Grant Writing Advice and Tips: The Grant Helpers Blog

Types of Federal Grants

Posted by Alisyn Franzen on Fri, Apr 11, 2014 @ 16:04 PM

Types of Federal GrantsNot all federal grants are created equal. Mandatory grants and discretionary grants each come with separate sets of rules and criteria. In this blog article, we highlight some of the key features and differences of each and provide you with examples of these programs.


Mandatory Grants

Mandatory grants come from spending that is dictated by the legislation that authorizes it. Mandatory spending exists mostly in the form of “entitlement” spending, which means the government is legally required to provide funds to eligible organizations. This spending can be “capped” or “uncapped” and be made by direct or annual appropriation. Uncapped spending costs are determined by the number of eligible participants, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).


Discretionary Grants

Discretionary grants come from spending that is determined through the government’s annual appropriations process. These grants include block grants, which have fixed funding for general purposes and are distributed to states by a formula, and categorical grants, which have a more specifically defined purpose. Formula grants, a type of discretionary grant, are non-competitive and are predetermined by a formula that considers various factors such as population, income, etc. Project grants are competitive and require fixed project dates, services to provide, and other additional elements.

Being competitive, project grants allow applicants, to write proposals directly to the government agency with the funds. One example in the transportation realm is the TIGER grant, via which the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has funded over $4 billion in projects since 2009.

The USDOT has number of formula grants as well, including the Rural Program, part of the MAP-21 legislation. With these grants, money is made available to the states to support public transportation in rural areas. To access these funds, cities need to work with their state departments of transportation.

Discretionary programs receive funding through a two-step process. First a program is created by enactment of legislation, which specifies the maximum amount of to be spent on such funding.  Next, the program is funded through an appropriations process. It is possible that programs would have been previously funded but will “run out” of funding if it is not renewed or currently authorized. Examples of discretionary grant programs include Community Services Block Grant, Community Health Centers, Head Start, etc.


Does the type of funding matter? It certainly can. Most mandatory grant programs are exempt from sequestration and budget cuts, although they do require an authorization. Furthermore, organizations cannot apply for grants directly from mandatory programs. In the case of a government shutdown, mandatory programs will continue, provided that their authorization is current. Discretionary programs can continue without receiving authorization, but the budget for these programs is set each year by Congress. Formula grants are usually channeled through state departments, so working with the state is critical to obtaining formula funds. Project grants are open, and organizations can apply for them directly to the federal government with a grant proposal.

It is good to know how funding is awarded and made available. When counting on federal dollars as a part of your program’s or project’s budget, it might be helpful to consider whether or not those dollars will always be there or whether they will be at the mercy of Congress and/or yearly budget cuts made by your state. If you need help sorting through the types of grants and requirements for which you are interested in applying, please contact us. Our experts would be happy to help you get on the right track and avoid any unwelcome surprises.


Image credit: Oregon Department of Transportation

Topics: municipality grants, federal grants, types of grants, grant writing hints, municipality grant, Grant Writing Tips, federal spending, municipality services

Philanthropy and Grant Outlook for 2014

Posted by Michelle Hansen on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 @ 16:12 PM

It’s that time of year again. A time for resolutions and a look back at the year that was. The world of grant-making is no exception. It’s important to look at the past year to see what new processes and tools developed, how these advances have been used, and how they will shape the future. GrantCraft, a project of the Foundation Center, recently released Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2014 by Lucy Bernholz. Bernholz has been working in, moneywriting about, and consulting about the philanthropy world since 1990. This is the fifth annual industry forecast she has penned.

In the 32-page document, Bernholz takes a look back at the ever-changing world of grant-making foundations, the highlights of 2013, and what to expect in 2014. When the document was created, there were 1.1 million public charities worth $2.7 trillion in the U.S. Additionally, there were 81,777 public foundations that had expenditures totaling $49 million.

“New foundations and associations, and new types of enterprises all together, are being created as a result of shifting national policies and changing economic fortunes,” says Bernholz.

A Big Shift

As Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn become household words, the grant-making economy is also seeing a change toward data-driven, technology-led practices, according to the Blueprint.

At the most basic level, foundations and associations are using social media outlets to enhance their work. E-mail and tweets are being used to replace or amplify direct-mail efforts, according to the report. The majority of grant applications are also now found online, downloaded, and submitted almost entirely using the Internet.

Additionally, mobile technologies that have changed the entire world have also influenced more interventions in global health concerns, clean water initiatives, and disaster response--spurring more grant seekers and grant givers in these realms. Data collection and sharing have also affected these “impact investments,” since the creation of shared metrics and digital databases has made collaboration and coordination far easier.

Technology has also influenced methods and mechanics. Nonprofits are also using social media to generate awareness, and they are introducing electronic contributions such as PayPal and “donate now” buttons to their websites. The upside of digital media, according to the document, is a success story in “the way nonprofits and foundations use social media and digital videos to tell their stories, build movements, and raise awareness.”

There could be a downside to this technology movement, according to the Blueprint. The document asks how the private materials, decisions, networks, and associations that make up these independent organizations remain protected and private as they shift toward data collection and technology-driven practices. Bernholz states that organizations need to give high consideration to their own practices in digital privacy.

Buzzwords in 2013

Bernholz lists the top buzzwords that were prevalent in philanthropy circles in 2013. “Privacy” gets her vote for top buzzword of the year, mostly for all the reasons stated above.

“Performance management,” measuring outcomes, especially outcomes from programs and projects funded by grants, makes the list. In 2013, Bernholz contends that organizations of all sizes were working diligently on fine tuning and improving, and in some cases, creating, tools to measure performance.

Philanthropic organizations want to hear back from their beneficiaries, which is why “constituent feedback” makes the list of top buzzwords of the year. According to Bernholz, receiving this feedback is more cost effective than ever with the use of social media, websites, and email. She says to expect more projects in 2014 like GlobalGiving Storytelling and YouthTruth.

Rounding out the list of trendy words are: “peer-to-peer services” (resource-saving, sharing mentality); “makers” (the creators of old-fashioned handmade goods, with museums and libraries often seeking grants to host maker workshops, programs); “bitcoin” (digital, nationless currency popular with some nonprofits); “commons” (resources are held in common creating new approaches to developments); “metadata” (data about data); “randomista” (a derogatory term for an evaluator or social scientist who believes the only meaningful evidence is that which comes from random control trials; “solutionism” (digital innovators who believe they can solve every community problem with an app).

What to Expect in 2014

Bernholz makes some pretty bold statements in regards to the outlook for philanthropy organizations in 2014. The boldest could be the declaration that at least one major nonprofit/foundation organization will close its doors in the new year.

In the data and technology sector, Bernholz believes there will be a whole new group of service providers and consulting firms to help associations and foundations manage crowdfunding campaigns. She also states that new mobile money tools that make phone-to-phone and peer-to-peer payments easier will make “informal networks of people even more visible, viable, and important.” Also, video will be the next infographic.

Her other predictions for 2014 include the development of a nonprofit standard for privacy as well as the launch by U.S. foundations of several new initiatives rooted in concerns about the state of the American democracy. Also, Bernholz believes nonprofit organizations will begin to take over some vital city functions such as transportation infrastructure, thus becoming a major aid for cash-strapped cities.

Another prediction could be a good sign for those nonprofits waiting for 501(c)(3) approval from the IRS, which currently could take months. Bernholz believes this approval will be moved out of the hands of the IRS and into those of a new regulatory authority to be created.


Whether you are just beginning your journey into the grant world, or are well established in the realm, navigating new technology, ideas, and standards can be difficult. can help you develop and use new tools and technologies to make your grant search more rewarding. We can also help you with your 501(c)(3) application as well as help you create and manage tools to measure program performance. See a list of all of our services here.


Photo Credit: Tax Credits

Topics: grant trend, funding trend, 501(c)(3), Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 201, foundations, foundation grant money, federal spending

Be Proactive About Protecting Your Municipal Budget

Posted by Rebecca Motley on Tue, Apr 2, 2013 @ 19:04 PM

It is certainly no secret that many states across the country are struggling financially. Public pension burdens can be staggering, costs of providing education and Medicaid continue to rise, and legislators are scrapping to find solutions. The state of Illinois, home of, is a prime example of this phenomenon. Right now, the Illinois State Legislature is considering two areas that specifically affect municipal revenue:

      1. Local Government Distributive Funds (LGDF)

When the state passed the income tax increase several years ago, municipalities suffered a reduction in their share of this revenue stream, which fell to 6% of the tax from 10%. In the FY2014 budget, Gov. Quinn is proposing to decrease this percentage even further, which could result in a $240 million reduction in funds to municipalities, translating to approximately $11.50 per capita, according to the Illinois Municipal League. 

     2. Local Property Tax Revenue

In response to falling home prices, legislators are considering various new restrictions on increases in property taxes that fund municipal services: “...the different measures all have roughly the same goal: to prohibit school districts, park boards, municipalities, and other taxing bodies from increasing tax levies when home values are dropping.” Source:  Illinois Legislators Want Property Tax Freeze, Posted February 27, 2013, By Dennis Rodkin on

These two areas can represent 25% or more of revenues in many municipalities. Cutbacks in Illinois and several other states seem inevitable due to current economic factors. 

One area that municipalities may turn to in alleviating these financial struggles is grant funding, particularly for capital projects. Securing federal grants for major projects can ease the operating burden on the municipal entity, while improving the quality of life for its citizens. Grants may also be used to increase the attractiveness of a community for economic development. Businesses may be more likely to locate in municipalities with updated amenities.  Effort invested in securing economic development assistance grants can result in new business, which leads to increased sales tax and property tax revenue for municipalities.

In an effort to help municipalities become aware of the multitude of grants that are available, The Grant Helper’s blog has and will feature several opportunities for rural and urban cities. One such blog we have recently posted, Municipal Water and Wastewater Grants, features six different grant opportunities to improve or construct water and wastewater systems. On April 9, check back to our blog for a list of business and economic development grants available for municipalities.  Subscribe to our blog to get a notification when we post new topics. can help in several key areas, with funding searches across multiple types of databases, overall grant strategy assistance, help with any one specific proposal, and many other services. To strengthen your approach, contact us today. Our initial advice and consultations are always free.

Photo Credit:  401(K)2013

Topics: federal grant budget, government grant budget, government spending, Budgets, state funding cuts, federal spending, municipality revenues

Grant-Giving Corporations are Making an Impact on Communities

Posted by Michelle Hansen on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 @ 14:03 PM

cashAs pointed out in our previous two-part blog, “Trends and Projections for U.S. Federal Government Grant Funding,” the availability of federal grant money is waning. Organizations that have once relied heavily on federal grant funding for their programs will likely need to look for other funding opportunities. Those opportunities could be from the hundreds of grant-giving corporations across the country. Corporations such as Bank of America and Walmart do more than provide banking services and discount products. These corporations, and hundreds of others like them, work to make a difference in their communities by providing grants to non-profit organizations in a variety of subject areas. Below we will detail a few of the grant-making corporations as well as their funding areas and any specific grant opportunities. There are countless other corporations looking for exceptional programs to fund so why not let us help you find several good matches for you? Contact a grant helper today to get your grant search started.

Bank of America Charitable Foundation

In June 2012, Bank of America Charitable Foundation awarded over $22 million in grants to more than 650 nonprofits. These funds were estimated to impact more than 31 million individuals. Nonprofit organizations in Bank of America communities have two opportunities for grants this year. Community development grants focus on nonprofit organizations helping with foreclosure counseling and mitigation, real-estate owned disposition, and affordable housing. Bank of America Charitable Foundation will issue a community development Request for Proposals (RFP) on April 15 and will accept applications through May 10. Additionally, nonprofits focused on helping with basic human needs, such as food, shelter, and benefits access can apply for a Bank of America critical needs grant. A critical needs RFP will begin on July 8 and applications will be accepted through August 2.

Walmart Giving Programs

The Walmart Foundation aims to meet four core areas: 1) hunger relief & healthy eating; 2) sustainability; 3) women's economic empowerment; and 4) career opportunity with its local, state, and national giving programs. Through the local giving program, nonprofits, government entities, schools, or faith-based organizations located in Walmart communities can apply for $250-$2,500 grants that will benefit the facility’s service area in one of the four core areas. The deadline for applications is December 1, 2013. Walmart also operates a state-giving program, which awards grants to nonprofit organizations that operate on a regional or state level or affiliates of larger organizations that operate on a state level. The application period for the state-giving program begins in June and ends in August. Also, nonprofit entities that operate on a national scale may apply for grants through Walmart’s national-giving program, which awards grants of $250,000 or more. Program ideas should be submitted using the Letter of Inquiry (LOI) format only. Unsolicited proposals or promotional materials are not accepted.

Cigna Foundation

Charitable organizations that aim to promote wellness, expand health opportunities, promote personal and professional growth, or find unique approaches to issues of local and global concern, could look toward the Cigna Foundation for grant funding. The Cigna Foundation judges grant proposals according to the following four qualities: responsive, creative, achievable, and beneficial. Applications are accepted throughout the year.

JPMorgan Chase Foundation

As a global financial institution, JPMorgan Chase aims to give back to its communities through its grant-giving Foundation. In 2011, JPMorgan Chase and its Foundation gave more than $200 million through grants and sponsorships. This Foundation supports nonprofit entities that promote community development, including programming that addresses workforce development, asset building, and financial literacy as well as those programs that encourage economic development and affordable housing. Also, the Foundation awards grants to K-12 education systems that increase economically disadvantaged children’s access to quality education. Finally, JPMorgan Chase supports organizations that encourage arts and culture in both schools and communities. To receive grant support for any such program, a potential grantee must first submit an online letter of inquiry.

If any of the above opportunities seem to fit your grant needs, let us help you by requesting a free quote to get started, or feel free to browse our list of services.

Image Credit: jollyUK

Topics: community development, community development grant, educational funding, corporate grant for education, critical needs, corporate grant, women's economic empowerment, federal spending, career opportunities, hunger relief

Trends and Projections for U.S. Federal Government Grant Funding, Part 2 of 2

Posted by Alisyn Franzen on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 @ 11:03 AM
(This article is part two of a two-part series on the trends and projections for U.S. federal government grant funding. Part one of this series highlighted government grant funding trends from the past several years, what those trends might mean for grant funding and the grant funding process, and the potential impact of the recent sequestration cuts.)

In this article, part two of a two-part series, we will focus on the effects of the recent U.S. federal government’s sequestration cuts and predictions for the future of grant funding. We also will discuss how grant seekers might need to adjust their approaches in order to find and receive grant funding in the future.


How will the sequestration cuts affect federal grant funding?

Federal_Grant_SpendingIn a February 27, 2013 memo with the subject of “Agency Responsibilities for Implementation of Potential Joint Committee Sequestration” and written to the U.S. heads of executive departments and agencies, Controller Danny Werfel wrote, “Given the widespread use of grants, loans and other Federal financial assistance to non-federal entities (e.g., State, local and tribal governments, non-profit organizations, and companies), sequestration will impact the funding of these activities.”

He continued to outline the agencies’ responsibilities in managing their budgets in order to “protect [the agencies’] mission[s] at the post-sequestration level.” He further suggested that agencies “consider delaying awarding of new financial assistance obligations, reducing levels of continued funding, and renegotiating or reducing the current scope of assistance.” (See the entire memo here.)

So, according to this memo, the sequestration cuts will only further reduce the amount of money that the government sets aside for grant awards.


What do these trends mean for grant funding and the grant funding process?

In short, the federal government is likely to continue cutting future spending on the money it sets aside for grant awards, and until government officials come to an agreement about sequestration cuts, money that is currently set aside or has already been agreed to be awarded might need to be scaled back and cut as well, creating even bigger challenges for those seeking funding. As the federal government reduces grant funding, applicants for federal grants can be expected to see additional funding sources as well.

Private foundations, which also award billions of dollars annually, will in turn see more applicants competing for non-federal funds. Corporate foundations will also likely see a rise in grant applications, and non-government sectors, such as these, could also experience budget cuts as a result of cuts at the federal level.

To summarize, those seeking government funding can expect the following:

  • less federal funding available
  • increased competition for federal funding
  • increased competition for other non-federal funding sources (as a result of a need to find alternate funding sources)
  • additional reliance on non-federal funding sources, especially in educational and municipal sectors

The process and scope of these changes can make the search for funds more difficult. Organizations will need to accommodate lower levels of federal funding by 1) expanding the search for possible federal and state sources, 2) looking at additional funding sources beyond government grants, and 3) competing more effectively for fewer available dollars. Regarding the last point, more effective submissions may mean fewer submissions, but more carefully selected and more highly crafted ones. can help in all of these key areas, with funding searches across multiple types of databases, overall grant strategy assistance, help with any one specific proposal, and many other services.  To strengthen your approach, contact us today. We have experts in municipality, educational, non-profit, and other areas.  Our initial advice and consultations are always free.

For additional information on funding trends, be sure to continue checking our blog for future articles on grant-making foundations, grant-making corporations, and other articles related to grant-funding agencies, such as our recent “10 Well-Known U.S. Grant-Making Foundations You Should Know About.”


Image credit: Andrew Malone, andrewmalone

Topics: grant trend, funding trend, federal grant budget, government grant budget, government spending, government grant, federal grant, federal spending, sequestration cut, sequester cut

Trends and Projections for U.S. Federal Government Grant Funding, Part 1 of 2

Posted by Alisyn Franzen on Wed, Mar 13, 2013 @ 15:03 PM
(This article is part one of a two-part series on the trends and projections for U.S. federal government grant funding. Part two of this series will highlight the effects of the recent U.S. federal government’s sequestration cuts and predictions for the future of grant funding.)

In the United States, there are 26 federal agencies that offer more than 1,000 grant programs annually. These programs are placed into 21 different categories. (For a full list of the 26 federal agencies that provide grants and the various grant categories, click here.)

The uncertain state of the U.S. economy and the most recent announcement of sequestration cuts have raised many questions about the future of the federal government’s grant spending. In this article, we highlight government grant funding trends over the past several years, and we discuss what these trends might mean for grant funding and the grant funding process. We also examine the potential impact of the recent sequestration.


How has government grant spending changed over time?

According to, which defines grants as “funds awarded to a non-federal entity for a defined public or private purpose in which services are not rendered to the federal government [and] … includes Cooperative Agreements,” a decade ago (FY 2003), the federal government spent $493.7 billion on grants. In FY 2008, that amount had decreased to $419.5 billion; by FY 2012, $537.1 billion was spent, showing a significant increase in how much was spent between FY 2008-2012. The chart below shows the total amount of money, in billions of dollars, that the 26 government agencies have spent on grant funding over the last five years.


If one further breaks down these numbers, he or she will notice that federal grant spending peaked in FY 2009 ($664.4 billion). Much of that year’s increase can be attributed to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was enacted in February 2009. As of March 1, 2013, approximately $250.8 billion has been paid out since the act’s enactment. Since then, there have been major cuts, with some federal agencies suffering more than others.

The information in the graph below is from and represents how much the federal government spent on grants from the top 10 funding agencies, and how much each of those agencies spent during each of the last five fiscal years (2008-2012), in billions of dollars. The lines show movement of each agency within the rankings from year to year.


After looking at the table above, it is obvious that the Department of Health and Human Services is consistently the top grant-awarding government agency each year, followed by either the Department of Transportation or the Department of Education. Historically, over all funding fiscal years, the top three funding agencies have been the Department of Health and Human Services ($3,927.9B), the Department of Transportation ($672.9B), and the Department of Education ($622.3B). (Lifetime numbers are not included in the chart above.) The fourth most-funded agency is the Department of Agriculture at $295.8B, which demonstrates an enormous gap from the $622.3B that the #3 Department of Education has awarded over its lifetime.

By examining the numbers in the above graphs, one will notice a definite downward trend in the amount of money being spent by the government to fund programs that have long relied on federal support. In part two of this blog, we will discuss how sequestration cuts will potentially further affect federal grant funding and what these trends mean for grant funding and the grant funding process.

While grant funding continues to be jeopardized by cuts, one thing stands true – The Grant Helpers are here to help you wherever you need it most. If you have a simple question, feel free to ask one of our experts. If you would like help in finding funding, writing a grant, developing programs, or in any other part of the grant writing process, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experts today. We have experts in municipality, educational, and non-profit areas, and our initial advice and consultations are always free.

Topics: grant trend, funding trend, federal grant budget, government grant budget, government spending, government grant, federal grant, federal spending, sequestration cut, sequester cut