Nonprofits are eligible for billions of dollars of discretionary funds from the federal government, all listed on one website: Grants.gov.
In fact, 26 agencies of the federal government are mandated to re-grant their funding from Congress for social programs, science, defense, and even food and agriculture to state or local agencies and/or nonprofits and businesses that can deliver projects that help fulfill their goals.
Here are the essentials about how to use Grants.gov to find, apply for, and get the best grants for your particular nonprofit.
Searching for grants on Grants.gov
First, you have to figure out what grants you are eligible for and that best apply to you as an organization.
- Searching by Agency: Possibly the best way to figure out what grants are available to you is to make a list of all of the federal agencies that would have programs in your particular program area first.
For example, if you are an environmental organization looking for funding for your watershed revitalization project, you might specifically look at what grants are available from the EPA and the NOAA (the two main agencies for managing water projects), and you may also expand out to the USDA who is concerned with water quality as well for agriculture. You might have to do some web research first!
Also, make sure you cross-reference the grant opportunities on the agency websites. Often, agencies will list on their website all opportunities – past, present, and future – but only post present opportunities on Grants.gov.
On Grants.gov you can see archived, or past opportunities, but not future ones. You can plan better if you know the entire calendar of future opportunities as well! .
- Searching by Keyword: If you don’t know which agencies might have grants available, or if you want to broaden your search, you can try using keywords that relate to your project. In the example above, you might type in “watershed” and “protection” or just “water”. You might try searching for your particular geographical region as well.
- Searching by Eligibility: If your keyword searches pull up too many records, you can click a button to filter only opportunities open to nonprofits. You will weed out ones for government agencies or other entities to which you can’t apply.
Understanding requests for proposals on Grants.gov
Once you find a request for proposal (RFP), you will have to open it up and sort through often long and onerous guidelines to see the nuts and bolts of the grant.
The system will show you a “Synopsis” when you click on the “Opportunity Number”. First, you want to gauge from the synopsis itself if you are eligible and your program fits well with the grant program. If it does, go to the “Related Documents” or “Package” tab to find and download a full RFP and proposal guidelines.
Some good questions to ask to determine if you should apply include:
- Are we eligible? The agency will always have an eligibility section in the RFP that details who can apply. Also make sure you can fulfill the requirements, as in cash matches to the grant, required community partnerships, etc.
- Can we manage this grant if we get it? You will have to show that you have capacity to deliver and administer the project. So if you are a nonprofit with a small operating budget, you might not be able to deliver on a million dollar reward!
- How closely do we fit the call’s goals and objectives? You only want to apply if you are specifically matching the program’s goals.
- Do we have time to meet the deadline for the proposal? If you don’t think you can pull together a good application in time, it is probably best not to apply!
Registering on Grants.gov
The trickiest part of applying for a grant is registering completely on Grants.gov. While they make it look simple in 5 steps, outlined here, it can take weeks and requires a bit of time investment,
- First, you must apply for a DUNS number and then a SAM registration, which is where you will manage the funding if you are awarded. Give yourself at least a week to make sure you get that information in place!
- When you register for SAM, take note they will send you a special email with a password to access your EBiz POC and an MPIN number. You’ll need this later.
- Then, you must register your organization, under your name most likely, in the Grants.gov system.
- Once you do that, you can use the special password to get into the EBiz POC page (the last tab available on the log in interface), where you will need to authorize the username you just created in the organization registration to be your AOR, or the person who can submit the proposal.
- You have to have an AOR to submit the proposal, and you have to assign the role. Note that when you go to submit your application you use the username and password you created when you registered the organization and not the EBiz POC login!
Managing the SF424 on Grants.gov
A pitfall is not having the right software on your computer – you have to have the designated version of Adobe Acrobat Reader or you cannot submit a proposal! Check what version you have and make sure everyone in your organization working on the proposal is using the same one.
Then, when you download your application package, you will see an Adobe fillable form called an SF424. This is a cover sheet with organizational information, as well as where you specifically attach all materials and submit your application.
Make sure you follow the guidelines in the RFP sent by the agency (page lengths, fonts, spacing, etc.) and attach all requirements in PDF form to the form itself, using simple file names without spaces.
When you are ready to submit, you use your username and password you formed when you registered the organization.
Tracking your Application Status on Grants.gov
When you successfully submit, you’ll get a code and a link to track your application. The organization to which you are applying can reject your proposal if something is missing, so make sure it gets accepted by them.
If you’re prepared and sort through your opportunities well, you will – eventually – be able to navigate Grants.gov and receive substantial federal assistance for your program!