The Definitive Guide to
WRITTEN BY NATHANIEL VAN CLEVE
How To Find The Perfect Grant
Now that you know how to search for private funders, let’s go over government grants. The good news: there aren’t nearly as many government funders as there are grant-making foundations. The bad news: applying for government grants is way more complicated.
To make it easy we cover this grant search process step by step.
We’ll focus mainly on federal grants, as they are largest source of funding, but also briefly cover how to find state and local grants as well.
How to Find Federal Grants
There are 26 federal agencies that award billions in grant money each year. All federal grants can be found on grants.gov. Many federal agencies also list their grant opportunities on their agency website, but we suggest you use grants.gov because that it has opportunities from all agencies in one database.
Follow these steps to find a grant on grants.gov:
Search the Grants.gov Database
Click on “search grants” in the menu on the grants.gov homepage
Look to the left side of the page. Make sure “posted” and “forecasted” are checked under “Opportunity status.” Posted generally means current opportunities and forecasted refers to upcoming grant opportunities.
For Eligibility, click the box or boxes that describe your organization.
For Category, click the box or boxes that correspond to your project category. Refer back to your search keywords.
View your results. The results update automatically as you check boxes and apply the filters. We suggest you search by Close Date ascending. This ranks the grants with the nearest due dates first. You should typically allow a month or longer to complete a federal grant so you can skip over any grants that are due immediately. (Of course there are exceptions to this rule. We explain below how to estimate how long an application will be.)
When you see a promising opportunity, click on the opportunity number link in blue in the left column of the results table.
View the Grant Opportunity Page
This is the Grant Opportunity page.
By default, you start on the Synopsis tab. This lists important information about the grant.
The Version History tab shows previous versions on the grant. You can ignore this page.
The Related Documents tab will usually have a download link for the Request for Proposal (RFP), and other important documents. The RFP contains all the instructions for how to complete an application. We describe this in detail below.
Lastly, the Package tab is where you submit your proposal.
Evaluate the Grant Criteria
Go back to the synopsis page. Pay attention to the following key criteria in order to determine if the grant is a good fit. You will need each of these criteria to match your grant needs in order move forward with an application. Start in the “General Information” section at the top:
Expected number of awards
This number tells you how competitive it will be to get an award. Generally, if there are fewer than 10 awards, you should consider the grant to be highly competitive.
Depending on the grant opportunity, there will be tens or hundreds of other applicants. Use the eligibility information to estimate how many organizations might apply. For example, is this a nationwide opportunity or is it restricted to a small geographic area. You may be able to find an estimated number of applicants either in the RFP or on the grant opportunity page of the agency website, but not always. You can also try contacting the agency to ask about the number of applicants.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether to pursue the opportunity based on how strong an applicant you think you are, how competitive the grant is, and how beneficial the opportunity would be for you.
Cost sharing or matching requirement
Current closing date for application
There are five dates listed on this page. Ignore all of them but this one. This is the due date for applications.
Award floor and ceiling
These refer to the minimum and maximum dollar amounts to be awarded per grant recipient. Make sure your project budget fits into this range. You will need to read the RFP to learn additional details about award sizes.
Estimated total program funding
If there is no award floor and ceiling information, you can divide the total program funding by the expected number of awards. This will give you a rough idea of the size of the grant awards.
Additional information on eligibility
Scroll down to the next section underneath “General Information.” Here there may be priorities for specific types of applicants, such as rural applicants, underserved applicants, minorities, etc. Sometimes this information is not listed in this section and can only be found in the RFP.
Scroll down again to find the program description in the “additional Information” section. This description will give you an overview of the grant program. If the description sounds compatible with your program, as do the criteria in one through six, then you are ready to read the RFP. If not, go back to your list of search results and find a new opportunity.
Read the Request For Proposal
Cost sharing means you are expected to provide your own money alongside the grant award. If cost sharing is required, you will have to refer to the RFP to learn the specifics. There are two types of cost sharing, cash and in-kind. If the total grant is for $100,000, a 50% cash match means your organization must dedicate $50,000 of your own money toward the project in addition to the $100,000 in grant money. A 50% in-kind match means you will have to contribute various noncash assets, such as staff time or building space collectively worth $50,000 toward the project.
The request for proposal (RFP), sometimes called the request for application (RFA), is a comprehensive document containing application instructions, grading criteria, requirements, regulations, and other government gobbledygook (no, seriously). For the final step of evaluating a grant opportunity you will need to read the RFP in order to get additional details that are not listed on the grant opportunity page of grants.gov.
These documents are not fun to read. They can be long, complicated, full of jargon, poorly organized, repetitive, and contradictory. Mark up the RFP with highlighter to keep track of important information,
Go to the Related Documents tab and download the RFP document. In some cases there will be no documents listed here. Check for a link to more information in the program description on the Synopsis page, which should lead to the agency website and the RFP.
How to Read an RFP Like an Expert
Check for any additional details related to criteria one through six above. Read through the RFP carefully, the information may have slightly different wording, for example “closing date for applications” will likely be called “due date” and so on.
Get a deep understanding of the purpose of this grant program, including what types of activities and deliverables the funder requires. Read every section that gives a description of the program. Read sections about the funder goals and other stakeholders mentioned. Some grants recommend the use of specific policies, research, or program models. Confirm that you are able to use these recommended policies.
Gauge how difficult and time consuming the application will be. Read the grant narrative questions and grading criteria. How many long is the application? Does it require many supporting documents? Do you need to conduct extensive research? Do multiple members of your organization need to contribute their expertise? Do you need to collaborate with outside partners?
Check for any rules that instantly disqualify your organization. Even if the grant description and criteria one through six all look perfect, there may be additional rules or standards that your organization can not meet. For example, you may need certifications you don’t have or be required to allocate staff to the project full-time when you only afford half-time. Reading all the rules is tedious, but it is better to know the rules in advance instead of wasting weeks of work only to discover an incompatibility.
1. Target Specific Agencies
1) Do a Google search for a list of the state agencies in your state.
2) Go to the website for the agency or agencies that are related to your program. For example, if you have an education program, first try your state’s department of education.
3) Search the agency website for grant programs. Remember, not all agencies give out grants.
2. Google Search
You can also do a Google search for state grants, for example “California state education grants.” This will be hit or miss but it’s a good option if you can’t figure out which state agency to start with.
A second search option is to navigate to your state’s homepage (e.g. http://www.ca.gov/ for California) and search for grants using the search bar on its website.
Local Government Grants
Finding local grants is similar to state grants. Navigate to your city or county website and see if there are grant opportunity listings. Or try a Google search. Local government gives out far fewer grants than states and the federal government, so we suggest you do not spend too much time trying find local grants. It may be more efficient to learn about local programs through word of mouth than searching online.
State Government Grants
Now that we've covered Federal grants, let's briefly go over how to apply for state and local grants.
Many state agencies give out grants to nonprofits, primarily to in-state organizations (e.g. California agencies give grants to organizations located in California). Unlike federal grants, there is no central database to search for all state grants. You must visit each state agency website individually to learn about their grant opportunities.
Use these strategies to find state grants:
Chapter 3 Key Takeaways
Use grants.gov to search across the entire database of federal grants
Learn how to read an RFP in order to get the important program details
Search state agency websites or use a Google search to find state grant opportunities.