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Grants: What Happens Before The NOFO?
Grants: What Happens Before The NOFO?

Word gets to you that the federal government is making grants for your type of work. Your search of grants.gov turns up a program that sounds like it is right for your organization. It’s all there, all spelled out for you. What more is there to know?

It turns out there is a lot more to know. Nonprofit managers ought to understand the steps that have led the federal agency to invite bids to do work. (A proposal is what a federal grant really is, an invitation to do work the government has decided it wants to do.) Those steps contain a lot of information that can help your organization make a strong case for an award.

Federal funding starts off as legislative action. Someone in Congress sponsored a bill that went to a committee that had hearings (perhaps) and sent it on to a vote. If it passed, it became part of a government plan or program and went to a federal department, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to implement. This “legislative history” can yield important and helpful information you can use to prepare your bid. The Library of Congress online search service is a good place to start.

“The federal department in charge of carrying out the program will likely post a lot of useful information about its own grant opportunities as well as stories of the impact it has had with previous grants,” according to Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant for The Grantsmanship Center. Savvy proposal writers will look at what the agency has done with its money, what it wants to “brag about,” and will use that information to guide the development of a new application. 

Don’t overlook the “related documents” or “supplemental materials” tabs when you open a grants.gov tab to read about the specific grant opportunity. You might find agency reports, application instructions, references to other grant resources, a webinar recording about the funding, etc. These all can help you understand more fully what the government wants to buy with its funding. 

And that might be the key to what’s behind the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) and what should be on your mind as you approach a federal application. The government spends money to get things done that it has already decided need to get done. Your nonprofit might be able to deliver the work but it’s going to be on federal terms, with government definitions, government guidelines and protocols. 

Federal funding comes with more, and more accessible, background information than a lot of foundation grants. Your job is to look behind the scenes. © Copyright 2022 The Grantsmanship Center