Doing Business With The Government
(A primer for nonprofits seeking government grants)
Non profit organizations and educational institutions often seek grants from
local, state or federal government. Here are some tips that might help if this
is a new field for you.
1. Learn the rules.
Government agencies are bureaucracies, so most of the rules are written.
Just ask and you can usually get program descriptions, application procedures,
how the applications will be rated and current priorities. Stay within the
lines and you may prosper.
2. Different approaches are needed.
Appeals that work well with individuals or foundations may be
inappropriate, particularly emotional approaches. Reviewers will look for
technical expertise, logic, clear theoretic bases for your program, and
3. Don't get political.
We can't say it hasn't worked, but getting your legislator to push the
agency to give you a grant is tacky. Proposal raters see their process as an
objective and technical one, much like civil service, one that shouldn't be
open to favoritism. A letter of support, however, is fine, particularly when
you have many folks' letters saying you are a credible organization with a
4. Brevity is not rewarded.
The Request for Proposal will say differently, but just write small. Be
thorough and complete, and attach all the background and supportive
information that is pertinent. Attachments can be creative: maps, GIS
displays, even a videotape...if appropriate.
5. More homework, more success.
Research your grant all that time allows. Learn the jargon, read agency
plans, review grantee's reports. It pays off in more solid proposals.
6. Packages and Partners.
Government staff are suckers for approaches that are jointly sponsored, use
existing resources or creatively pair technologies or funding agencies. Its
worth the extra effort.
7. Try, try again.
Do a grant postmortem if you don't get funded. Agency officials are quite
candid about your grants' strengths and weaknesses after the selection