What’s So Scary About Federal Grants? by Thomas Assel, GPC

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.

Perhaps the scariest part of a federal grant is the Request for Proposal (RFP). A particular program may have a 2-3-page RFP, but that RFP will refer back to general guidelines applicable to all grants written to that federal department. And that guidelines document can be a hundred or more pages. True, not all of those many, many pages will apply to your grant, but that’s a ton of information to comb through. The individual program RFP might also reference other documents that you should incorporate into your narrative. Sometimes formatting guidelines and page limits and lists of attachments can be difficult to find. And the number of pages of attachments can exceed your narrative page count, which itself can exceed 25 single-space pages. It’s an understandably daunting task.

If, by some chance, you get the grant, well now you’re in for it. Managing a federal grant is more work than writing it! Tracking and reporting on federal grant spending is harder than formulating the budget and creating the budget narrative. You’ve also got to consider that program performance tracking is time intensive and detail oriented, with considerably higher stakes than most foundation grants. A damaged relationship with the federal government can have dire implications for an entire agency.

Fear can be reasonable. It cautions us to tread carefully where we haven’t been before. There is no shame in fear if we don’t let it hinder us. Federal grants are new and unknown to many agencies, and thus inspire much fear. It is true that many agencies aren’t ready to write or manage a federal grant. For those agencies who think they’re ready, Assel Grant Services is prepared to serve as a guide into the unknown. We can help you assess your own federal grant readiness and identify federal funding opportunities appropriate to your programs. Let us pull back the curtain of fear to reveal the transformative opportunities on the other side.

If you are considering applying for a federal grant, let us help make it less scary! Our team can provide the support you need with coaching, writing, editing, revising, or managing the grant if you are awarded. Contact Rosie Brennan, Community Engagement Specialist about your opportunity and she can provide you a quote for grant services.