One of the questions we get asked most often is how to find federal funding opportunities. People really want to know how to find out about funding opportunities before they are announced in the Federal Register or on Grants.gov. If you wait until the announcement comes out to start working on your proposal, you will be at a big disadvantage.
Here are some tips to help you stay informed of funding opportunities so you can plan proactively.
1. Search the websites of agencies likely to fit your mission
Almost every federal agency that makes grants now has a “grants” button on its website. Visit the websites of those agencies most likely to fund the type of work you do and search for grants. Make sure to do more than just read up on which grants are currently “open,” which means that proposals for that grant are due soon.
Dig around and search the website for “grants forecast.” Some agencies announce all of their deadlines for the next year via a forecast. Also pay attention to previously awarded grants. These can give good clues as to possible future deadlines. Put together a list of grant programs you want to watch. If you are lucky, the website will announce when the next competition for that program is expected. But even if it doesn’t, you can often figure that out yourself by reviewing the lists of awarded grants.
2. Find out which programs are recurring
Some program grants have been around for decades. Almost everyone has heard of programs like Head Start or Upward Bound. Check the history of how often the deadline comes around, and you can predict when the next applications will be due. Some programs, like Upward Bound, allow organizations to reapply during every funding cycle to keep the same program going, serving the same people.
Others, like some health care grants, may come out every two to three years, but they are for one-time projects. If you are allowed to reapply for a second grant in that program, you are expected to serve a different population or deliver a different program. Regardless, being aware of the “normal” schedules for recurring grant programs helps you plan out your application calendar.
3. Talk to your congressional delegation
No matter which party is in office, and no matter whether Congress has passed a budget, your representatives and Senators can be valuable sources of information on potential funding opportunities. Either visit while you are in D.C. or request an appointment when your legislator will be back in his or her home district.
The purpose of your meeting is not to ask for a grant, but rather to inform the legislator of the good work your organization is accomplishing in his or her home district. Your representative and Senators can often alert you to upcoming bills that may have grant funds accompanying them. They cannot influence the awarding of grants, nor can they “get you a grant.”
4. Search official government websites yourself
There are two completely free websites operated by the federal government, and with a little practice, you can search them effectively. They each have their own purpose. When it started, Grants.gov was mostly designed to receive and process grant applications. Today it also offers a search function, which is always improving.
However, Grants.gov lists specific grants that are open for competition. In contrast, the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (cfda.gov) provides a list of all grant funded programs, no matter when the deadline occurs. Both sites are searchable. If you are new to doing this type of research, it may be a little less cumbersome to begin with the CFDA.
A search on CFDA can lead you to the grant program’s description, budget allocations, agency contact person, and possibly anticipated deadlines. In 2016, some agencies began to put their “forecasted” grants onto Grants.gov, but this is still a developing feature. Grants.gov also allows you to subscribe to notifications. You will receive a notification by email when a grant deadline in your field is announced. This is a free service.
5. Subscribe to a Paid Product
You can subscribe to a paid searchable database of federal grants or you can subscribe to newsletters or other products that notify you of funding opportunities. Some of the newsletter products have staff based on Capitol Hill and may be able to alert you to upcoming funding opportunities. Stay away from subscriptions that do nothing more than send you the free alerts you can already get from Grants.gov.
Most of paid databases get their information from the same free sites you can search. Examine carefully to make sure you are accessing a reputable site (either those ending in .gov or from an organization you already know and trust). Paid databases that are done well have invested in making the searching easier than it is on the government sites. These can save you time. Stay away from sites that promise to “get you a grant” or that promise “free” grants to a certain population (women, veterans, business owners) if you just pay them instead.
There is always some shifting of grant dollars when an administration changes, and there is no guarantee that things that used to be funded will continue to be funded. However, these research strategies will serve you well no matter which party controls the purse strings.
CHERYL KESTER (CRFE), is Principal of The Kester Group and co-author of Writing to Win Federal Grants: A Must-Have for Your Fundraising Toolbox. She has more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and has been a grants professional since 1999. Today, her firm specializes in winning federal grants and serving as an external evaluator.
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Where can I find information about government grants? (knowledge base question)
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Government Grants and Contracts 101: The Do's and Don'ts of Applying for Government Funding (podcast)