While private and foundational support is important, most community-based nonprofits depend on government – local, state, and federal – funds for almost 90% of their costs.  Federal funding can often intimidate grant seekers because it seems the most complicated, but knowing how to access and secure federal funding is essential for any organization hoping to sustain and achieve long-term impact.

Deidra M. Somerville recently joined our SYNC cohort to share tips about how nonprofits can navigate these federal resources.  In addition to serving as Director of Research and Sponsored Programs at Roosevelt University, Deidra’s previous work experiences include more than 10 years of grant development with organizations such as the Chicago Housing Authority, National Association of Urban Debate, and Alternatives, Inc.  The session was part of Get IN Chicago’s SYNC capacity building efforts to strengthen mentoring and CBT programs and create a rigorous, central intake and case management system for acutely high-risk youth in Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, Roseland, South Shore, and West Englewood.


The federal funding session covered three objectives: 1) understanding the federal budget and opportunities; 2) developing federal grant proposals; and 3) dissecting the grant application review process.

Federal Opportunities
The federal budget cycle drives grant application deadlines, so staying informed on its calendar and changes is an easy way to keep up with grant opportunities.   Additionally, knowing the federal appropriations each year, how subcommittee budgets will be split up, and where your organization fits in are important planning tools.



Grant Proposal Development
Deidre also shared her key tips for developing a strong grant proposal, including:

  • Organizing Your Grant File: keep information such as demographic statistics, tax-exempt letter, Board of Director list, and audits all in one place
  • Create an Application Work Plan: application checklists and plans increase communication and accountability across the team
  • Know Thyself: Deidre’s suggestions include writing your Executive Summary last, creating a logic model even if not requested, and linking outcomes to clear responses to “How and Why” the desired change is expected come about
  • Following Directions: a federal application is the time to let your detail-oriented strengths shine
  • External Relationships: understand the basis of your relationships and engage partners from the beginning, if possible



Grant Application Review Process
As a rule of thumb, Deidre recommends dedicating the biggest chunks of your proposal to program design and evaluation.  After those two sections, organizational capacity and needs statement should take up about 30% total, with a few pages left over for a table of contents, budget, or executive summary.

Deidre also notes that many reviewers are looking for consistency across the proposal, clear goals and objectives, and an ambitious but attainable plan. She also shared a few income strategies, including this Department of Health and Human Services booklet on behavioral health billing.


Additional Resources