Fear Vs. Reality In Winning Federal Grants
nonprofit management tips

Many organizations are wary of the federal grants arena. They think the application process is onerous, the chances of winning are slim, and the management of awards is intimidating.

“Sure, there’s a learning curve,” said Barbara Floersch, executive director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “But small and medium-size organizations win many federal awards, and the funding is more than worth the time spent learning the ropes.”

Let’s look realistically at some common concerns.

FEAR: All federal grant applications are long and complex.
REALITY: Complexity and length of applications vary.

The requirements of the various funding agencies and of the specific grant programs within those agencies vary tremendously. Some application guidelines are complex and responsive proposals might run up to 60 pages plus attachments. But other guidelines are less complex with proposals limited to 20 double-spaced pages or less.

FEAR: Only large organizations win federal grant awards.
REALITY: An organization does not have to be large to win federal grants.

It’s not at all unusual for small or medium-size organizations to win federal grants. Proposals are scored on their responsiveness to application guidelines. And the track record of applicant organizations is also assessed to determine fiscal stability and prior performance before an award is finalized.

When small organizations submit high quality grant proposals for projects that are well within their capacity and are a good fit with their expertise, they can be fierce competitors on the federal level. The organization’s size matters only if the application guidelines require delivery of a degree of service that is beyond the reach of smaller organizations.

FEAR: It takes months to develop a federal grant proposal.
REALITY: The amount of time required to develop a federal proposal varies greatly.

Many factors impact how long it takes to develop a federal proposal. While complex application guidelines and detailed submission requirements complicate the job, most time is spent in gathering research and other documentation, pulling together community partnerships, planning the program, and figuring out the budget.

Even complex application guidelines can be conquered with relative ease when a project fits snuggly within your organization’s current work. In this case, you’ll have the research, documentation, program plans, and community partners in place.

When your organization is proposing a new approach, pulling together partners, finding needed documentation, and hammering out a program plan will take more time. Still, staying on top of research in the field and maintaining strong partnerships within the community will position you to move quickly.

Working proactively also positions you to respond quickly to federal opportunities. When your organization is concerned about a community problem, start gathering data, building community relationships, and drafting program approaches. Eventually you’ll look for appropriate funding sources and when you find them, it won’t take long to put together a proposal.

Don’t let fear of the federal grants arena cut off a promising revenue stream that could provide much needed support for your important work. Take a breath, dive in, and learn the ropes. © Copyright 2016, The Grantsmanship Center.