Organizations often search for federal grant funding, and, indeed federal grants are often large and can provide the revenue needed to deliver high-quality services. However, before applying for a federal grant, organizations must take into account the following considerations.
Ensure your organization is eligible
Take the time to read through the grant guidelines to determine if your organization is eligible for a funding opportunity. In the introductory information and on grants.gov, the list of eligible organizations is always provided. However, it is still necessary to read the grant guidance. Often, buried deep in the guidance, there will be a statement or two further delineating who is eligible to apply. For instance, I was recently contacted by an organization that was a perfect fit for a funding opportunity….until the 47th page of the grant guidance which listed a requirement that was not listed anywhere else in the document. Had I not read through the entire document, I would have spent unnecessary time and effort applying for a grant for which the organization was not eligible.
Determine if you have the time to adequately respond
Federal grant opportunities are challenging, even for the most experienced grant professional. Before beginning to work on a proposal, determine if the organization has the time and resources to apply. For a large opportunity, this may mean devoting full-time hours for a month or more to develop a competitive proposal. Additionally, if the grant requires partners or collaborations, it often takes time to hold meetings and come to an agreement about who will do what within the project. And, don’t think you can do everything on your own….if a funder mentions partnerships in the RFP, they are expecting to see real partnerships in the proposal.
Glance at the funding requirements
More and more federal opportunities are requiring matching funds. Some are requiring a “dollar for dollar” match; this means that for every federal dollar received, the organization must contribute a dollar toward the program. For many organizations, this is a challenge. Read the grant guidelines carefully to determine what can be used toward this requirement. Sometimes, the organization can use salary costs or other expenses as part of its match. If there are partners, sometimes their services can be used. Think creatively to identify expenses that can be used and to develop strategies to obtain matching funds. For instance, could the proceeds from the annual fundraiser be designated to the program? Just know, that in most instances, funds from another federal grant cannot be used as part of the match.
Alignment with Organizational Mission
Occasionally, a well-meaning board member or other individual connected with the organization may suggest applying for a grant. But, when the opportunity is reviewed in detail, it is discovered that it is a bit of a stretch to align it with the organizational mission. It is in your best interest to skip this opportunity and wait for one that is a perfect fit. Federal grant reviewers are peer reviewers; this means that they are just like you, they work in organizations or have some expertise in the field. Because of their experience, it is easy for them to recognize when the opportunity is a stretch for the organization and their scores will negatively reflect this reality. Second, even if your proposal gets by the reviewers, you will start down the slippery slope of mission drift.
Federal funds can be a great opportunity for organizations to be able to fulfill their mission; however, it is essential that organizations think through the process and determine if they can really fulfill the submission requirements outlined in the grant guidance.