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Grants Prospecting, Basic Tips and Tools

August 7, 2009

There are many resources – some free and some paid – available to help nonprofit organizations determine who may be interested in funding their work. This article is the first of a series that will come out periodically in which I will detail some of the resources that we at The Grant Plant use the most frequently, as well as some more obscure resources you may not be aware of.  This article will focus on federal grant funding. Future articles will include tips on state funding and contracts, foundation grant making, and corporate grant making.

Federal

The best general search tool is www.grants.gov, the federal government’s online portal for grant seeking. On Grants.gov, you can search for grant opportunities by keyword, agency, category, CFDA number (a number assigned to each federal assistance program), and other advanced options. Grants.gov contains expired grant announcements as well, which can often be useful in planning for future grant seeking activities: generally, funding announcements do not change much from year to year and you can use last year’s Request for Proposal (RFP) to start preparing components of your application before the new one is released. Another tip: contact the program officer listed in the most recent RFP or on the federal agency’s website to see if there is an estimated date that the next RFP will be released. Grants.gov generally does not contain this type of forecasting information, although recently some federal agencies have taken to posting announcements of upcoming RFPs, which can help your agency plan.

When researching federal funding, a wealth of information can also be found on government agency websites. For example, the Department of Education website contains information on each type of grant program offered, including its purpose, eligibility requirements, past awards, funding status, and contact information. When you look at the funding status, you can see if the total amount appropriated to the program has gone up or down in recent years, whether new or continuation grants have been made, or whether a particular program has not been funded in recent years.  Some sites also provide announcements of upcoming grant and program opportunities, so it is important to keep an eye on agency websites that are good potential matches.
Also of interest is the website www.Fedspending.org, a project of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Watch. Fedspending.org allows you to see who received past grants or contracts by name, state, amount, program, or other criteria of interest to your organization. This comprehensive database helps identify grant programs of which you may not have been aware and helps you determine what types of projects have already been funded. For example, with just a few clicks, I was able to see that in Fiscal Year 2006, New Mexico received $12.7 billion in federal funding, awarded to 1,307 organizations. The site tells me exactly who recipients were, what programs were funded, and how much money was given to each. If there are other organizations doing similar work to mine (for example, we’re both working on indigent health care), I can check and see where their funding is coming from and get the CFDA number, then do a search on the Grants.gov site or on the federal agency’s site directly. Wow!

If you plan to seek federal grants on a regular basis, consider subscribing to a few free tools that will help you monitor opportunities. These include:

And finally, while not exclusive to federal grants, the Rural Assistance Center’s website provides state-specific resources and a funding guide to help you with your search.

Federal grants can often take a lot of legwork, and require components that are not needed for foundation, corporation, or even state-funded grants, but the rewards can be significant in terms of financial gain for your organization. Just remember to read the RFP requirements carefully, follow them to the letter, get a head start on the registration process (read about that on the Grants.gov website), and allow plenty of time to gather any required or suggested attachments, such as letters of support.
If you need advice or help with your prospect research, please feel free to contact the team at The Grant Plant.
Contact: Erin Hielkema, Editor and Research Director, at erin@thegrantplantnm.com

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