If you have never applied for a federal grant before, you might assume that in order to apply, all you need to do is fill out a form and respond to a few questions. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Go to grants.gov and check out the online application process for federal grants. At this web site, there are several steps you must complete before you are eligible to submit an application electronically.

The first, most important step is to obtain a DUNS number by calling (866) 705-5711. The grants.gov site encourages potential applicants to register now, even if they are not working on a specific proposal with a deadline coming up. The steps in the registration process can take a few days, but once you have registered, you are able to apply for a federal grant any time in the future, giving you one less thing to worry about when you do decide to apply–and believe me, you will appreciate having one less item to worry about!

Some federal Education Department (ED) programs now require applicants to use ED’s Electronic Grant Application System, or eGRANTS, to submit a proposal. Registration is also required for this system, and you should give yourself ample time to register and use the system to submit your proposal before the deadline.

The online application process for a federal grant is more complicated than simply filling out a standard form. You’ll be asked to write a narrative describing your proposed project, which is typically limited to 20 to 25 pages for federal grants. Applicants who use the eGRANTS system are governed by the page-limit requirement found in the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the grant they are applying for, and you should read this RFP carefully to find out what else you need to submit besides the narrative, as this can vary from program to program.

For most ED grants, the selection criteria used to evaluate and score proposals includes a combination of the following:

  • Significance: The contribution of the project to increasing knowledge or understanding; the development or demonstration of new strategies; and the importance of the results or likely outcomes.
  • Need for the project: The severity of the problem to be addressed, and the magnitude of the need for the services or activities.
  • Quality of the project design: The extent to which goals, objectives, and outcomes are specific and measurable, and the extent to which capacity can be built.
  • Adequacy of resources: Whether costs are reasonable in relation to the objectives, design, and significance of the proposed project, and the relevance and commitment of the partners.
  • Quality of the management plan: Clearly defined responsibilities, timelines, and milestones.
  • Quality of the project evaluation: Methods of evaluation are thorough and include the use of objective performance measures.
  • Quality of project personnel: The qualifications of key personnel and the employment of members of groups that have been underrepresented.

As reviewers read the narrative, they look for these criteria and give a score based on how well the individual responds to the items listed. The narrative must be clear and concise and must respond to all of the required selection criteria within the page limits.

Deborah Ward, CFRE, is an independent grant writing consultant. She welcomes questions at (717) 295-9437 or Debor21727@aol.com.