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The Maze: Challenges and Realities of Writing US Federal Funding Grants

By TCL Staff

Securing US federal funding through grants is a common objective for many organizations, whether non-profits, research institutions, or governmental entities. However, the path to obtaining federal grants is fraught with challenges, and misconceptions among organizational leadership often compound these difficulties.


Funders at federal agencies go out of their way to promote and elicit entities to request funding to address inquiries from Congress. Still, navigating the maze of grantsmanship is an uphill battle, particularly for non-profits.


Such is the interest in getting more local governments and organizations to pursue opportunities that the National League of Cities sought to organize bootcampsto train and provide technical assistance in preparing grants for infrastructure opportunities.


From our almost 30 years of experience working with individuals and organizations to prepare grant applications, we know there are common misconceptions about the process and careful planning required to write a successful US federal grant. Here are some of the most relevant:


Overlooking Complexity and Rigor: One common misconception among organizational leadership is underestimating the complexity and rigor associated with federal grants. Federal agencies have stringent application requirements, and the grant-writing process demands meticulous attention to detail, compliance with regulations, and alignment with specific program goals.


Assuming Grants as Guaranteed Revenue: Some organizational leaders may need to correct their view of federal grants as guaranteed sources of revenue. In reality, securing federal funding is highly competitive, and success depends on the quality of the proposal, alignment with agency priorities, and adherence to specific guidelines.


Underestimating Time and Resources Required - Writing a federal grant is time-intensive and resource-demanding. Leadership may need to pay more attention to the commitment required for thorough research, strategic planning, and crafting a compelling proposal that meets federal standards.


Neglecting Specialized Skills: Leadership may assume that general writing skills are sufficient for grant applications. However, federal grants often require specialized knowledge, including a deep understanding of the subject matter, familiarity with agency priorities, and navigating complex application procedures.


Ignoring Compliance and Reporting Obligations: Some leaders may need to pay more attention to federal grant compliance and reporting obligations. Federal agencies impose strict reporting requirements, and failure to meet these obligations can result in financial penalties and jeopardize future funding opportunities.


Before pursuing any grant opportunity, there are some hurdles that any organization must be aware of and address. Seldom do grant seekers pay attention to these items: 


Stringent Application Requirements: Federal grant applications typically have extensive and detailed requirements. Organizations must navigate complex instructions, adhere to specific formatting guidelines, and meet strict eligibility criteria.


Intense Competition: The competitive nature of federal grants presents a significant hurdle. Organizations vie against a large pool of applicants for limited funds, emphasizing the need for a highly compelling and competitive proposal.


Limited Understanding of Federal Agencies: Organizations may need help understanding the priorities and expectations of federal agencies. Each agency has unique goals and evaluation criteria, requiring in-depth research and alignment with agency-specific priorities.


Proposal Development Challenges: A persuasive and well-structured grant proposal requires specialized skills. Many organizations need help in articulating their objectives, outcomes, and methodologies effectively, hindering their ability to stand out among competing proposals.


An organization seeking grant funding must carefully plan how to approach it and create teams to design, develop, and write the grant, considering their organizational know-how. Nonetheless, organizations still seek external grant writers. Why do organizations look for external consultants? Here are some reasons:


Expertise in Federal Grant Landscape-External, grant writing services, brings expertise in navigating the federal grant landscape. They understand the intricacies of different agencies, have experience with various grant programs, and can tailor proposals to meet agency-specific requirements.


Efficiency and Time Savings- Professional grant writers streamline the application process, saving organizations valuable time and resources. Their efficiency in gathering necessary information, conducting research, and writing compelling narratives allows internal staff to focus on other critical tasks.


Increased Success Rates: External services often have a proven track record of securing federal grants. Their experience, familiarity with agency expectations, and knowledge of best practices contribute to higher success rates for their clients.


Strategic Planning and Positioning: Grant writing professionals use strategic planning to position organizations effectively within the federal grant landscape. They can identify funding opportunities aligned with an organization's mission, ensuring a more strategic and targeted approach.


Mitigation of Compliance Risks: External experts can help organizations navigate the intricacies of federal regulations and compliance requirements, reducing the risk of errors that could lead to non-compliance and subsequent challenges.


Writing federal funding grants poses numerous challenges, and misconceptions among organizational leadership can exacerbate these difficulties. The complexities of the federal grant landscape and the intense competition and specialized skills required make seeking external grant writing services a strategic choice for many organizations. Entitles must realize that grant funding is temporary and helps the organization pair their goals to those of the federal agency. It is never a sustainable long term earnings stream for any organization.




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