Federal Grant Checklist to Help You Prepare
As you conduct grant research to uncover new opportunities for your organization, you may come across grants from federal government agencies. And as grant funding through federal economic recovery programs distributes, we’ll see even more competitive opportunities arise at the federal, state, and local levels.
Federal grants can be game-changers for nonprofits. It gives them funding for programs and improvements while also boosting their track record and reputation. However, applying for a federal government grant is time and resource intensive. They are highly competitive to win and demanding to manage if received.
This means you must be prepared to compete effectively for federal grants. So how can you set yourself up for success?
This federal grant checklist walks through our recommendations for preparing to compete for federal grants.
First, ensure that your nonprofit registers in the federal grant system. Competing for federal grants will require at least these three steps:
- Receive a DUNS (Data Universal Number System) number to identify your nonprofit in the federal system
- Register with the federal System for Award Management at SAM.gov. This platform manages and reports on grants once you receive them
- Register your nonprofit at Grants.gov, where you’ll find and apply for federal grants
Depending on the opportunity you are pursuing, you may need to register in additional federal systems to compete. For example, several agencies like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration require registration in a system called eRA Commons.
Most importantly, handle this process early. Registration can be complicated and involves a waiting period. You must renew your registrations annually. Begin the registration process (or double-check your renewals) at least six weeks before a grant application deadline.
☑Time and Capacity
Federal grants can have a turnaround time of only a few weeks between the initial release and application deadline. This tight window of time means that you’ll need the capacity of your team to handle everything required of the application.
The steps to apply for a federal grant can include compiling lists of community partners, securing letters of support, detailing a program model, and developing budgets. You may also need to prepare other unique attachments, handle logistical upload tasks, and more. As soon as you identify a grant opportunity, sit down to objectively assess what your team can accomplish with its current resources.
These steps are easily overwhelming. You just can’t stop progress on other fundraising activities and grant deadlines while you are focused on submitting a federal grant. It can be a wise and fruitful investment to partner with a grants consultant with experience at the federal level. They can advise you and manage the steps of compiling a high-quality application.
☑A Collection of Standard Application Materials
If you pursue a federal grant, having a ready-made set of standard application materials can save your team time and stress. Most federal grant applications require these documents:
- Reviewed and audited financial statements
- Organizational and program-specific budgets
- Bios and resumes for leaders and key program staff
If you don’t have these materials on hand but want to begin pursuing more grant opportunities, create them early before you enter the time crunch leading up to a deadline.
☑Data to Illustrate Your Impact
Data is an integral part of any winning grant proposal. It completes the story you tell about your vision and goals. It gives more authority to your claims by illustrating your track record of success, the impact you’ve had so far, and the problem you’re seeking to solve. Effective use of data can make your proposal stand out in a crowded field.
But to see these benefits, you’ll need the actual data. Determine whether your organization is ready to quantitatively demonstrate a strong track record by considering these questions:
- Do you have a record of data collection, evaluation, and successful outcomes with other programs?
- Does the program you’re proposing have a compelling need and data to back it up?
- Do you have internal structures in place for data entry and analysis, like a properly-configured CRM or database?
- Are you prepared to engage an external evaluator to support the analytics and evaluation that may be required for executing and managing the grant?
Building a data and tech infrastructure is a worthwhile investment for growing organizations. It will allow you to craft more compelling grant proposals over time and continually assess and improve your strategies.
☑Partners and Supporters
Federal grant applications often require letters of support, sometimes referred to as Memorandums of Understanding. They prove that you have a network of supporters in your community who can vouch for your work and who may be directly involved in helping to achieve the proposed plans and goals. These supporters and partners might include other organizations, local foundations, corporate sponsors, public officials, major donors, and constituent organizations or individuals.
Securing signed letters can be a lengthy process, so start as early as possible. Discuss your potential documentation needs with your key partners ahead of time. You want them to be ready to help if you are putting together a proposal for a new program soon. For funding opportunities for existing programs, documenting your partners’ current and planned participation will also simplify the application process.
☑ Grant Management Capabilities
Let’s say you win a federal grant—congratulations, and great work!
But there’s still plenty of work regarding grant management and reporting. Federal grants have stringent post-award requirements to prepare. For instance, once you use the funding, most federal grants will automatically require an official financial audit. Specifically, you’ll need to ensure that you have these capabilities and resources:
- A team to handle program execution, financial management, and compliance
- Staff who can make grant-related work a top priority for the duration of the program
- Time and resources to create detailed financial reports and the tools to manage and track federal funds separately from the rest of your finances
- The infrastructure and staff to manage data collection, analysis, and reporting
- The ability to effectively learn and use the required federal grant management systems
- The team capacity to actively manage your relationship with your federal grant management officer and/or program officer.
It sounds like a lot, but it comes with the territory of competing for game-changing federal funds. If you currently have any gaps that would complicate these types of tasks, taking the time to build your internal capacity and infrastructure beforehand is likely the smartest move. A focus on development and capacity-building, expanding your network of partners and major donors, and improving your systems can yield dividends once you’re ready to compete.
Federal Grant Checklist Summary
Writing a compelling grant proposal is always hard work that requires careful thought, attention, and preparation, and federal grant opportunities are especially so. The points in this checklist cover the most important steps, resources, and capabilities that will help you stand out in a crowded field (and avoid biting off more than you can chew).
Key takeaway: There are many steps and components to preparing a competitive federal grant application. A federal grants consultant can help improve your chances of funding—and bring you peace of mind! But now you can get prepared with this federal grant checklist.
Your best competitive advantage will be an active grants program backed up with best practices. This will give your team experience, allow them to hone their skills, and prepare when the time is right. If you’re new to grant seeking, working with experts can help you build a robust pipeline of opportunities and show you best practices in action.