Federal grants follow a specific set of sections and criteria. Experienced grant writers immediately develop a checklist of application requirements and an outline for the narrative based on the agency solicitation and structure. Yet, even a well-crafted gameplan can be challenged with deadlines merely 1-2 months after the agency’s announcement. Accordingly, planning ahead – even before a funding announcement – can help you prepare effectively and thoughtfully.
However, when you know there is a grant you intend to apply for (or have shortlisted), you can even develop an outline in advance that reflects a majority of the core sections. Here are two ways to do this:
- If the program is recurring from a past year, you can often find the past agency solicitation or opportunity announcement on Grants.gov or the agency’s website.
- It is likely that program guidelines and solicitations will remain similar enough from year-to-year, especially during the same federal administration. You can expect a few priorities or scoring criteria may change from the past cycle, but not likely the overall structure and core requirements.
- Regardless of whether the program is new or recurring, you can likely expect the following sections in any federal solicitation:
- Project Narrative: Tell the story of your community, your project, the impact your project will have, and how additional funding will help. Don’t forget to start with the foundation you’ve already laid with your 2-page project pitch.
- Budget: Identify what components of your project you need funding for and the estimated costs for each component.
- Leveraged Resources: Outline key sources of monetary and in-kind leverage (including staff time and partner resources). Note that not all leveraged resources will count as a formal match or cost-share.
- Project Timeline: Break your project narrative into specific tasks, ideally aligned with your budget. Identify specific tasks, community meetings, deliverables, and other milestones and when that work will happen, including whether any of the tasks are dependent upon others. Be prepared to describe how you will adapt your project plan if any tasks are delayed. Ultimately, develop a proposed timeline to accomplish the tasks. Depending on your type of project, this would likely be on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.
- Supporting Disadvantaged Communities: To encourage local governments to pursue projects that enhance equity, the Federal Government established the Justice40 Initiative, or “J40,” requiring all federal investments in climate and clean energy to deliver at least 40% of the benefits to communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution. This is now an integral element of many competitive applications, so plan to leverage and honor past community engagement and local visioning or to proactively initiate an inclusive project-specific engagement process. To learn more about J40, check out this page of the Funding Guidance.
- Partnerships & Collaboration: Many federal grant programs seek partnerships and teams that can effectively implement funded projects. Start building those relationships and discussing project roles early, as those can take time, and also feel less forced when not built around a grant application timeline overtly. This is especially important to start early if potential partners will need to be selected competitively and plan accordingly.
With enough preparation, it is not unreasonable to have your grant application partially written by the time the agency solicitation is released. Then it’s just filling in the missing pieces and fine-tuning!