Back to the Mar-Apr 2020 issue

Tips for Finding and Applying for Grants

By Amanda Day

No matter your city size or location, your residents want to live in a community that meets their basic needs — clean water, public safety officials when they call, infrastructure that works, and recreational opportunities.

For smaller communities, this can be a tall order.

Grant funding to the rescue! But before you delve in, know this: Grants are competitive (at best), time-consuming (more often than not), and not always worth the work required (sad, but true). Even so, if you can find the right funding source for your community needs, grants are worth the effort.

The first step in grant funding is known as prospect research. You need to search through the multitude of funding sources to find the funder and grant that best fits your need. For small cities, the best place to start is state and federal funders.

State grants

Most local governments find that direct federal awards are few and far between. A large portion of federal money is first awarded at the state level, then passed down to local governments via a competitive grant process. So, it’s best to start with the state.

The state of Minnesota has a central website specifically for grants at https://mn.gov/grants/. You can search for grants by topic or by state agency and find grant resources such as training opportunities.

You can also look on state agency websites for specific grants. For example, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (www.dot.state.mn.us) provides local funding to assist with transportation, transit, and traffic safety. Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (www.dnr.state.mn.us) offers grant funding to help communities build trails, improve access to water, and more.

Federal grants

If in search of direct federal funding, visit www.grants.gov.

The site’s search engine allows you to narrow searches based on topic areas, eligible recipients, funding instrument types, preset categories, and federal agencies.

Current, forecasted, closed, and archived opportunities are found here. Remember that while closed opportunities have passed for this funding cycle, you can plan ahead for the next round. Most requests for proposals (RFPs) — the specific grant program guidance — do not change from year to year.

You can also look at individual federal department websites.

Each federal agency has its own grant programs. Visit the ones that fit the type of program you are trying to fund.

For instance, the Department of Justice (www.justice.gov) will provide public safety grants. The Department of Health and Human Services (www.hhs.gov) not only provides grants, but other helpful grant resources, such as tips on grant management, preparing for audits, and grant readiness.

Reach out to Congress members

U.S. senators and representatives want federal funding to benefit their constituents. If you cannot find federal funding to meet your community’s needs, consider reaching out to your congress members’ local offices. Explain who you are and what you are looking to fund, and they may recommend federal funding opportunities.

Learn from peers

Sometimes, the best resource is your peers. The Efficient Gov website (www.efficientgov.com) provides information about the latest innovative solutions to problems faced by local governments around the world. The site also shares grant information.

And never miss an opportunity to learn from your neighbors. Read the local paper, talk to neighboring jurisdictions, and seek out any grant training opportunities. If you have a network of resources, you can discover what grant funding other communities receive and use their knowledge for your own funding needs.

Next steps

When you find a grant you’re interested in, read the grant’s RFP, also known as the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) or Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). This document will include a variety of pertinent details, including:

  • What must be included in your proposal and when it is due.
  • How much money you can request.
  • Whether or not you have to include funding of your own to help pay for a portion of the project.
  • What types of organizations are eligible to apply.
  • What the grant management requirements will be if you are awarded.

Read this document carefully to ensure your local government meets the minimum requirements, your project fits the criteria, and the money is worth the time and effort. If so, it looks like you are ready to start collecting information and writing your grant proposal. Make sure you keep the RFP handy and closely follow every direction listed in it.

Amanda Day, GPC, is a grant professional and trainer for Grant Writing USA (www.grantwritingusa.com). She is cohost of the podcast Fundraising HayDay (www.fundraisinghayday.com).