How to Fill in Federal Grant Application Forms

Each federal agency has its own standard grant application forms and its own guidelines for filling out the forms. Some agencies have fewer than 10 forms; others have more than 20. Underestimating the importance of the mandatory forms and the importance of filling them out properly may result in your grant application being disqualified on a technical error.

When filling in any form, always read the instructions that come with the online grant application guidelines first. Look for the checklist provided in every grant application announcement. This checklist tells you what to provide in your application, including mandatory forms, narrative sections, and attachments or appendixes.

Most federal grant-making agencies make exceptions to the standard Grants.gov application upload requirement and allow grant applicants to submit a paper application instead, although the agency may require that you request and receive approval to submit a paper application. The checklist becomes even more important for hard-copy submissions because you must assemble the forms, narrative, attachments, and appendixes in a specific order. Otherwise, your application may be rejected on receipt.

The cover form is the top page of all federal grant applications. It’s what the feds see when they open your application package. For years, the application cover form has been known as the Application for Federal Assistance Cover Form.

The current cover form — SF-424 — is five pages when printed out. It has 21 sections that cover the basic who, what, when, where, and why of your project and agency, with instructions for responding to each field, and ends with a federal debt delinquency explanation page.

Here is an overview of the rest of the most common federal grant application forms: budget forms, assurance forms, and lobbying disclosure forms. Many state funding agencies use similar forms; the required forms are listed in the grant guidelines for each funding competition. These forms are listed in the order in which you’re most likely to see them in grant application guidelines.

Budget information forms: SF-424A

One form you have to fill out is a three-page, six-section set of federal budget forms often referred to as Standard Form 424A, or SF-424A. The six sections of this form set are labeled Sections A through F:

  • Section A is where you lay out your budget summary (your federal grant request and your nonfederal matching monies).

    [Credit: SF-424A reproduced courtesy of the U.S. government]
    Credit: SF-424A reproduced courtesy of the U.S. government
  • Section B is for detailing the budget categories line item by line item.

    [Credit: SF-424A reproduced courtesy of the U.S. government]
    Credit: SF-424A reproduced courtesy of the U.S. government

    When you get to Section B, you especially want to have read the instructions for these forms, because each agency differs in how it wants you to fill in the columns for multiyear federal funding requests.

  • Section C is where you list the source of your nonfederal monies (called nonfederal resources).

    [Credit: SF-424A reproduced courtesy of the U.S. government]
    Credit: SF-424A reproduced courtesy of the U.S. government
  • Section D asks you to forecast your first-year grant-funding needs (referred to as forecasted cash needs).

  • Section E is where you tell the federal government the total amount of grant funds needed in the second through fifth years of your project. However, fill in this section only if the grant award is for multiple years.

  • Section F is where you explain any amounts requested in the federal portion of your budget that are unusual or unclear to someone outside your agency. In this section, you also explain your already-negotiated indirect cost rate (contact the Office of Management and Budget to start this lengthy process well before you plan to apply for federal grant funding).

    Finally, Section F is where you can add any other explanations or comments to explain your rather large or mysterious budget.

Assurances form: SF-424B

The federal government wants assurances that your organization — the grant applicant — can meet all governmental funding expectations. And it gets these assurances from Standard Form 424B, or SF-424B. This online form lets you add your electronic signature and submit.

If you have questions regarding this form, contact the awarding agency. Also, note that some federal awarding agencies may require you to certify to additional assurances; if that’s the case, they’ll let you know how to proceed.

The assurances cover your legal authority to (among other things)

  • Apply for grants

  • Address your commitment to record-keeping

  • Provide safeguards for conflict of interest

  • Protect the meeting time frame established in your grant application

  • Comply with multiple federal laws regarding fairness and equity for program staff and participants

By signing the assurances and other required forms, you’re conveying to the government funding agency that your organization will comply with all applicable requirements of all other federal laws, executive orders, regulations, and policies governing this program.

Disclosure of lobbying activity form: SF-LLL

If you’ve hired a lobbyist to make sure more federal or state dollars come your way, you must fill out the Disclosure of Lobbying Activities form, or SF-LLL. (Read the funding agency’s guidelines though, because often this form is optional.)

A lobbyist is an individual or a firm that spends a lot of time on Capitol Hill or at your state capitol schmoozing with elected officials. Lobbyists work for for-profit and nonprofit agencies. They’re on a (paid) mission to convince legislators to vote one way or another to benefit their client agencies. Lobbyists apply a lot of pressure, and a lot of money flows as a result.

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