Federal Grants

Since 1997, Grants West has helped raise more than $75 million in federal funding (for one example, see our successful Lightsville federal proposal). We can help your organization succeed. While seeking federal funding can be burdensome, a strong proposal can get funded and help an organization grow to the next level. We can make this process easier for you.


How do I find out about federal grant opportunities?

We use Grants.gov to research funding opportunities. Most federal agencies also announce funding opportunities on their own websites, which are frequently easier to navigate than grants.gov. We also use the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance to predict what funding will come available.

What types of grants does the government make?

Competitive federal grants are not available to support existing program initiatives already in place. Usually, applying for federal grant funding will mean that your organization will develop a plan outside of your normal program to deliver a service requested by the federal government.

Different federal agencies administer federal grant programs, such as the Department of Health and Human Services . These grants are often awarded through its sub-agencies, such as the Administration on Aging, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. HHS grant programs include Head Start and Ryan White HIV/AIDS program. Federal funding is dependent on the politics of the U.S. Congress budget process, and can emerge or disappear quickly.

How much money is available?

Most federal grants are multi-year awards. Grant amounts range from tens of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. Sometimes only four or five grants are available for a competition, and hundreds of organizations are applying for that limited pool of funding. If only a handful of grants are available, you will need to evaluate whether or not your organization has the experience and history of providing the requested service at an elite level and will generate outcomes that are extremely competitive.

Why might we decide to not apply for a federal grant?

We recently developed a training curricula for the EPA, which gave us some great inside insight on the federal grants process. EPA staff told us that many organizations pursue grant opportunities that are poorly matched or not well-suited for the organization.

Preparing a federal grant application is time-consuming and a major commitment of time for multiple staff members.  We always make sure that potential clients are in a good position to obtain federal funding before taking on a job.

- We consider how much management experience and infrastructure an agency has to carry out a federal grant program. In addition to running a complicated grant program, federal grantees have to carry out extensive program and fiscal reporting. The worst fear of any federal administrator is having a nonprofit mismanage federal funding and end up under public scrutiny, especially at a time when Congress is seeking programs to cut. 

- We look for organizations that can compete effectively against organizations, institutions, hospitals, colleges and school districts that are experienced in implementing and managing grants. <

- We look for innovative and well-designed programs. As one grant reviewer recently said, "Most of the grant proposals we review are very similar. But usually someone comes up with a wrinkle or innovation that sets them apart."

- We look for organizations that are well-networked and in a position to collaborate with key community organizations.

Do we need to hire a grant writer to develop a federal proposal?

The time commitment to write a federal grant proposal can be extraordinary. Developing a 35-page grant proposal and 25 pages of attachments may zap the life out of your staff and agency – and impact morale if it is not funded!  We compile proposals of that length - and much longer - all the time, and know how to simplify the grantseeking process and use time more efficiently. (We are happy to provide you with a list of funded proposals, excerpts from funded proposals and references.)

If you do pursue a federal proposal on your own, be sure to designate someone as the leader of the process. This individual should have strong organizational and writing skills, good listening skills, strong understanding of budgeting and finance, and an attention to detail. Ask for sample proposals, a list of funded federal proposals and references. Make sure that this individual can block out adequate time to develop the proposal.

You may still want to hire an outside expert to review your proposal before it is submitted.  That process will help you identify any weaknesses, and provide an opportunity to see if your plan makes sense to someone who is an outsider and has a fresh perspective. We have a team of individuals with federal grant review experience that can provide this review.

How much time do we need to assemble a federal grant application?

It is usually wise to begin developing a grant proposal four to eight weeks prior to the deadline, depending upon the size of the proposal. Developing a federal proposal with just a couple of weeks of lead time may result in serious mistakes and a proposal that isn't polished. We recommend allowing extra time to submit your proposal online, as there are glitches in the federal government's online submission system that can delay the proposal.

Once we have decided to apply for a grant, how do we begin developing the proposal?

Writing a federal grant proposal is two-thirds planning and one-third writing. Be ready to write the proposal with a clear, focused plan.

To write the proposal, assemble a small team. We usually work with two or three staff members.  In addition, we consult with the lead financial administrator to develop budget information. We try to write a draft of the proposal - no matter how incomplete - within the first few days after beginning our work. This allows us to see where the greatest gaps are in the proposal, and what we need to focus on most.

What are some reasons that federal grant proposals are funded?

Federal proposals are always scored on a points system, with criteria established in the grant guidelines. Applications lose points in many different ways, such as:

Quality of application: A proposal that includes some innovation and wrinkles that are exciting and will set you apart from other applications. Make sure your proposal is complete, has realistic goals and objectives, strong outcomes, a well-designed program model, solid partnerships, and a strong evaluation and sustainability plan.  Unlike a foundation or corporate proposal, your federal grant application is evaluated by independent reviewers for quality, and that is the primary reason your proposal is funded or rejected.

Geographic considerations
: Grants are typically awarded strategically to different geographic regions. If another local organization receives a slightly higher score on the grant application and only one grant is being awarded, that organization will receive the funding.

Limited funds:
You can be approved or recommended to receive a grant, but then be told that there is no more funding available.  In the end, federal agencies have some discretionary powers to make final decisions.

Tell me more about the outside grant reviewers?

The feds ask people from nonprofits, school districts and local governments to serve as outside grant reviewers. Because we don't know who exactly will be looking at our proposals, we always use simple language, avoid jargon and never assume that a reviewer will have specific areas of expertise. We try to make their job easier by keeping the proposal simple, easy to follow, and closely matched with proposal guidelines. We are sure to emphasize key components required by the grant guidelines to make sure that they will not accidentally be overlooked.