Grants, Where to Start?

Jun 5, 2018 2:55:00 PM / by Hayden Johnson

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in June 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Grants are a tool for funding many types of projects and endeavors. They help push research in the STEM fields. They support low-income students in college. Grants can even be used to create art installations for cultural enrichment. The applications are almost limitless.

Just as there are a vast array of grants, there are a vast array of organizations that award them. These consist of non-profits, corporations, universities, and even the U.S. government. Each of them has its own specifications on who qualifies for a grant and how much money they can receive.

So, what are grants, and what are their purpose?

First of all, a grant is not "free money." You won’t make a living by panhandling to major institutions. In fact, grants will consist of just a fraction of your total budget. When applying for them, you’ll usually have to disclose your other sources of income.


  • Help fund a specific goal or undertaking
  • Are usually short-term or just a one-time opportunity
  • Require accountability of the awardee
  • Need a compelling proposal

In this article, we'll give you a brief overview of searching for grants, checking your eligibility, and the fundamentals of grant writing.

Public Sector vs. Private

Government or private sector is the biggest divider when looking for grants. The U.S. government is more stringent on who or what company is eligible when writing out these checks. Private sector grants will vary from case to case.

Government Grants

Government grants are given at the federal, state, and county levels. Generally speaking, federal grants are only available to non-commercial entities. Non-profits, universities, colleges, and researchers can step to the front of this line.

The only general exception to this would be for small tech businesses or start-ups. Programs such as the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) provide grants for these types of entities. Grants offered by these programs are competitive but are meant to get small businesses involved in government STEM research.

State and county-level grants vary depending on where you live. Some areas follow the federal government’s path of sticking with non-profits. However, there are some exceptions here and there. Colorado and Maryland for example, have grants for those who want to export their products. Cleveland, Ohio has a grant program for tech businesses that create five or more new jobs within their first year. If you are a commercial entity looking for government grants, you’ll want to check your state and city/town/county websites for these opportunities.

Eligibility for Government Grants

Every type of grant has its own specific requirements. These are things that you’ll have to read upon when you come across the opportunity itself. All government grants being given out to companies or organizations require a UEI number and a SAM registration.

UEI stands for Unique Entity Identifier. This is a unique number that’s designated for each physical location of your business or organization. To get this number, you’ll need information that includes your legal name, location of your business, number of employees, and other details about your business. You can obtain one for your business at

The second requirement is a registration in the System for Award Management (SAM). Being registered in SAM is a requirement for anyone who wants to work with the U.S. government. This goes from universities conducting research to government contractors.

If you need assistance with the registration process, USFCR is the largest most trusted third-party registration firm, having completed over 180,000 compliant registrations. Learn more about our services here.

For those who are unfamiliar, the difference between government contracting and grants might not be so clear. Basically, government grants are meant to fund an initiative for the public good. Contracts are given out for products or services that the government needs.


Grant – Uncle Sam funds research to develop vehicles that run on renewable energy.

Contracts – Uncle Sam buys vehicles that run on renewable energy.

Luckily, those who are eligible for government grants can search through This is a single database for grants available all across the country. As mentioned before, you can also check your state and local websites for obtaining grants. If you are eligible for SBIR and STTR, you can search on for these opportunities.

You can also search for grant opportunities within the Advanced Procurement Portal (APP).  APP is a web-based search and management platform that simplifies researching and bidding on government contracting opportunities, along with finding grants.

Private Sector Grants

This section won’t be as detailed or long as the previous one.

Obtaining grants in the private sector will vary on the organization. You will have to cross bridges when you get to them. What is worth noting is that many non-profits will act as the midpoint between government and commercial entities.

This means that even though you are a for-profit business, you can still get government money albeit, indirectly. If you do your research, there are non-profits that write grants to help get small businesses to get on their feet.

The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) for example, awards small businesses grants for up to $4,000 every month.

Other than that, your options would be to look toward corporate donors who usually have a yearly giveaway.

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Writing the Proposal

Before diving into this process, it helps to take the view of who will be reading the proposal. If you were giving a sum of non-refundable money, what questions would you have?

The purpose of a proposal is to not only persuade but to cover every base of your project. Here are some questions that you should consider before writing a proposal:

  1. Who are you? What do you do? What are your credentials and how is your organization structured?
  2. What is the problem, need, or purpose that you’re trying to fulfill?
  3. From start to finish, what is your plan for taking on this endeavor?
  4. How much funding are you asking from us?
  5. In what specific ways will you integrate this funding into the various steps of your project?
  6. What are your other sources of revenue and total financial sources in general? (remember: grants are just part of your revenue)
  7. How can one empirically measure the progress and completion of this undertaking?

Just as eligibility differs between grants, so does the structure of the proposal.

Generally, though, proposals will have three main segments. These consist of the cover letter, proposal narrative, and budget outline.

Depending on the situation, there can be additional requirements such as staff bios, history, and supporting research, as well as other materials. Again, this article is meant to serve as the "tip of the iceberg" for grants.

So here are the three basic parts of a proposal:

Cover Letter:

  • Introduces the reader to the project
  • How much funding you need
  • What the organization will be funding
  • Superficially addressed to a person in that organization

Proposal Narrative:

  • Organization history
  • Goals and objectives of the organization
  • Your services and programs
  • Structure of the entity

Budget Outline:

  • Total amount spent on different parts of your program
  • Share of expenses that the grant will cover vs. total budget
  • Other sources of your revenue
  • How you developed your budget

When writing a proposal, you want to be as clear and concise as you can. This document might be your only representation for this opportunity. If your budget allows it, you may want to hire a grant writer to take care of this process for you.

Maintaining Perspective

Remember that in its essence, a grant is like a stepping stone to a goal. Generally, you want to search for ones offered by institutions with similar objectives or values. You also want to make sure that you’re looking in the right places before you invest a lot of time and effort in searching. Finally, take into account that you want to strive for thoroughness and clarity when writing a grant proposal.

If you need any assistance with writing a grant proposal, we have expert grant writers on staff at USFCR. Find out more about our Grant Writing service here.

Originally published Jun 5, 2018 2:55:00 PM, updated June 09, 2022

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Hayden Johnson

Written by Hayden Johnson

Hayden is USFCR's Creative Copywriter. His goal is to help businesses navigate the federal marketplace with quick and simple guides.