Funding Opportunities Opinion

Have you applied for your piece of $300 billion in federal pie yet?

Written by Laura Wood

Some project it will be closer to 500 billion dollars. Any way you slice it, the funding available through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act is staggering. Through the Justice 40 Initiative, no less than 40% of these dollars must be spent in historically marginalized and underserved communities. The main objectives are to elevate our lowest income populations, pump enough money into the economy to feel some relief, and make at least a minor, if not major dent in carbon reduction in the process. 

So what could go wrong? Well, ask yourself how many low-income, under resourced nonprofits running on a skeleton crew if not 100% volunteer do you know, have the capacity to write a 100+ page federal grant application with excruciating detailed budgets, work plans, letters of support, economic modeling with a deep understanding of renewable energy markets and impact investing lenders? Major universities and hospitals are having to outsource this expertise as these grizzly applications are generally due two months from being announced. Of course they are right? Did I mention the tedious webinars and complicated navigation of the government mandated web portals? 

But wait! There’s hope! As the first year of this unprecedented funding wrapped up, the Feds realized if they wanted this money to actually go where it’s needed most, then they needed to figure out a way to make it actually accessible to the average nonprofit shop, already running on a shoestring budget (or they wouldn’t need the funds!).

Do you know what a TCTAC is? No, it is not the next social media addiction (whew!), but rather a regional technical assistance hub through the Environmental Protection Agency, that in many cases can provide free grant writing services. Of course you can imagine the demand far exceeds the supply, so there are many grant writers and firms available to help you out as well. In full transparency, ahem, yours truly is one of them. Below are a few tips I’ve learned and would like to pass along to navigating this giant bill, and making sure you get a well-deserved piece of the pie. (Because no, you can’t Chat GPT your way through a federal application)

Think of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) as a Choose Your Own Adventure book, remember those? 

Are you an environmentally focused organization? If not, go to the page on partnerships. 

→ Climate centered organizations who receive millions of dollars are going to need your help. Do you work with schools? Ag? Healthcare? Every sector in our nation is weaning off of fossil fuels and needs help translating that to the services you do provide. Do not discount your sector if it’s not directly environmentally related! 

Flip the script – We fundraisers are used to thinking about what we need, or what we lack. Then we go ask for funding for that thing. These federal agencies are specifically looking for what you are already doing well, that if with a massive infusion of cash, you could scale up largely and quickly. And where the gaps in skill sets are, they want you to partner up (flip back to the partnership section).

Be a forward thinker – These funds are allocated through 2031. Yes, of course, a lot can happen (say next November) – but the House passed these bills and it won’t be that easy to pull them back. Plus, they typically give you a planning period (to literally figure out how you’re going to spend this money), and then 3-5 years to spend it. So you could get in an application next year and then have up to five years to fulfill your organizational dreams. Think Big! 

Serve as second chair – Is your organization not a good fit as a lead applicant? Flip to the page on sub-awardees and sub-recipients. 

→ Get a couple million dollars for bringing support in your niche field without being responsible for any of the government reporting, why not?! 

Divide and Conquer – Look around the table at your next AFP luncheon. Who else in your field could you collaborate with? Whose gaps could your organization fill and who’s qualified to fill yours? The government LOVES coalitions. 

Borrow, Share and Steal – So you flipped to the “we’re going for it!” section. There are a boatload of templates now that the first year of kinks has passed. Use them. Share yours. You get a full pass on straight up copy and pasting (and a little Chat GPT here as well). 

Some parting important facts to note: 

  1. Your books have to be in order. Use this opportunity if they’re not, to show your board that millions of dollars in grant money is at stake if you can get them in order in the next six months.
  2. A strong, competitive federal application of this scope will take approximately 100 hours to complete, and that’s including using the templates available to streamline the process. Consider what talent you have on hand, and how much of that you might have to oursource. Even if you don’t get the big federal award, you’ll be so damn grant-ready after the process you should easily be able to double your grant writing game to other funders.
  3. You CAN be fiscally sponsored.
  4. There is rarely any matching funds required – that’s right NO MATCH (on most of them)
  5. Here’s the mother ship of opportunities to start slicing and dicing for your organization. 

Now go get your piece of the pie! publishes every week.
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About the author

Laura Wood

Laura Wood is a professional grant writer with 20+ years in the business of doing good - with words!