Demystifying Federal Grants

“We’d love to try our hand at federal grants, but we just don’t have the capacity.”

“Federal grants bring in the big dollars, but I don’t know if we’re ready to write a grant like that.”

Have you heard this before? We certainly have, and having worked at a nonprofit that long pursued federal funding, it’s hard to understand why seasoned grant writers don’t feel ready to go after the big money! And make no mistake- the size of the federal budget translates into far larger grants than states, municipalities, or foundations can offer. Every year the federal government grants literally BILLIONS of dollars to projects that benefit the public. 

We get it though. When Stan first started as a grant writer, he  expressed concerns that federal grants are harder and less likely to be funded. But a colleague told him, “Don’t believe it. The state and local public grants we do will be just as hard. My experience has been that people wait too long to apply for federal grants, when they’re no harder to get.”

This has proved to be true, first for Stan and then Heather when she joined Stan in writing federal grants.

When we worked at a nonprofit, we got federal grants like GEAR UP for about $2 million a year over seven years. Our largest federal grant was $6 million per year for five years. In contrast, our largest foundation grant was $1 million over two years, and the vast majority of our county, state, and city funds were under $1 million per year. 

If your agency has the capacity to get state and municipal grants, believe us – you are ready to go after federal funding! 

The size of a grant – or the fact that it’s a federal grant – does not necessarily determine the complexity of the proposal requirements nor the amount of work needed to put together a fundable proposal. Let me repeat that: LARGER GRANTS DO NOT EQUAL MORE WORK! 

Now, with that being said, some federal departments certainly have a more rigorous and complex process than others. But we’ve worked on city and county grants for under $1 million that had RFPs with appendices that ran into hundreds of pages, dozens of forms and assurances to complete – and worst of all, require some combo of paper originals, copies, and an electronic submission. We recently submitted a state grant that used two separate online systems (one for forms, another for narratives), plus required applicants to mail in all the forms with original signatures (in blue ink, of course!). 

In contrast, is used by most federal agencies. It is straightforward to learn, and allows for all documents, even signed letters or MOUs, to be submitted electronically. 

Grants Republic’s online federal grant writing course will cover all the basics of, from registration through submission – check out more info here

Moreover, you’ll see as you work on a federal proposal that it asks for information typically included in foundation, state, or local grants – what is the need for this program, how will your project effectively address the needs, demonstrate your agency has the requisite experience to implement the project, your budget is allowable and reasonable, etc. 

Of course, the feds have specific forms to complete and to navigate – but we are very confident you can learn these pretty easily and start going after those federal dollars!

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