What to Know Before Applying for Emergency Federal Grants, Part 1
During times of uncertainty like the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is more critical than ever that nonprofit organizations continue to seek funding from all sources, including emergency federal grants.
If you are new to the federal grants process, welcome! This article will help your organization succeed in winning emergency federal grants.
CARES Act and Other Federal Grants
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was passed in late March 2020 and was passed by Congress to provide an economic stimulus for small businesses, including nonprofits. Paycheck Protection Program loans are a highlight of the act, and the $349 billion in distributions to organizations to keep employees on payroll with doors open has been much of the focus.
However, this is not all the CARES Act has to offer for nonprofits during this pandemic. The act also distributed hundreds of billions of dollars to federal agencies, state and local governments to be made available to nonprofits through grants — some of which are still determining fund use and making distributions to local governments. It is currently unknown if and/or when another CARES Act relief package will be approved, but it is unlikely to be announced until late June or early July at the earliest. The greatest interest to most nonprofits seeking emergency federal grant funding include the following appropriations:
- Administration for Community Living ($955M). Supports nutrition initiatives, home and community-based services, and family caregiver support, and provides support for expanded oversight and protections for individuals with disabilities and seniors.
- Department of Education ($30.75B). Creates an Education Stabilization Fund providing funding for COVID-19-related costs for states, school districts and higher education facilities.
- Department of Labor ($360M). Investments in programs providing training and supportive services for dislocated workers, seniors, migrant farmworkers and homeless veterans.
- Family Violence Prevention Services ($45M). Supports families and helps organizations that prevent and respond to family and domestic violence.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ($425M). Support to increase access to mental health services, suicide prevention programs, and emergency response spending.
- Institute for Museum and Library Services ($50M). Expanding digital network access for areas of the U.S. where access is lacking including provisions for technical support and purchasing of internet-enabled devices.
- Housing and Urban Development ($12.4B). Supports housing activities for vulnerable populations.
- Health Resources and Services Administration ($275M). Provides support for Ryan White HIV/AIDS programs, rural critical access hospitals, rural tribal health and telehealth, and poison control centers.
- National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities ($150M split between the two organizations). Support to help save jobs and maintain operations.
- Legal Services Corporation ($50M). Helps legal aid organizations by providing technology upgrades. This allows for remote access to continue supporting individuals with legal needs caused by the pandemic.
We have compiled emergency federal grant resources, including deadlines and eligibility. While we are still waiting for additional guidelines to be released, we do have some tips and best practices for emergency federal grants that will be applicable to these and others released in the near future.
Tips for Securing a Federal Grant
1. Deadlines Will Be Fast
Since the goal of the CARES Act is to distribute funding as soon as possible into communities and organizations that need it, granting agencies are disseminating information rapidly — both announcements and application deadlines — creating an expectation that organizations applying will act just as quickly as the agencies to apply for funding.
The National Endowment for the Arts opportunity, released April 8, came with the statement, “In an effort to save as many jobs as possible, as quickly as possible, these time frames are faster than the schedule used in 2009 to distribute relief funds.” There was a speedy, two-part deadline with part one due on April 22 (only two weeks after the guidelines were announced) and part two due May 4, meaning all applicants had less than a month to review the guidelines and submit a full application. This has been the case with nearly all federal emergency funding opportunities that have been released thus far.
2. Funding Is More Flexible Than Normal
Often, federal grant funding is very strict in how it must be used and which expenses are allowed under the grant. However, the released emergency federal grant programs are allowing substantial flexibility in use of awarded funding because they are intended to support more general operating expenses and help nonprofits stay open and fulfill their missions during this time.
Continuing the example above from the NEA, the opportunity provided funds for staffing and overhead expenses that the organization considers to be essential to its mission and core work. Some emergency grants may provide funding to replace lost revenue, and others may help those organizations that provide frontline services to cover the operational costs of delivering services in a new way.
3. Partnerships Are Important
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has left literally no organization untouched, federal granting agencies are bracing for an intense increase in applications for the emergency federal grant opportunities. They anticipate being inundated with requests and will be limited in time to review applications and the ultimate pool of funding to distribute among applicants. This means that many similar agencies will be competing for funding and will be often comparing similar challenges and solutions.
To make your application more competitive and propose a better solution, consider applying in partnership with other agencies. It is likely that federal funders will be favorable to coalitions that submit a shared application because then the funder may award a larger request that articulates a coordinated vison, plan and equitable allocation of funding between the partner organizations. This approach may be more relevant to certain types of organizations than others, so make sure to consider if this strategy is appropriate for your nonprofit.
4. The Strongest Contenders Will Win
Now is not the time to submit a sub-par grant application. These emergency federal grant programs are very competitive — not every organization that applies will receive a grant, and those that are awarded may not receive their full request. Even in the uncertain and urgent times we’re in, you must submit the highest quality grant application. Those that stand to win an emergency federal grant are those that idealize a strong application:
- Adhere to instructions. Your application MUST be in full alignment with the guidelines. Do not assume your application can be the exception to any rule. Observe all details including character or page limits, required attachments, etc., and answer every question and section completely.
- Be clear and succinct. Traditionally, federal grant opportunities allow for enough detail about a program to be provided. However, these emergency federal grant applications tend to be more brief than standard applications. Therefore, applicants will need to work harder to communicate their messages in a succinct, detailed, yet brief, format.
- Demonstrate your relevancy. It is your job as an organization to show the funder how you will ensure their grant of federal dollars will mean a quantifiable, deep and substantial impact on your organization AND your community or economy in which you serve. The goal of these emergency federal grants is to create maximum impact, so you must show them why your organization is best positioned to make this impact.
Kerry Klein is a federal grant seeking expert and engagement specialist at Grants Plus, the most trusted and experienced professional grant seeking firm in the country. Prior to joining Grants Plus, Kerry was director of communications and foundation relations at OhioGuidestone, where she raised millions of dollars from foundations and government agencies. She has extensive experience researching, developing, and writing award-winning proposals and responses to RFPs, including multiple contracts from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Kerry holds an MA in Nonprofit Administration from John Carroll University.