conduct a self-analysis to help generate relevant keywords. A thorough examination of your mission, history of your programs, and proposed initiatives will help you answer the following questions, yielding the proper terms for a successful grant hunt.

Targeted Keyword Questions

  • What location/region does your organization serve?
  • Who is the target population served by your programs/projects?
  • What type of support/services does your organization offer?
  • What problem/issue does your proposed project address?
  • Do you have any partners that you plan to work with?
  • What types of organizations have awarded you money in the past?

By doing this introspective exercise, answering these questions, and selecting single words (or short phrases) for your responses, you will create a list of keywords that can be used during your search on grants.gov. It is advisable to try the single words as well as different combinations of the words to maximize the number of potential targeted results. You may find it helpful to refer to the search tips on the grants.gov platform.  

Search Tactics for Grants.gov

What is most important when navigating grants.gov is to familiarize yourself with the search bar as well as the different filtering options listed on the left. These include the ‘funding type’ you are seeking (grant, cooperative agreement, etc.), your organization’s ‘eligibility,’ the ‘category’ (health, education, energy, etc.) and the ‘agency’ providing the funding. Entering your various keywords into the grants.gov keyword search bar will be the quickest way to begin your search. Start with the biggest and most obvious keywords and of course try different keyword combinations.

secure government funding

(Source: grants.gov)

The format for all grant opportunities is the same in the search results, as well as each grant profile. Clicking the opportunity number will bring up a synopsis of the grant, including the application deadlines, program funding amount, and award ceilings and floors. The section below that, most importantly, has the ‘Eligibility’ requirements. Make sure to determine whether your organization falls into one of the eligible categories identified.

The last section, titled ‘Additional Information,’ provides the name of the governmental agency that is offering the grant, as well as grantor contact info (a name/job title and phone number). Notice if a link is provided; this will take you directly to the agency website or to other relevant information or material.

If appropriate for your organization, take some time to explore grants.gov and search using different combinations of the keywords you have compiled. Remember that even if you are unable to find an exact grant opportunity that fits your organization, some of this research will still be useful. Identifying relevant agencies (even for grants that you might not qualify for) can uncover leads to grants for which you do qualify. 

It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the entire website and all of its resources in order to determine whether there are any feasible funding opportunities for your organization. And if you do move forward in the application process, make sure to thoroughly read and follow all instructions provided by the agency. It is not necessary to register and create an account on grants.gov to search for grant opportunities; however, registration is required to apply for a grant. Congressman Bill Posey of Florida has created an in-depth presentation for the entire grants.gov registration process as well as a thorough breakdown of the website. This excellent summary walks you through the steps to register, find potential grant opportunities, and complete/submit the application. 

Advice On Government Funding

Determining Feasibility – Depending upon the department or source of funding, grants from the federal government can range greatly in size, from several thousand dollars to millions. While it may be tempting to go for such large amounts, remember that these grants are not only highly competitive, but more importantly, the large-value grants are only awarded to organizations that already have sizable budgets and can demonstrate the ability to implement large-scale programs. This means you need to have a history of dealing with such budgets, as well as the staff and infrastructure already in place to implement programming on such a scale.

Communicating with the Funder – After you have identified grant opportunities that seem like a possibility, or might be a promising lead (based on the general description), you will want to try and initiate some sort of contact. Program officers, whether at a private or public funding agency, are incredibly busy and don’t have the time and resources for one-on-one communication with all prospective grant recipients. However, most of them are happy to answer specific questions and provide useful feedback. Therefore, I would suggest attempting contact by email and requesting a time to have a brief chat by phone.

Whether or not you apply, contacting a program officer or staff person responsible for a specific grant opportunity can be a helpful strategy. Not only can you seek guidance on the most appropriate way to link your project to the grant initiative, but you can also ask for advice on where your organization might find other funding. These individuals are experienced with federal funding and may be able to point you in the right direction. Never underestimate the value of a short, friendly phone call. But it is important to be prepared with relevant notes before engaging the program officer in a conversation. Utilize your answers from the keyword questions above to develop a quick pitch to be used in all correspondence. (Note: this same tactic is useful for contacting your state representatives to find further funding.)

Being Organized – As alluded to earlier, federal grant proposals are usually lengthy, rigorous, and time consuming. For that reason, it is important to be prepared and organized ahead of the writing process. For example, self-imposed deadlines create structure and ensure that the necessary information is gathered ahead of time. It is not uncommon for experienced organizations seeking a federal grant to have their proposal started well before an RFA (or grant announcement) is made public — basing it on the previous year’s guidelines. Therefore, having up-to-date language on your organization and current/past projects is crucial. 

It cannot be emphasized enough that landing a government grant can be challenging. It typically requires having an established infrastructure, strategic partnerships, and the capacity to develop a competitive proposal. If your organization does have the size and scope to handle such a grant, or has been awarded large grants in the past, then government funding can certainly help in achieving many short or long term goals. Grants.gov is an incredible resource with a lot of helpful information about the federal grant search process. Understanding how to navigate and best use its search functions will help lead your organization to a successful grant development future. 

Nonprofit Sustainability

Maddie Zeigler, M.Ed.

Maddie Zeigler M.Ed., founder of Grantli, an online education platform for the grant development process, has been in the nonprofit world for nearly 30 years first as a program developer and now as a professional grant writer, to date securing well over $80 million dollars in grants on behalf of her clients. A veteran writer of local, state, federal and foundation grant proposals, Maddie has developed a unique approach for designing viable programs and for writing compelling narratives. She is also a charter member of the American Association of Grant Professionals. A Puerto Rico native, she currently resides in Albuquerque, NM.

Maddie Zeigler, M.Ed.

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