For clarification, some towns and municipalities also offer funds to nonprofits. While these are technically also government grants, for the purpose of this article my definition of a “government grant” will be for state and federal grants.
Government grants are somewhat of a “holy grail” for fundraisers. The paperwork is enormous, and the process can be very long and very time and resource intensive.
If you choose to pursue government funding, be fully prepared that the paperwork, record keeping, and reporting requirements throughout and especially at the conclusion of the project are immense. Every penny must be accounted for, and it must be spent exactly as the original budget outlined. If you find yourself running short on marketing dollars or salaries midway through the project, that is your problem to solve. You cannot shift funds from one line item to another to make up a shortfall. If you run short on cash overall or in a specific line item, your organization must make up the difference. Careful planning prior to submitting a proposal is absolutely essential.
Record keeping and reporting for government grants can be extremely time consuming and overwhelming. If you think you are going to be operating at capacity just to deliver services, then government grants may not be the right thing for your organization. The administrative burden may be too much to take on.
Government grants can be great, but as an organization you need to approach them with a complete and clear-eyed understanding of everything that is entailed. Your organization’s leaders, your board, and your staff need to be on board.
It pays to find out which government agency at the federal or state level is most likely to issue requests for proposals that fit your mission, and then monitor their website and news feeds. Some government grant announcements are made with a very long lead time. Others give potential applicants only a very short window to apply. It helps to always have conversations about potential funding opportunities internally so that when the time comes, the person writing the grant proposal has all the information they need already in hand.
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