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Funding Guidance

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to Apply)

While the AFFORD tool can help you identify, compare, and prioritize funding and incentives, there are some questions it cannot answer sufficiently or at all. The guidance here is intended to help coach new and experienced decision-makers, project managers, and grantwriters through the journey of determining whether an opportunity is worth pursuing.

Considering Internal Capacity to Apply and/or Manage Federal Funding

  • Do you have staff capacity to prepare the application, administer the grant award, and fulfill the reporting requirements?
    Before investing time and energy into grant preparation, consider whether you or your team actually have capacity to write a compelling application. If not, you may want to ask another team/department, hire a consultant, or work with an intermediary organization (e.g. local university) to help your jurisdiction apply and manage the award. Keep in mind that if you are awarded, you will want to be a responsible steward of federal dollars.
  • Does the grant, if awarded, pay for staff time or administrative activities?
    This can often be determined by reviewing the eligible uses of funding in a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) or Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).
  • Is this funding opportunity a national competition?
    Some local governments and organizations may not feel they can compete on a national scale. That said, many opportunities contain carve-outs for rural communities, energy communities, Tribal communities, and areas below certain populations. If your community is included in one or more of those designations, you may be competing against a smaller pool of applicants to begin with.
  • To what extent can your community or organization partner with others in your community, region, or state to develop a joint application?
    Joining forces for competitive grants can lead to regional or community-wide solutions, especially for cross-jurisdictional projects advancing a clean energy economy, workforce development, regional transportation strategies, and resilience. While your community might get a smaller slice of the pie, if you otherwise struggled to have capacity, this could lead to a more streamlined (or at least shared) application process and increase your competitiveness overall by showing regional or national significance.
  • Is a planning grant or technical assistance an option to apply for?
    Most agencies offer opportunities to seek lower dollar amount planning grants to build capacity and enhance project plans prior to implementation. Likewise, pursuing federal technical assistance can often help build capacity and leverage agency expertise in a more tangible, supportive manner. These applications are usually lower effort to develop than competitive implementation grants.
  • Does your team, department, or organization have a go/no-go checklist?
    Creating a simple checklist with and for your team can help you consistently and efficiently filter opportunities specific to your needs and capabilities. Each team may have different elements in its checklist that can help with quick decision-making in a capacity constrained environment. Many of the questions on this page may help inform your checklist.

Determining Whether Applying is Worth the Effort

  • What’s the likelihood of success?
    While there is no determining factor here, a good threshold to check is the number of awards made each year, and where available, the average amount of each award. The AFFORD tool includes this information for many programs when you compare programs side-by-side or if you click on a single program link. The number of anticipated awards can help prospective applicants understand how many will likely be distributed in each state, though unless specified explicitly, it is not guaranteed that every region, territory, or state will automatically receive an award. For example, applicants should expect grant program with 75 anticipated awards to offer between 1-3 awards per state.
  • Will the funding be awarded in time to support your project timeline?
    You will know best what makes sense for your project, but keep in mind that successful awards can sometimes be 6 months and up to one year after the projects are selected.
  • Does your project align with the grant’s eligible activities and objectives?
    Sometimes projects will neatly fit within grant guidelines. In other cases, you may be able to review past awards, when available, from existing agency programs to see if your project seems close to that of previous awardees. To find information on past recipients, look in the “Helpful Tips” or “Other Notes” sections of AFFORD or go directly to the agency website for the funding program. Note: Many of the programs created in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act are new and may lack many, if any, past awardees to review.
  • Does your organization align with the grant program’s applicant eligibility guidelines?
    Not every grant program is designed for every type of organization. In some cases, there are prime or lead applicants and suggested secondary and support partners. Understanding these delineations by agency and by grant program can help determine whether this application is worth your time and effort to lead. Related, consider the role of your city or organization relative to other partners involved. Cities and other local governments, for example, are often in a unique role in receiving and deploying federal (and state) funding. You can learn more about potential roles of your local government and other partners with C40’s report “Maximizing the impact of US federal climate investments: The unique role of cities.”
  • Does the funding program have a population threshold requirement?
    If so, determine if your organization qualifies. This typically applies to formula funding for local governments but may also be relevant for carve-out programs within competitive grants for rural communities.
  • Does the funding opportunity pay for all of the project expenses?
    If it does not, determine whether other funding opportunities will be necessary to pursue to cover the remaining tasks and expenses.

Evaluating Application Difficulty

  • Is there an initial threshold review for project eligibility built into the process?
    Many US EPA or US Department of Energy grants have either a “notice of intent” or “concept note” process. These are often page limited with fewer requirements in the initial submission phase. This kind of process offers two key benefits: 1) it offers an initial opportunity at a lower level of effort to understand whether your project fits the core eligibility requirements (though doesn’t assess how competitive your project might be); and 2) it often offers a longer timeline to understand the requirements, get partner and stakeholder buy-in, and develop your full application.
  • What types of supplemental application components are required or strongly encouraged beyond the application narrative?
    Some competitive grant applications require a benefit cost analysis or community benefits plan. Other types of applications may require memoranda of understanding (MOUs), letters of commitment, and other community engagement among larger coalitions or partnerships. Ultimately, requirements vary widely, but briefly scanning the “submission requirements” or other similar sections can help you determine whether you’re prepared to submit what is necessary to be competitive.
  • Does the application require the applicant to work with community organizations or labor unions to be eligible (and do you have the capacity to do this effectively)?
    While this can strengthen a project overall, some applicants may not be well-positioned to build such partnerships under a tight deadline.

This is not an exhaustive list, but discussing these questions early with your project team and potential partners can help you better make decisions on what to spend your time and focus your attention on applications that make the most sense for your community.