28 Jan Did You Know: Congressionally Directed Spending by: Ana Teslik, Ph.D., MPA, GPC
Diversifying a portfolio of funding opportunities can be more than seeking foundation and federal grants. In the current funding landscape, organizations have the capacity to add legislative affairs to their ongoing activities in the pursuit of additional funds to achieve their mission.
Did you know that nonprofits are eligible to pursue Congressional Directed Spending and/or Community Project Funding? These two funding vehicles are discretionary funding sponsored by either a Representative in the case of Community Project Funding opportunities, or by a Senator in the case of a Congressionally Directed Spending Opportunity. In general, these two categories are part of the appropriations process. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, appropriations are “decisions made by Congress about how to allocate a portion of federal spending. The appropriations process generally addresses the discretionary portion of the federal budget.” There are several ways in which 501(c)(3) organizations may be included in that process to provide investments to their communities that have a broad reach.
The trend of funds being routed through these vehicles is on the rise. In FY22, $9.064 billion funded 4,963 projects nationwide. And, in FY23, $15 billion funded over 7,200 projects nationwide. The distributions of those funds were allocated as shown in the map below. In addition, the FY24 full budget shows the base of funding requests that are discretionary in nature to be of $1.695 trillion, a 4.8 percent increase from the FY23 levels.
FY22 Appropriations Distribution
Organizations that have a compelling project with widespread local support, which hold the potential to improve their community may seek to be part of the appropriations process. In the House of Representatives, each Rep. can make up to 15 prioritized requests for funding, which are submitted online to a public database. Projects that have demonstrated widespread support and impact through letter of support from community organizations and stakeholders, or have managed to earn media attention for their projects, or have developed publicly available planning documents, are in a great position to become competitive candidates for a Community Project Funding sponsored by their Rep. In this process, delegates make initial requests in March in each of the subcommittees, which encompass (1) Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA; (2) Commerce, Justice, and Science; (3) Energy and Water Development; Financial Services and General Government; (4) Homeland Security; (5) Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; (5) Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies; and (6) Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. Each of the funding requests submitted for FY24 are accessible at the following website: https://appropriations.house.gov/fiscal-year-2024-community-project-funding. There, you will also be able to find out whether your Representative participates in any of the subcommittees that most align with the mission of your organization.
On the other hand, the Senate’s Congressionally Directed Spending initiatives do not require proof of widespread local support. The funding is usually divided into the same subcommittees as outlined above. However, there are no limits regarding how many requests a Senator can make. The full list of requests submitted by Senators can be found here: https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/congressionally-directed-spending-requests-fy2023-chart.
For both of these opportunities, organizations will also have to fulfill eligibility requirements for funding that each federal agency issues for regular grants. While the process for the request is different regarding the approach and timeline, the content of a funding request will be significantly similar to a grant request including information such as a project purpose, justification for the project, project budget, project financing, and timeline to completion. This last point is important as most requests should be completed within a fiscal year, so projects should be positioned as a feasible project that can be completed within a federal fiscal year starting October 1, ending September 30.
Generally, the timeline for one of these requests should start well before the March deadline. Organizations interested in pursuing these types of funding can develop a strategy early on, starting with finding out who are their U.S. Representatives and Senators. To find out that information, you can visit: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative and https://www.senate.gov/senators/senators-contact.htm. Get to know your Rep. and Senator, as well as their interests. During the early Fall, you can begin your outreach by sending an annual report and a personalized letter, or sending an invitation to an open house, or in general sharing the mission of your organization and its impact in the community. Your following step can be securing letters of support from influential community leaders who could be from business ventures or other civic enterprises. You could also gather matching funds at this time. Keep track of your Representatives’ or Senator’s website, as announcements and applications will be shared there with the public by March. Your request should be ready to be submitted by early April, which is a quick turnaround. To make that process as smooth as possible, you can pitch a shovel-ready project that can be completed in one year. Successful projects are positioned as feasible, impactful, and self-sustaining.
Finally, a word of caution for anyone seeking to diversify their portfolio by pursuing Congressionally Directed Spending or Community Project Funding Opportunities, be sure to remain positive and focus on building a relationship. Easy ways to derail a relationship are to criticize or complain on a partisan basis once a project is not funded. Nor showing gratitude for a public servant’s time may also be detrimental. And, referring to these opportunities as earmarks, pork, or slush funds may set the relationship on a negative course from the beginning. For further tips on how to start a project to seek a Congressionally Directed Spending for a project, please refer to AGS CDT_CDS tip sheet.
AGS has experience helping organizations pursue and secure this type of funding. For additional tips or a custom approach to adding this as a strategy to your grant seeking, Julie Alsup, PMP, GPC, will be happy to talk with you about this and provide you with a quote for services.
AGS blogs, funding alerts, and trainings are aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills
Competency #2: Knowledge of organizational development as it pertains to grant seeking
Skill 2.4 Identify values, mission, and goals of your organization’s overall strategic plan as it relates to the grant process/grant seeking