How to Get Free Money from the Government as Grant

Government as friend

At all times the Government provides grants to Non-Profits

You may already know that the United States government has billions of dol­lars to distribute in the form of grants to non-profits. You probably just don’t know how to get your share of it Governments on all levels offer grants to non-profits: federal, state, county, city and town plus quasi-government agencies such as trans­portation and housing authorities.

Practically everybody is eligible to apply for government grants. This includes non-profits of all sizes and governance such as community-based orga­nizations, colleges and universities, professional, occupational and trade associa­tions, and faith-based organizations.

The availability of federal grant funding is part of a larger political and economic cycle. The amounts fluctuate as do the priorities, but billions are still available from every federal agency which then makes it available to the states.

The big news was the arrival in2009 of monies through “stimulus funds”, otherwise known as the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act The act was proposed by President Barack Obama and appropriated by the US Congress in early 2009 to the tune of almost $800 Billion. The money has been spent but the US Con­gress continues to argue about the need for further large-scale federal stimulus to fix and build the nation’s roads and bridges, transit systems, bike paths and pedes­trian walkways.

These federal funds are available through an open competitive process, which increasingly relies upon a sophisticated online system currently used by more than 26 federal agencies. The system is designed to streamline an otherwise cumbersome process. In fact, most federal agencies are moving towards an exclu­sive on-line system although some agencies require both an on-line application and the mailing of supportive documentation such as audited financial statements and letters of support.

Traditionally, most government funding is linked to budget cycles usually reflecting the fiscal accounting cycle of the originating agency. For example, the federal fiscal year begins October 1s. Therefore man)’ federal funding application deadlines, as well as the release of funding are tied to that fiscal cycle. A grant ap­plication referring to federal FY2015 means that the funding cycle begins October 1,2014 and ends September 30,2015. State governments operate on a different fiscal cycle; likewise grants are more likely to be announced and rewarded based on the state cycles. All but four states run their fiscal years from July 1 to June 30. The four exceptions are: New York and Texas which run their fiscal cycles from April 1 through March 31s, and Alabama and Michigan operate their fiscal cycles identical to the federal fiscal cycle, October 1 through September 30th.

Sometimes what happens is that there are more favorable applications than there is money available. So applications can receive passing grades from government reviewers but not be funded due to a lack of money. The result is the non­profit may indeed be sent an award letter and then later another letter indicating that the application would have been funded had additional funds been available.

Suggestion – never hire or enter into a contract with a vendor or pur­chase expensive equipment based on a favorable review or receipt of an award letter unless the non-profit actually receives a signed contract from the origi­nating government agency.

Free Money – Don’t be Deceived there is no free lunch

Free Money - Don't be Deceived there is no free lunch

There are endless promotions seen on TV and the internet, heard on the radio and sometimes to be found in the classified sections of newspapers pro­claiming free government grants available. This is all I type and verges on fraud. Yes, government grants are available but they are not that easy to get and they all come with strings attached. To protect die taxpayer’s money, your money, the government doesn’t willingly give away funds. The money is not for the taking However, if your non-profit has a good idea that fits within the guidelines provided by the grantor agency, practices sound accounting methods, employs experienced staff and can submit on time and within page limitations a reasonable grant application, then government grant funding is possible. It’s not simple but it’s possible and the more a non-profit submits applications, the more likely they will eventually get funding More submitted applications is better than less. Practice makes perfect And success breeds success. Once the non-profit has received that first grant contract, has established a record of sound accounting and documented performance standards, the next government grant becomes that much easier to obtain.

Opportunities. RFP – PA – RFA

A RFP (Request for Proposal), Public Announcement (PA) or RFA (Request for Application) are the most commonly found grant opportunity announcements. However, government agencies douse other terms. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development uses the term Notices of Funding Availabilities (NOFA). Other examples: the federal Department of Justice requests “Solicitations” while the federal Environmental Protection Agency may announce RFIP (Request for Initial Grant Proposals) because many of their initial announcements are used as screening devices. The non-profit submits a first application and a majority of those applications are rejected. Those remaining applicants then submit a more detailed application for the actual funding State agencies may simply refer to a grant opportunity as a FA (Program Announcement).

Researching Grant Opportunities

There are good online sites to look at for grant opportunities, but there is no one site that lists them all. The federal government has become more techno­logically sophisticated in recent years so that a variety of RFPs, FAs or RFAs can be located on die major federal grant site – The federal government’s Federal Service Desk for the above web site operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week except on Federal holidays. The number is 800-518-4726. Never hesitate to ask for help. Your tax money pays for the service.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced in May 2005 that their entire grant funding opportunity announcements will be available through However, not all agencies are so committed to this prac­tice. Most states are not as organized so there are a myriad of sites for locating state and local funding.

In addition, state and local governments use newspapers to make grant announcements. Scrutinize the larger circulation newspapers in your community under die “Public Notices” section for RFPs.


Federal Government

The largest funding source in the United States is the federal government. The majority of grant opportunities are awarded to non-profits that have previously received federal funding. However, the federal government is always seeking to expand its list of grantees, if for no other reason than it looks better politically. In fact, the federal government has created special categories of awards directed to new entrants called “Seed Money” grants, those for non-profits with small budgets (under $300,000) and those inexistence fin: fewer than three years. It is unlikely for a brand new non-profit (under one year) to receive federal grant funding because an important element in a successful award is demonstrated fiscal responsibility. The federal government determines this by reviewing the non-profit’s financial statements.

All non-profits should start reviewing federal funding opportunities by clicking on the federal web site More than 1,000 different grant programs and more than $500 billion in annual awards are awarded through this system. The largest federal agencies are represented on this site including: Depart­ment of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Health & Human Services, Housing & Urban Development, Justice, Labor, Transportation, National Science Foundation and FEMA. However, one should never assume that this site has all grant opportunities listed, so it is always advisable to also directly search the web site of specific federal agencies such as Health and Human Services (HHS) or Hous­ing and Urban Development (HUD), which operates 3 5 programs and authorized $ 1 Billion in grants last year. These are very large federal agencies with multiple levels of agencies under these behemoths. It is equally important to search out grants directly announced by sub-agencies.

For example, HHS is the largest federal agency and is the parent of 11 big and important grantor agencies:

  • Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Administration on Aging(AoA),
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • National Institutes of Health(NIH)
  • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)
  • Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ)
  • Agency for Toxic Substance & Disease Registry (ATSDR)
  • Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA)
  • Indian Health Services (HIS)
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
  • Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Contact Your Federal Representatives

The next important step in successfully obtaining government funding is to better understand the federal granting bureaucracy by seeking out your non-profit’s federal representation in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. It’s easy and extremely valuable to know who these men and woman are for the non-profit’s financial well-being For the US House of Representatives go to and locate your representative. The drop-down menus are simple to foil ow. First, indicate the state or territory, enter your zip code and, this is a must, the 4-digit code extension. If you don’t know this 4-digit code extension number go to the United States Postal Service’s web site for the information:

Find the local staff person that is a contact point Most Congressional representatives have very’ fine and responsive local staff that is there to assist with constituents’ problems and questions. If your non-profit is unknown to the district office staff, invite them to your offices and let them see or learn about what contribution your non-profit is making to the community. Ask the Con­gressional staff in die district office if they have suggestions of contact people in federal agencies and specific web sites to utilize regarding grant opportunities. The US House of Representatives is known as the “People’s House” because they are more likely to be approachable than is the US Senate.

However, don’t neglect to contact your US Senators. The web site is Use the drop-down menus to locate your non-profit’s two Sen­ators. Each Senator has his/her own web page and search it for the local staff person. Also, if the Senator is a Chair of an important Senate Committee or sub-Committee that impacts your non-profit’s mission or services locate a staff contact to discuss future grant opportunities. Most Senators and Congress people have created e-mail newsletters. In some cases, these newsletters announce grant opportunities. Be sure to signup for all available newsletters.

Getting Started

While the federal application process appears daunting, it is largely the completion of a series of forms followed by the creation of a project narrative and the development of a budget with a budget justification. Almost all federal applications start with Standard Form 424 – SF424 (frequently revised but always the latest is available through the on-line application system), which is known as the Application for Federal Assistance.

In order to complete this form, your non-profit has to have accomplished several other steps along the way. First your non-profit needs an Employer Iden­tification Number(EIN)assigned by the Internal Revenue Service. Second, your non-profit needs a DUNS identification number or Data Universal Number System provided by the commercial credit rating company Dun and Bradstreet(D & B). This is a recent requirement It’s easy to obtain. Call 1-866-705-571 to register on-line. The web site is Be careful about obtaining a DUNS number because it should always be FREE. There should be no costs associated with obtaining this identification for use in applying for federal government grants so use the contact information listed above, and don’t search the web for assistance in obtaining the number.

The Form 424 requires listing the Congressional District of the applicant as well as where the project is located. Usually a grant announcement has a title and an accompanying Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number(CFDA). You must include this number on the Form 424. Also, the Form 424 requests a geographic description of where the project will be located – city, county, state, etc. As part of the documentation for any government grant application, it’s always advisable to include demographics and if possible, a map delineating the physical geography of the project.

 Other Forms

The federal government wants assurances that your non-profit follows the restrictions, regulations and laws that have been enacted. Standard Form 424B is the “Assurances- Non-Construction Programs.” This form is an all-in-one legal promise that your non-profit can fulfill all the requirements of die particular grant you are seeking It demands that the non-profit comply with all Federal statues regarding non discrimination. The language of Form 424B speaks to federal laws such as Tide VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Tide IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Age Discrimination Act of 19 75, Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act of 1972, Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Act of 1970. This language is standard legalese and should not present any problems; however, if your non-profit has been cited for: discrimination, then you should consult your at­torney and review carefully the language of these assurances.

Other issues addressed in Form 424B include compliance with the federal Hatch Act limiting political activities of employees: Davis-Bacon Act sets labor standards, environmental standards under a series of federal laws and the catch-all phrase: “Will comply with all applicable requirements of all other Federal laws, executive orders, regulations and policies governing this program.” Unless your non-profit has been cited for violations under federal law, the only important as­surance that you must be prepared to accept is the non-profit’s willingness to meet required financial and compliance audits in accordance with the Single Audit Actof1984. In other words, be prepared, and expect to be audited by die federal government

The “Certifications” Sheet is similar to Form 424B. It contains language concerning five certifications or what can be referred to as declarations. “Certi­fication 1 ” refers to debarment and suspension. This certification asks if the non­profit been debarred, suspended, declared ineligible for federal funding because of fraud or some other criminal act “Certification 2” deals with maintaining a drug-free workplace. “Certification 3” concerns the prohibition against lobbying “Certification 4” certifies that all the statements given are true, complete and accu­rate. “Certification 5 ” refers to maintaining a smoke free environment

The issue of lobbying is important for the federal government In addition to the Certifications Form there is a specific form called the “Disclosure of Lobbying Activities,” which must be completed.

A private, non-profit organization must be prepared to demonstrate evidence of their non-profit status. The easiest proof is to provide a copy of a valid Internal Revenue Service 50 lc(3) Letter of Determination.

Applying On-Line

Applying On-Line

The government application process has joined the twenty-first century, permitting a number of federal agencies to accept grant applications electronically. However, there is a registration process that must be followed. Again, these are not difficult steps, but it does demand thinking ahead of the deadline. There are five steps to follow. The process for each step varies and can take from one day to two weeks so plan well in advance to submit an electronic federal grant appli­cation. It all begins with the applicant going to: Also it is highly recommended that you “Take the Tutorial” and if necessary listen and take notes several times. There are also downloads of the information.

Step 1: Obtain DUNS Number

This is easy and referred to earlier because without a DUNS number you can’t even fully review potential grant opportunities. The federal government has adopted the use of DUNS numbers as their way of tracking die federal grant alloca­tions. It takes no more than one day to accomplish this step. Can be done on-line or via the phone.

DUNS Number registration requires the following information:

  • Name of the organization/non-profit
  • Phone number
  • Name of the CEO/Executive Director of non-profit
  • Legal structure (corporation, partnership, proprietorship, non-profit)
  • Year the non-profit started
  • Primary line of business/non-profit services
  • Total number of employees (full and part-time)

Step 2: Register with SAM (System for Award Management)

The on-line system requires an applicant to register with SAM (recent change as of July 2012; in the past non-profits registered with CCR). This registra­tion process takes from 2-3 days to up to 2 weeks. If this is a first time applying for federal grants highly recommended to participate in the free SAM Webinar.

SAM requires the following information;

  • Name, email address, phone number, country
  • Other information is asked but not required (full street address)
  • Then the non-profit creates a username and password which cannot be changed

The process starts by going to web site: Click on Create an Account In doing so, the non-profit designates an E-Business Point of Contact (E- Biz POC). This is an important selection for the non-profit so choose the individual wisely. It is the E-Biz POC who is authorized to designate or revoke an individual’s ability to submit grant applications on behalf of their non-profit via www.grants. gov. A non-profit should consider a senior level financial officer. Only one person per organization can be designated the E-Biz POC. This person will then identify a special password called the “M-PIN.” The M-PIN allows the E-Biz POC authority to designate which staff members) are authorized to submit electronic applications through Staff permitted to submit applications are known as Authorized Organization Representatives (AOR). This process can take five business days.

IMPORTANT: Your non-profit needs to renew this SAM registration annu­ally. You cannot continue to Step 3 without an up-to-date SAM registration.

Step 3: Username & Password

The person authorized to submit grant applications, the AOR needs to com­plete an on-line profile and create a username and password, which will serve as their “electronic signature.” Without completing this process a non-profit cannot submit electronic applications. If the non-profit is small, the E-Biz POC and the AOR can be the same person although it requires an alternate email than the one used to register as a E-Biz POC.. After your non-profit registers with SAM, AORs must wait one business day before completing their profile. Once the profile is submitted that same day the AOR should be able to use their username and password.

Step 4: AOR Authorization

Once the AOR has registered, the E-Biz POC will receive an e-mail notifica­tion from and an e-mail copy is sent to the AOR. Then the E-Biz POC must login to (using the non-profit’s DUNS number for the username and the M-PIN password – process described in Step 2) and approve the AOR This is the official step that permits the AOR to submit applications for the non-profit Only the E-Biz POC can approve AORs. For large non-profits the AOR is probably a staff member but for smaller non-profits the AOR can be a consultant Just be prudent in designating AORs. Immediately after the E-Biz POC logs-in and approves the AOR, the person can begin submitting grant applications.

Step 5: Track AOR Status

The AOR can track the status of their authorization by logging in to Grants, gov using their username and password (obtained through the process in Step 3) and learn whether the E-Biz POC has approved their authorization.

This may seem like a cumbersome process but it is really very useful if your non-profit intends to apply for multiple grants with agencies that are listed. Even­tually, all federal agencies will be on this system. Remember there is a Help Desk 800-518-472 6 and go back to the tutorial if you are confused or uncertain.

State Government

Ordinarily, the federal government will award $500billion in grants to state and local governments. Although the federal government directly awards grants with the largest monetary amounts, non-profits are more likely to receive direct funding from their state government. The federal government makes significant awards directly testate government agencies for the purpose of distributing these monies to local governments and community-based organizations. As a result, non-profits residing in states where state government agencies are the most aggressive about getting funding from the federal government are more likely to obtain funding Some federal government funding to states is based solely on population; therefore, the most populous states receive the most funding In addition, certain federal monies are targeted to states with high levels of poverty, therefore non-profits in these states are more likely to receive funding fix programs targeting the poor and disadvantaged.

Your best source of information about these federal awards to state government is your federal representatives: US House of Representatives and US Senators. Check with their offices on a regular basis.

As organized as the federal government has become in creating electronic services and easy researching to ds, states are for behind in this modernization process. Itis tricky and difficult to quickly locate state grant opportunities. Some state agencies are better equipped than others. The first step is simply to proceed to your state’s official home page on the Web. Chapter 3 discusses the nuances of state government funding.

County Government

County Government

The country is divided into more than 3,000 counties in 48 states (Louisiana divides its state into parishes and Alaska into boroughs). Across the country, large counties receive direct funding from both the federal and state government for most programs. New York City is a combination of five counties while Los Angeles is the largest county in the country with a population of almost ten million.

In turn, the county governments make funds available through RFPs to non­profit community organizations. Each county operates in its own distinct style and using its own procedures. The best advice is to locate the official county web page and check the announcements every few weeks. The process of securing county government grant funds is highly variable; however, it is easier to establish rela­tionships with county agency officials so its important to find contacts at county agencies.


City Government

Large cities do make funding available that they receive from state and federal sources. It can be difficult to break into these systems because of long established relationships, especially if the political officials have been in power for many years.

One source for general information on cities is Depending on how much data is provided by the sources, it may start as the first step in an investigation of possible competitive RFPs.

One city-centered organization that does provide funding for programs is the National League of Cities ( This is a good source to consult about potential grant opportunities.

Reviewing the RFA-Eligibility

This is the first issue to be addressed by a potential applicant Am I eligible? Ordinarily, this should be a very easy question to ascertain. The RFP has a specific item on its announcements. The “Eligible Applicants” or “Eligibility Information” section lists who can apply.

Common eligible entities are:

  • State agencies
  • Units of local government
  • Non-profits with 50 l(cX3) IRS status
  • Non-profits without 50 l(cX3) IRS status
  • Institutions of higher education
  • Hospitals
  • Libraries and museums
  • Faith-based organizations
  • School districts
  • For profit businesses

However, the non-profit may have to check with another government body to confirm its eligibility. Sometimes the definition of eligibility is multi-layered. For example, a recent state of New York Education Department RFP stated, “In order to be eligible to apply for these grants, an organization must be a consumer controlled, not-for-profit 50 lc(3) with a governing board that is comprised of fifty’ percent or more people with disabilities. The governing board must be the principal policy setting body of the organization.” Before moving forward on this grant opportunity, an organization either has such a board in place or can quickly establish a board with these specific requirements. There is no point in submitting an application if your non-profit is ineligible.


Certain RFPs are released for specific geographical regions. The federal gov­ernment has ten regions and RPF’s are announced that cover only specified regions, sometimes only a specific state is mentioned so only potential awardees located in these geographic areas should apply. Carefully read any announcements to ascer­tain if there are geographic limitations.

10 Federal Regions

Region 1: CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT

Region 2 :NJ, NY

Region 3: DE, DC, MD, FA, VA, WV

Region 4: AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN

Region 5: IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, WI

Region 6: AR, LA, NM, OK, TX

Region 7: IA, KS, MO, NE

Region 8: CO, MT, ND, SD, UT, WY

Regions 9: AZ,CA, HI, NV

Region 10: AK, ID, OR, WA

Location matters mother ways. Certain federal grants such as those awarded by the Office of Justice, (US Department of Justice) pre-determine loca­tions where the funding can be awarded based on crime statistics or where “pilot” or “seed” programs have already received initial funding; In a similar way, certain health grants are awarded to locations where there is a high incidence of certain health problems. So before embarking on an elaborate plan for completing an ap­plication, check these other fee tors. Does your non-profit’s project reflect meeting the required statistics?

In RFPs that have a research element there may be other eligibility require­ments. For example, federal research grants require that the applicant’s principal investigators) – PI demonstrate the necessary research and academic credentials. To successful compete for this funding, the application must clearly show this feet, usually with a carefully constructed resume or curriculum vitae (c.v.). If the application requires a specific type of training for example, completion of a course by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) then the resume must reflect this training.

The government also emphasizes collaborations. Part of an eligibility clause in the RFP may be a statement about demonstrating the existence of a board, part­nership, memorandum of agreement between groups. If this collaboration doesn’t exist or cannot be created in time for the submission, then don’t attempt to submit an application.

Letter of Intent (LOI)

In the RFP announcement, there can be a statement about submitting a Let­ter of Intent (LOI) prior to filing an application Submitting an LOI is not a binding obligation by an applicant to submit an application. But there are certain advan­tages for doing so. For some government agencies, the LOI is meant as a means of determining the level of interest of prospective applicants. In most cases, the LOI is nothing more than a statement that the organization is interested in the RFP. If there is more than one type of proposal announced, then the applicant is asked to check a box indicating interest in Component A versus Component B or interest in both parts of the RFP. Usually, die grantor agency actually provides a sample LOi and it can be faxed or sent by e-mail.. It’s that easy.

However, in some cases the grantor agency may use the LOI as a way of culling through many potential applicants. It will be much more than a sample let­ter but several pages in length outlining the proposed projector program. In those cases, the LOI is mandatory’ and requires die applicant to have a solid idea about the prospective application. Review the requirements concerning the LOI carefully. lt may state categorically that without submitting an LCH, a non-profit is prohibited from later filing an application.

It is always advisable, even if there is no requirement to file a LOI, to go ahead and submit one. It is not a binding document, so if the non-profit chooses later not to submit the LCH, it’s fine. It usually doesn’t take too much time and it im­mediately puts your non-profit on the agency’s mailing list so that any changes to the RFP or modifications will be sent to your non-profit.

Deadlines are Crucial

Deadlines are Crucial

The above statement cannot be emphasized enough- deadlines are crucial. Observe not only the day a grant application is due but also the time of the day. Deadline times can be listed as end of the business day – you need to find out what time that is. More commonly a specific time will be on die RFP. Typically these times are either 4 or 5 PM, but they can be noon. Most federal agencies are located in the Eastern Time zone so if your non-profit is on the west coast make certain that application is received on time.

Letters of Intent have deadlines which also must be respected. Forwarding backup documentation is sometimes required on a RFP. These requirements can have different deadlines but usually the timetable is within two weeks, no longer than 30 days after submitting the actual application. The easiest way to discard prospective applicants by the grantor agency is the failure of the non-profit to submit the application on time. One of the great virtues of on-line applications is that there are no postal or private delivery service complications. However, computers can fail so that’s why even in a world of on-line applications it is most desirable to submit the application at least two days in advance of that deadline.