The Ultimate Guide to Government Grants for Nonprofits
Every year, the federal government awards billions of dollars to nonprofits across the country. These grants have helped countless charitable organizations improve the lives of individuals and families in ways that simply can’t be measured.
If your nonprofit is seeking funding, government funding could be the stepping stone you need to take your organization to the next level. However, before you begin the application process for federal funding, it’s important to understand the process and regulations in place to ensure grant money is allocated where it will help the most.
Pros and Cons to Seeking Government Funding
The most important benefit to seeking government grants is that the government has billions of dollars to award, which can significantly help the organization be successful in achieving its mission. When an organization is awarded government funds, it helps to improve credibility and may even give them more say in the government policies that affect the community.
Government agencies must also be transparent when it comes to the use and spending of funds, as the public has the right to know how the government spends their money. The public is able to track and see who is winning grants, which might be helpful in learning how to win them in the future. USAspending.gov is a great place to research funding that has been awarded.
Downsides to the grant seeking process include the hours it takes to complete the application and the cost of a grant writer which can put the organization in a low cash scenario. However, when funds are awarded, the government typically reimburses the money spent on the application process.
How Can Nonprofits Find Government Grants
Government agencies, foundations and/or corporations award grants for nonprofits. “For any type of grant that you are interested in, though, the most important part is the prospecting in order to find the best fit for your organization,” said Marcie Dearth, Vice President External Relations at IMPOWER, a leading nonprofit mental health and child well-being organization. “Each grant has very specific guidelines and it is important that you align well with their focus, otherwise do not apply. The grants are put into different categories like housing, justice, education and arts, with so many options available planning on your part is a must.”
Your first task in finding and applying for a government grant is to know your organization inside and out. You must know the organization’s previous work, the money they have, the money they need and exactly what they need it to do. To help collect and organize your research, many organizations use a prospecting questionnaire or an organization summary sheet.
When preparing your search, list keywords or words of interest that relate to your organization. This list can help make sure you find all grants that fit your organization. For example, if you are a school looking for grant money, your keywords may be “education, kids, youth services, education, youth development and child development.” If you search for a grant with just education, you might miss out on grants that are listed in the other keywords. The more thought you put into your keywords, the better your results will be.
Lastly, it’s time to search the database of US Government funding opportunities at grants.gov by entering your keyword(s) in the search box. You can also search by category, like education or health, and by federal agency, but your search might be too broad and your results too large. During this step, pay particular attention to the application details as you review available grants. Being eligible to apply is just one step. The organization must have the capacity, experience and the ability to carry out the proposed work and evaluate and report on its outcomes in order to be competitive.
Process and Help
Preparing a letter of inquiry is typically the next step in the process of applying for a government grant. Most agencies want this prior to you completing the full proposal for the grant, making this step often more important than the actual proposal, as this is your chance to make a good first impression. This letter should be no more than three pages long, and must outline your organization’s need for the money, your proposed solution and your qualifications to complete the required work. If your letter is selected to advance to the proposal phase, your organization will have an opportunity to present a more detailed and specific appeal for grant awarding.
There are many organizations that offer help in the grant writing process, including paid subscriptions to databases and storing your data to make sending letters and proposals easier. You can even sign up to receive emails with monthly updates for which grants relate to your organization through services like guidestar.org or grantwatch.com.
Tips for Success
Many of the organizations that have won federal grant money have certain attributes in common. Here are a few that can make you successful at obtaining funding too.
- It seems simple, but follow the directions. Grant applications often have strict guidelines and failure to include required information, submitting past the deadline or making the font too large can get even the best of proposals disqualified.
- Call or email the appropriate agency contact to clarify guidelines and obtain the most up-to-date application information.
- Show that you have received funding from other sources like your local government, community organizations or corporate donations. To obtain local government funding, you need to call all your local agencies, ask what programs they offer. For corporate funding, look for a list of the top corporations and the specifications of their donation programs.
- Hire qualified staff and make sure your organization is up-to-date on technology.
- Show that your organization has had successful outcomes in the past. Reviewers want to see demonstrated successes and how they were achieved. If the funding agency knows you can make things happen they will be more likely to give you the funding.
- Research nationally recognized best practices for your industry and put these in place for your organization before you apply.
- Provide data to back up your outcomes, success stories, show them evidence, demographics, census information, use databases, reports, anything to show proof of the problem and results.
- Nearly all government grants have strict reporting requirements. Clearly demonstrating that you have a process and a way to measure your results will put you ahead of the competition.
- If you have collaborated with other entities, also include this information in your proposal. Partnerships are looked upon favorably.
- Get a general contractor registration and an account on grants.gov and any other memberships the agency requires prior to submitting your proposal.
The impact nonprofits make on their communities and beyond is incalculable, and government funding can help grow that impact even further. Use the process and tips above to tip the scales in your favor when it comes to applying and winning government grants and ensure your nonprofit can do the most amount of good possible.