Federal Grants and Private Funding Assistance

Information courtesy of the Congressional Research Service.

Federal grants are intended for projects that benefit states and communities and are typically available to public sector and private sector organizations.

Free information is readily available to grant-seekers who discerned in advance the details of their projects. The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) lists more than 2,100 federal programs. Federal department and agency websites provide additional information and guidance, as well as state agency contacts.

Once a program has been identified by a federal agency, eligible grant-seekers may apply electronically for grants through a uniform process for all agencies accessed at www.grants.gov.

Individuals seeking financial help to start or expand a small business or education funds, benefits or loans including Pell grants may be available at the following websites:

Who is Eligible for a Government Grant?

Find out if you are eligible to apply for a government grant.
Watch this helpful animated eligibility tutorial.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cautions grant-seekers about advertisements or phone calls that claim you will qualify to receive a "free grant" to pay for education costs, home repairs, home business expenses, or unpaid bills. The FTC warns that these "money for nothing" grant offers usually are misleading, whether you see them in your local paper, via the Internet, or hear about them on television or receive a phone call. Consumers should beware of paying "processing fees" for information that is available free to the public.

Key Federal Funding Sources

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program

I provide SBIR tutorials to my constituents that meet the criteria outlined here. For further information please contact my district staff member, Dr. George Kuck, at 714-960-6483.

Program Description:

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program was created to increase the participation of small, high technology firms in federal Research and Development (R&D) efforts.  Every federal department with an R&D budget of $100 million sets aside 2.5% of their budget to contract mission-related work with small companies.  All SBIR contracts must satisfy written requirements of the sponsoring agency. 

SBIR programs are designed to stimulate technological innovation in the small business sector, increase small business involvement to meet the government's R&D needs, include minority and disadvantaged individuals in R&D, and expand commercialization of federally funded R&D.   SBIR efforts involve a three-phase activity. First phase contracts of up to $150,000 for six months are competitively evaluated and selected by a government team. The evaluation criteria are the scientific merit, the technical merit and the feasibility of the concept. The project must be of interest to and coincide with the mission of the supporting organization.  Proposals are written in response to annually-published agency topics. Projects that demonstrate potential after the first phase contract may compete for Phase II awards of up to $1 million, and which may last from one to two years. Phase II awards are based upon the performance of the small firm and the demonstrated success of the concept.  Phase III funding is directed at the commercialization of the product or process. The project is expected to generate funds from the private sector and federal funds may be used if it is determined that the final product will meet the sponsoring agency need.  P.L. 102-564 directs the sponsoring agency to weigh commercial potential as an evaluation factor in SBIR proposals.

Eleven departments currently have SBIR programs including the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense (DOD), Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation; the Environmental Protection Agency; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Each agency's SBIR activity reflects that organization's management style. For example, most DOD SBIR projects are in the form of contracts.  NSF and HHS use grants.  Selected topics are published by each agency in their R&D interest area.  Each agency administers its program operations and controls its financial support.  Cooperative agreements may also be written to help fund specific projects by specific agencies. Each agency establishes its own solicitation timelines, the type of agreement, and the funding.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) establishes the broad policy and guidelines under which individual departments operate SBIR programs and monitors and reports to Congress on the conduct of each department’s activities and results.  Eligibility requirements require that the business is 1) independently owned and operated, 2) not dominant in the field of research proposed, 3) for profit, 4) the employer of 500 or fewer people, 5) the primary employer of the principal investigator is the company, 6) and the company be at least 51% owned by one or more U.S. citizens or lawfully admitted permanent resident aliens. Subsidiaries of SBIR-eligible companies can participate as long as the parent company meets all SBIR requirements.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (General Services Administration)

The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) is the primary source of information on federal grants and nonfinancial assistance programs. Actual funding depends upon annual budget appropriations. The CFDA:

  • Describes 2,100 federal domestic assistance programs, financial and nonfinancial assistance programs administered by the departments and agencies of the federal government; approximately 1,000 of these are grants programs.
  • Allows grant-seekers to identify federal programs that might provide support for their projects, either directly or through grants to states and local governments that in turn make sub-awards to local grant-seekers.
  • Available free to the public, searchable full-text, and updated continuously on the Web.
  • Enables searching by keyword; or by other useful searchable listings, such as by subject, by department or agency, by applicant eligibility, by beneficiary, or by other category.
  • Describes objectives of each program, eligibility requirements, the application and award process, post assistance requirements, past fiscal year obligations and future estimates, program accomplishments and examples of funded projects, related CFDA programs, and information contacts, including regional or local offices of federal agencies if applicable.
  • Links to department and agency websites and to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) circulars affecting program management and record-keeping requirements.
  • Includes information on developing and writing grant proposals: provides guidance in formulating federal grant applications, proposal development, basic components of a proposal, review recommendations, and referral to federal guidelines and literature.

After grant-seekers identify federal programs in CFDA and contact agencies, they may be directed to register and apply at websites such as Grants.gov or FedConnect when application announcements for competitive grants become available. The websites allow grant-seekers to register and download applications for current competitive funding opportunities from all 26 federal grants-making agencies. Grant-seekers themselves may check on notices of funding availability (NOFAs) or requests for proposals (RFPs); sign up to receive e-mail notification of grant opportunities; and apply for federal grants online through a unified process. The sites also guide grant-seekers in obtaining Dun and Bradstreet (DUNS) numbers, and registering at Central Contractor Registration (CCR), both required for all federal grants.

Federal Agency Regional and Local Office Addresses (from CFDA)

Many federal departments and agencies have state or regional offices that grant-seekers may contact for additional program information and application procedures. Much of the federal grant budget moves to the states through formula and block grants. State, regional, and local federal offices often handle grants applications and funds disbursement. Each federal agency has its own procedures: applicants should call the department or agency in question before applying for funding to obtain the most up-to-date information.

Related Federal Sources:

A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies (General Services Administration)

To better develop a grant proposal, search a department or agency's home page and learn more about its programs and objectives. The site also includes the following:

Grants Management Website (Office of Management and Budget)

OMB establishes government-wide grants management policies and guidelines through circulars and common rules. OMB Circulars are cited in CFDA program descriptions.

State Administering Agencies:

Many federal grants are awarded directly to state governments, which then allocate funds within that state. For more information on how a state distributes federal funds, grant-seekers may contact the State Administering Agency (SAA). State government agencies are familiar with federal program requirements, may assist local governments and nonprofit organizations with proposals, and may provide other guidance.

Many federal department and agency websites include SAAs and the site will often have an interactive U.S. map. Grant-seekers may click on their state and obtain program and state contact information. A selection of some department websites includes the following:

State Single Point of Contact (Office of Management and Budget)

States often require federal grants applicants to submit a copy of their application for state government review and comment, and many (but not all) have designated a state Single Point of Contact (SPOC). The state offices listed here coordinate government grants development and may provide guidance to grant-seekers.

Private, Corporate, and Additional Funding Sources

Foundation Center

The Foundation Center is a clearinghouse for information about private, corporate, and community foundations, with collections of resources in every state. Learn how to write a grant proposal on the no-charge online Foundation Center’s website and at the Catalogue of Federal Domestic Assistance website. Free information on the website includes the following:

Community Foundations Locator (Council on Foundations)
Community foundations may be particularly interested in funding local projects and maintain diverse grants programs.

Funding Sources (Grantsmanship Center)
The website provides listings by state of top grantmaking, community, and corporate foundations that grant-seekers might consider in identifying likely sources of private foundation funding.

Grants and Related Resources (Michigan State University Libraries)
The site provides government and private grants resources, primarily Internet, by subject or group categories, and is updated frequently.

Funding for Business and Economic Development

Grants for Nonprofit

Grants for Individuals (primarily financial aid and scholarships)

Grant Proposal Writing Websites

A number of websites provide guidance, tips, and sample proposals. My constituents may request from my district office CRS Report RL32159, How to Develop and Write a Grant Proposal which discusses standard content and formats. Useful websites include the following: