Federal Grants

Spooky season is upon us, and at AGS we’ve been thinking about what keeps us up at night when it comes to grants. As grant pros, we are skilled at anticipating challenges and putting controls in place to mitigate negative outcomes in our grant programs. Here are some eerie grant scenarios with suggested actions that’ll have you sleeping like a baby.

Hello April! I am greeting this month with big, open arms – ready for sunshine, warmer temperatures, open windows, and a good, deep spring cleaning (who doesn’t love washing windows and scrubbing baseboards?). If those are not enough reasons to love April, here’s one more: it’s National Volunteer Month – a time to celebrate and promote volunteerism and helping hands. As a grant professional in the field for over 16 years, I have come to understand and deeply appreciate the value of a helping hand. One of the most valuable helping hands I have seen is proposal reviews, particularly for federal proposals (perfect timing as spring is often a federal grant season!). I have been fortunate enough to experience both internal and external reviews from those who are unfamiliar with my proposal’s program or the agency. BONUS: I have also served as an external reviewer for federal grant programs. The benefits of these extra eyes and hands are invaluable especially in an ever growing, highly competitive environment.

COVID-19 has forced many schools, hospitals, and agencies to launch emergency operations that they did not previously offer or to expand upon services that were quickly found to be insufficient. Many limped into virtual operations without adequate technology infrastructure, software platforms, or sufficient bandwidth (both internet signal and staff capacity). The USDA Rural Utilities Services Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant is not new, but it has certainly launched itself into celebrity status. This three-year grant provides eligible applicants the funding to purchase telecommunications equipment, computer networks, and related advanced technologies to be used by students, medical professionals, and rural residents for the purpose of expanding telemedicine and distance learning to rural communities.

Here at Assel Grant Services, we don’t just write many successful federal grants each year. Many of our clients are receiving their first federal grant or their first federal grant in the last five years. One of the reasons so many agencies large and small come to us is because we keep up with the constantly evolving federal government trends. So, what do we look for and how can you keep up on the departments most relevant to you?

During my experience working for and in partnership with nonprofit organizations, one common thread is the perpetuation of a “scarcity mindset.” This mindset is based on the idea that nonprofits exist to help others in need and serve the greater good, therefore, staff and anything they might need to do their jobs (salaries, benefits, training) is often last on the list of funding priorities.

My wife, Julie Assel, likes writing federal grants. I’ve been told that’s odd, and I guess I can understand why. Consider your average small-to-medium foundation grant. It might be a 2-3-page letter with an attached organizational budget, maybe your 501c3 letter and a board roster, but nothing you haven’t seen ten or a hundred times before. On the more complex end of what we normally experience, you’ve got agencies like the Health Forward Foundation in Kansas City asking for all that plus a logic model and theory of change indicator chart, with a 15-page narrative limit on certain grants. Fifteen single-spaced pages is nothing to sneeze at. Federal grants can have even higher page limits and even more attachments. The SF-424 alone can take more time to fill out than some grants can take to write.

Today I woke up and read about how FBI offices are setting up food banks to help other staff who aren’t getting paid.  When times are bad, we depend on each other and nonprofit organizations for a safety net – food pantries, clothing closets, rent and utility assistance, medication assistance, nonprofit hospital emergency rooms, and the list goes on. But the reality is, most truly sustainable nonprofits have some form of government funding. Why is that? Because like individuals with retirement accounts, nonprofits have been advised to have balanced income streams so if one income stream fails, they aren’t completely wiped out. But this means that while the government is down, not only do nonprofits have more people coming to their door, they are being affected by the shutdown with one of their revenue streams minimized or eliminated.

You can’t watch, listen to, or read any major news outlet without hearing about the federal government shutdown. There are many things being talked about already in the news like which federal offices are closed or affected. These include the departments of AgricultureCommerceJusticeHomeland SecurityHousing and Urban Development, the InteriorState, the Treasury. But other less-known offices like the National Science Foundation are also closed. Two vital pieces of information on what this means today:
  1. If grant opportunities (RFPs) have already been posted with a due date, the due dates stand. gov is still open.  You still have to turn in your grant on time.
  2. If you are waiting to hear about the result of a grant, you will need to keep waiting. There is no one there. Even offices which remained open for a couple of weeks with contingency funds from user fees, leftover funds, and other revenue have closed. New grant opportunities are not being released.

Chances are your organization conducts comprehensive grant research to prepare for the upcoming year’s grant calendar. If your organization is like most others, then you now have a long list of potential funders ranked by how likely they are to fund your group or program. From...

If you work under the assumption that education grants are just for funding university-level research, you’re in for a pleasant surprise, especially if you need funding for other purposes in higher education. A variety of societal benefits stem from students attending higher education institutions, including...