Grants & Federal Projects

Am I eligible for a grant?

There are grants available to benefit everyone from individuals up to state governments. However, the majority (around 80%) of federal grant money is given to state and local governments. School districts, colleges and universities, housing authorities, and non-profits receive most of the rest. A small amount of grant money is available for private businesses and individuals, largely research grants. 

Grant programs are enacted to gain the help of the public or other governments in accomplishing a specific goal, not to provide assistance to the grantee. A grant program may be created to combat homelessness, for example, but recipients will be groups who assist the homeless, rather than the individuals in need of help. If you are in need of help yourself, you should visit benefits.gov to look for assistance. Small businesses looking for loans should visit the Small Business Administration website (sba.gov).

How do I find a grant?

With over 2,100 grant programs in the federal government, and many more grants offered by states, local governments, and private foundations, the most difficult part of the grants application process can be locating the correct program for you or your organization. 

For federal grants, speaking to the relevant agency can often be the best place to start. A list of federal grant agencies’ websites and phone contact information is included at the bottom of this page. There are two additional websites that can be used to browse the entire catalog of federal grants.

  • Grants.gov: Grants.gov is a comprehensive federal website which helps seekers find and apply for grants. The site allows you to search for grants on specific subjects or browse by criteria. Once you find a potentially useful grant, the application section contains information on how to apply, and then track your application. Note that Grants.gov is geared towards finding open grant opportunities. Writing an effective grant proposal takes time and effort, and you may not find it practical to apply for already open grants. Rather, you should find which grant program will be most useful to you, what the criteria for application are, and prepare for the following application period.
  • CFDA.gov: The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance is database of all domestic assistance programs, including grants. As with Grants.gov, it has a large searchable database. With CFDA.gov you can locate any program active under current law. However, not all grant programs are funded by Congress every year. Speaking with the agency which runs the grant may give you an idea if the program is expected to receive money during the next grant cycle.

With both Grants.gov and CFDA.gov, you will be most successful using the sites to locate potentially useful grant programs, and then contacting the agency that oversees the program for details on how and when to apply.

Senator Cardin’s office is not equipped to locate grants for all seekers, however, my staff can help you figure out where to look. Call my Washington office at 202-224-4524 or email me using my contact form.

How do I apply for a grant?

It is not easy to obtain a grant. The process is long and requires providing a large amount of information with a high degree of accuracy. You will need to take time to consider the ideal way to present your project as matching the awarding agency’s goals and convince the agency that you have the resources and discipline to follow through with your plans. Then you will need good writing skills to clearly communicate your ideas and processes to the people reviewing your proposal. Funds for most grants programs have been in decline, so expect a large amount of competition for the award you are seeking.

That being said, you should not be intimidated by the difficulty of the process. A large number of small non-profits and local government agencies are awarded vital grants every year. In many cases, organizations whose first application is unsuccessful are able to resubmit on subsequent years and gain awards. With persistence, any well-run organization has an opportunity for grant assistance.

The application process for organizations starts with applying for a DUNS Number. This is a 9 digit identifier used by government accounting systems to keep track of locations that receive federal funds. A DUNS number can be obtained from a website or by calling the toll free number 1-866-705-5711. DUNS numbers can be granted in a few business days.

The second step, registering with the System for Award Management (SAM), takes longer, up to two weeks. While getting a DUNS number is a painless process, registering with SAM is a lengthy and complicated procedure. It is highly recommended that you spend some time watching the demonstration videos offered on SAM.gov before you start the registration process. Your SAM number also needs to be renewed yearly.

Next you will want to spend some time reading the webpage for your grant program. These can be found on the appropriate agency’s website, or by links provided on grants.gov and CFDA.gov. These websites will provide information helpful for your specific program, such as FAQ’s or sample applications.

You will only be able to apply for the grant once the application period is open. You can often get an idea from the program website what you will be asked to provide and do some work beforehand, but the specific requirements may change year to year and are only announced with the opening of the application period. For some programs the application period comes at the same or similar dates every year, in other cases you will need to keep in contact with the agency to know when applications are being accepted.

Once the application period is open you will need to obtain an application packet from the agency to which you are applying. They will provide the packet to you when you speak to them about your proposal, or it can be obtained from Grants.gov or from the program website. Specifics on submitting the proposal to the agency will also be provided.

Senator Cardin’s office is often able to provide letters of recommendation for grant proposals. These do not need to be submitted with the application, and we can even send a letter after the proposal deadline. Contact my office by email or phone (202-224-4524) to arrange for a letter.

Click here for a short guide from the Congressional Research Service on how to develop a good grant proposal.

I’ve applied. What happens now?

Award announcement dates are not always posted ahead of time. Once the agency has completed its review of applications, it will contact you to let you know if you have received any funds.

If you’re application is unsuccessful, you should contact the agency to ask why. The agency will not reverse their decisions, but they will provide you with an analysis of your application, with each section scored to show where your application was felt insufficient. This can be an invaluable tool for your next application. Do not let rejection dissuade you from applying again. Often it can be a learning process towards developing a successful proposal.

If you do receive funds, you will need to sign a grant agreement with the agency. This is a legally binding contract detailing the administrative requirements necessary while using grant funds. Read this agreement carefully, as future audits may require you to demonstrate you have met these administrative requirements, or the funds can be withdrawn.

How do I administer my project?

The agency you are working with will set requirements for performance and reporting as you proceed with your project. It is important to keep in contact with the agency about your progress. Expenditures will need to be reported, changes in the project will need to get approval.

Keep careful documentation of your activities, you will need to report them at the end of your project period. Agencies can conduct audits of grantees to determine if their funds were spent efficiently and without fraud, and in the case of larger grants (over $500,000), audits are legally mandated. You should be prepared to account for all federal funds you spend. At the very least you will need to turn over copies of all financial documentation related to your project.

Classifying Grants

Federal grants are classified in different ways, and as you’re going through the grant process you may hear some of these classifications. Here are some categories of grants, and what they mean:

  • For the intended purpose of grants,there are two main types:
    • Categorical grants: These are grants which are authorized by a piece of legislation to be given for very specific use. For instance, a grant program might be authorized by Congress to aid firefighting companies. An applicant would then send a proposal to receive the grant by outlining a project which meets the program’s goal (This is FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant program). Around 90% of federal grant money is categorical. This is the type of money that almost all grant seekers apply for.
    • Block grants: Block grants are a much broader category of grant, in which both the granting agency and the grant recipient have broad discretion in how to spend the money. The recipients of block grants are almost always state or local governments, who frequently use the block grant money to create categorical grant programs within their jurisdictions. An example would be the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program, which grants government agencies money to be used at their discretion for a wide range of community development activity. Some CDBG money goes to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, some to individual towns in Maryland, all of which then spend or sub-grant the money.
  • For how grants are awarded,there are also two types:
    • Formula grant: In formula grants, the legislation which created the grants also specified exactly how the money is to be given out, according to a predetermined formula. For instance, a federal education grant program may grant multiple cities money depending on the number of students enrolled in each city’s schools (although formulas are frequently more complicated than that). The Community Development Block Grant, described above, is a formula grant.
    • Discretionary or Competitive Grants: Discretionary grants are awarded according to a competitive process, by which applications are sent by potential recipients into a government agency, which then makes decisions on which projects to fund. The total money available is determined by Congress, but the agency decides how much money is to be granted to each recipient. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant program is competitive, as will be almost all grants applied for by non-profits.
  • Matching Grants: A matching grant requires the applicant to provide money towards the project along with the granting agency.

Other Information:

Here are some links, resources and documents you might find helpful in your grant search.