Join The NonProfit Times: or Become a member

Subscribe: Print Publication or Newsletter

Stay connected.
Stay informed.

Federal Money

By Barbara Floersh - March 1, 2013

When it comes to applying for federal grants, the most common complaint is the quick turnaround time. The federal agency releases the Request for Proposal (RFP) only shortly before the submission deadline and you’re sent scrambling.

Unless you’ve already got a program plan that responds exactly to the RFP, and the needed collaborations and evaluation experts are in place, producing a competitive proposal will require setting up camp in your office.

To develop competitive federal grant proposals while maintaining your mental health, you need to know what competitions will be coming up so that you can begin work before the RFP is released. This takes research. You’ll need to explore all existing federal grant programs related to your organization’s field of interest, determine which are a good match for your organization’s work, find out all you can about each competition, then make a game plan.

The first stop

The starting place for federal research is the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) (, a free online database that provides information on all federal domestic assistance programs that have been established by statute–including grant programs. The CFDA is searchable by keyword, type of support, target population, and numerous other fields.

Each CFDA listing explains the purpose of the grant program, what funds can and can’t be used for, what types of organizations can apply, what level of non-federal matching funds are required, the level of funding allocated to the program by Congress in the last few years, whom to contact for more information, and much more.

When you find a promising program, you’ll need answers to these six primary questions:

  • Is it likely that Congress will allocate funds to this program for the coming year?
  • Does the program run a competition each year? Is a competition expected in the coming year?
  • When is the RFP typically released, and when are proposals generally due?
  • Where can you get a copy of the most recent RFP for this program? The agency website or the link to closed competitions on may provide this, or the agency may need to send it to you.
  • Is the program expected to change radically in the coming year?
  • How many applications were submitted in the last competition and how many of those were funded? This will clue you in on the odds of winning an award.

Start with the federal contact identified in the CFDA, and if you have problems, ask your Congressional delegation to help you find out what you need to know. But before you contact anyone, do your homework. The website of the agency that operates the grant program can be helpful. Get as much information as possible and organize your questions.

Answering these primary questions will allow your organization to select the competitions to which it will apply, establish a rough calendar of submission dates, and establish a work plan for the year. And because you’ll have copies of the most recent RFPs you can begin the planning, data gathering, collaboration, and budgeting well in advance.

Even though you won’t be able to finalize things until the new RFP is released, you’ll be well ahead of the crowd. While new RFPs for established grant programs generally include a few new twists and turns, the structural bones of the grant program rarely change — especially when the program is established by statute.

Wild Cards

The CFDA doesn’t include information on grant programs that are not established by statute, so an agency might decide to operate a grant program that won’t show up in your CFDA research. Here are a few tips for uncovering these opportunities as soon as possible.

  • ( – (1) Sign up to receive daily notifications of new funding competitions, but be aware that this won’t give you a jump on the RFP. (2) Use the advanced search function on this website to look for both open and closed competitions. The issue is not whether a competition is presently open, but whether it might open again in the coming year.
  • Federal Agency Websites – Explore the websites of agencies that are clearly related to your area of interest. The Department of Education, for example, publishes a forecast of grant competitions for the year. Opportunities might also be found in unexpected places. The Department of Agriculture makes numerous grants in the area of youth services and the Department of Defense supports some medical research initiatives, for example. Once you’re fully familiar with the websites most connected to your topic area, branch out.

Being proactive in research and planning will give you the time you need to develop more competitive federal grant proposals. And while nothing can remove all of the stress involved in federal grant applications, being proactive certainly helps. NPT

Barbara Floersch, director of The Grants­manship Center in Los Angeles, Calif., has more than 35 years of experience in nonprofit management, proposal writing, grants administration, and nonprofit consulting. Her email is and the website is


Sponsored Podcasts

Welcome to the Raise & Engage podcast, a filters-off series for nonprofit professionals hosted by Blackbaud's straight-shooting expert Danielle Johnson Vermenton. During this open-mic session, you’ll hear honest advice to help YOU do more for your cause.

Episode 6: The Power of ‘No’ at Work|| daniellejohnson-76

You have a job description, but on any given day, you're probably doing dozens of things outside the scope of that description. Combine that with the challenge of a fast-paced environment and the shifting priorities of funders, colleagues, and board members and it’s easy to fall short of doing your best. By being mindful of your limitations and capacity—and saying “no” when your plate is full—you can actually do more for your cause. In the sixth installment of the Raise and Engage podcast Danielle Johnson and Robin Anderson discuss the power of saying “no” at work.

Episode 5: Professional Development: Getting Un-Stuck|| daniellejohnson-76

In the most recent episode of Raise + Engage, Danielle is back with Brian Reich from little m media to discuss how nonprofit professionals can stay motivated and energized in their day-to-day roles. Brian shares his experience working with nonprofits and the lessons and tips he's learn from and shared with them over the years, including tips for avoiding a professional rut, creating forward momentum in your career and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you're considering making a career move or want to ensure you're on the right path, you won't want to miss this inspo-packed episode!

Episode 4: Apps and Hacks to Stay (Mostly) Sane || daniellejohnson-76

Episode 4: Apps and Hacks to Stay (Mostly) Sane, is all about tips, tricks and tools for sanity. Blackbaud’s own interactive product marketer, Julia Lenz, joins host Danielle Johnson to share some high tech. (and no tech.) productivity tips to help nonprofit professionals stay sane in the crazy world of philanthropy.

Tune in to hear:

  • Tips for how to spend the first 30 minutes of your day
  • The benefits of 15 minute meetings
  • Why notebooks are still relevant to a successful organization
  • Ideas for better managing your inbox
  • Why you should take lunch outside the box
  • ...and much more!
Don’t forget to visit the #NoFilterNonprofit Hub afterwards to download our newest tip sheet10 Productivity Hacks for Nonprofits.

Episode 3: Tech. Connection: Solutions, Strategy, and Staff || daniellejohnson-76

Episode 3: Tech. Connection: Solutions, Strategy, and Staff In episode 3 of the Raise + Engage podcast, Danielle Johnson is joined by Chris Geady and William DaSilva, two IT experts in the nonprofit space, to talk technology integration for NPOs: when you need it, when you don’t, and how to do it successfully.

Tune in to hear:

  • When to say NO to integration
  • How to set your strategic plan before even looking at technologies
  • Ways to get your entire team on board
  • The importance of identifying a project lead
  • The RFP process - how it should and should not go
And William shares a story about a nonprofit that may or may not have still been using a typewriter. You don't want to miss this one!

Episode 2: From Socially Awkward to Socially Awesome! || daniellejohnson-76

According to Danielle Johnson, straight-shooting host of the Raise + Engage podcast series, if your staff members aren’t the number one advocates for your cause on social media, you’re failing. In the most recent episode, Danielle is joined by Blackbaud’s own social media guru Madeline Turner to discuss overcoming social struggles and creating a social ambassador program at your organization. This entertaining and insightful duo dishes on the importance of making your social media presence human, making the case for a formal social program to leadership, how University of Michigan turned a one time social media campaign into a long term social program, and how Madeline's mom unknowingly became a social ambassador on #GivingTuesday.

Episode 1: Corporate Culture & Development: Shake It Up! || daniellejohnson-76

In the premiere episode of Raise & Engage, Danielle is joined by three straight-shooting nonprofit rock-stars: Jodi Smith of Sanford Health Systems, Veronica Brown of Chicago Public Library Foundation and Ali Burke of Southlake Regional Health Centre Foundation. The group talks organizational culture, problem employees, why its important to celebrate and how to shake things up this year and build a better more authentic team that gets stuff done!


Stay informed, catch latest trends in the nonprofit space.

Subscribe to Our Free Newsletter

No obligation, unsubscribe at anytime.

Success! Check your email inbox.

Follow Us On Twitter

NPT 2016 Buyers' Guide

Newsletter Sign-up

click here to return to the previous page