How Congress Can Help You With Federal Grants

Grant writers and applicants are familiar with most of the steps in the grant application process: locate a funding source, check the requirements of the grant, compile the necessary information for the application, complete and submit the application, and then cross your fingers and hope for the best. Applicants, however, frequently omit the important step of contacting their federal elected officials. Members of Congress and their staffs can provide valuable resources to assist grant applicants with each step of the application process.

For four years I had the opportunity to serve as Grants Director for Oklahoma Congressman Brad Carson. When Congressman Carson was first elected, he realized his district ranked near the bottom of all congressional districts in the amount of competitive federal grant funding. He made it a priority to ensure his constituents “received their fair share.”  As the congressman’s Grants Director, it was my responsibility to provide our constituents with every available resource to help them with a successful grant application.

During Congressman Carson’s four years in office, the amount of competitive grant funding to his district doubled. One reason for this success was due to his work on behalf of his constituents.  The congressman’s office conducted over 100 grant workshops to inform his constituents of funding opportunities and tips for successful grant writing, wrote thousands of letters of support for grant applications, and frequently met with program officials from federal and state awarding agencies.

While most members of Congress do not have a staff member solely dedicated to assisting constituents with federal grants, congressional offices can still provide resources to grant applicants. You should always visit your elected officials’ webpages. The Congressional Research Service provides each member of Congress with a webpage template that provides links to federal and private grant-related websites. You can also contact a member’s office and ask to speak to a staff member that can provide assistance in locating funding sources, obtaining statistical information, or writing a letter of support for your application.

When seeking a letter of support for your grant application, provide the congressional staff member with the following information:

  • Name of organization seeking grant funding;
  • Contact information for the applicant;
  • Address of awarding agency and contact person at the agency;
  • Name of the grant program and CFDA number; and
  • Deadline for the letter.

When constituents contacted Congressman Carson’s office seeking a letter of support, I would also ask them to provide a copy of the project’s narrative or a short description of the project that highlighted the purpose of the project, how the project would benefit the community, and how grant funds would be used.  This information allowed the Congressman to write a letter that addressed the specific needs of the applicant and how federal funding would benefit his constituents.

It is always important to inform your congressional delegation when you submit an application.  Members of Congress and their staff can provide behind the scenes support once an application has been submitted. One of my responsibilities as Congressman Carson’s Grants Director was to maintain a database of our constituents’ grant applications.  Congressman Carson would frequently contact federal agencies to inform them of an application from his district and speak about the benefits of the proposed project. The Congressman once arranged a visit by an agency director to tour the district to learn more about the funding needs of his constituents. This visit enabled prospective applicants to meet with the director and his staff and learn how to develop stronger grant applications.

Developing a relationship with your member’s office can also be valuable.  For example, I was able to establish close working relationships with many of the sheriffs, school administrators, local elected officials, and community leaders in the district. This frequent contact allowed me to learn each official’s particular funding needs and help them identify grant programs that would best meet their needs. When the application period for those programs opened, I was able to quickly alert them of the funding opportunity and offer them any assistance that they needed.

There are limitations on the extent to which members of Congress can provide assistance. A letter of support does not guarantee of funding. Also, a member of Congress cannot write a grant application for your organization.  Some members, because of political or ideological positions, may not be willing to provide assistance.  Congressional courtesy also limits members of Congress from providing assistance to individuals that are not their constituents; therefore, you should only contact your Senators and member of the House of Representatives. To identify your elected federal officials, visit this website.

Members of Congress frequently tout, through press releases and political commercials, their success in obtaining funding for their constituents, while having done little to help secure that funding. Before you submit your next grant application, contact your member of Congress, ask for their help, and make sure they earn the right to claim credit for your success!

Shane Jernigan is an Instructional Designer in the Grants and Assistance Training Division at Management Concepts. He previously worked on Capitol Hill for eight years as a Grants Director for two members of the House of Representatives and as a Grants Assistant for a United States Senator.

Grants & Assistance
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Shane Jernigan

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