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Let's talk about federal grants!

edited February 23 in Grant Writing

I'm interested to hear from our community about federal grants. Is your organization competing for and winning federal grants? Or have you been unsure or unready to jump into the federal grants pool?

For those who are competing for federal grants, what advice would you give about what makes federal grant seeking different from applying for foundation grants? And what's the same?

Our team at Grants Plus has assisted organizations across the country, both large and small, to apply for (and win!) federal grants. In our experience, there are some fundamental differences and important factors to anticipate when applying for federal grants:

  • Federal grants are less "relationship based" than foundation grants, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't still reach out before you apply! We always encourage our clients to contact the federal funding agency before applying. This will give you the opportunity to clarify anything that’s unclear about the application instructions and process, as well as learn if there’s anything that might disqualify your organization or give your submission a competitive edge.
  • A project plan and timeline is everything! Every time we begin a federal grant writing project with a client, our first step (after reviewing the funding announcement of course) is to develop a plan that outlines the components to be prepared (including all attachments), who is accountable for each step and who needs to be involved (don't forget to identify community partners if required!), and a deadline for every step and stage. This keeps the project on track from the beginning.
  • Don't forget to register. Registration can be complicated, requires multiple steps and a waiting period, and must be renewed annually. We recommend beginning the registration process six weeks prior to an application deadline. 

Ok, I'd love to hear from you! What advice would you share, or questions do you have, about applying for federal grants?

For those looking for a resource to help them pursue federal grants, especially as relates to the continuing pandemic, you can check out our Grants Plus Guide to Emergency Federal Grant Seeking:



  • I agree completely with your assessment above. In addition, I would advise new applicants to double check if there is a match requirement and be sure to have a plan for that. Check if they allow your full indirect rate. Even if you have a federally approved indirect rate they sometimes cap it as 10 or 12%. If you dont' have a federally approved rate you have to use the 10%. I would have your accounting folks review the 424 if they haven't done one and go through the tutorial, they are different than most budget forms. Double check all the formatting requirements - spacing, font, page limits.

  • Good advice to be sure to use the 10% de minimis indirect cost rate if your organization doesn't have a negotiated rate. There are a few budget line items to which the de minimis may not apply, so be aware of that as well.

    I'd also add a comment about the importance of being aware of post-grant reporting requirements as you consider pursuing a federal grant. Ensure that you have the staffing to oversee what is typically a more rigorous reporting process in comparison to private foundation grants.

  • All of the comments are so true! I'd add that the application guidelines are much more extensive and detailed, the award decisions are often heavily influenced by a points-based assessment system, and the narratives are longer than those required by most private funders.

  • For those who are competing for federal grants, what advice would you give about what makes federal grant seeking different from applying for foundation grants? And what's the same?

    It is interesting that people haven't commented about how federal grants are similar to foundation grants. Some foundations have become very similar to federal grants including:

    1) They have a theory of change you should study to see where your program best aligns.

    2) The narratives are often between 10-15 single spaced pages.

    3) More and more, they are providing technical assistance calls to help organizations being successful with their application process.

    4) While the RFP may be shorter, the requirements are often getting more complex, and I think project plans and timelines are valuable for all grant applications, especially for the busy grant professional with many grant applications due at the same time!

    Julie Assel, GPC


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