Enlisting Political Advocates in Your Search for Grant Monies

By Beverly A. Browning

Searching or applying for federal grant monies without emailing or calling staff at your elected legislators’ offices doesn’t make much sense. Getting to know these critical contacts on Capitol Hill and in your state capital can make the difference between finding out about funding opportunities before NOFAs are published and hearing about them with everyone else. Time is always of the essence, so why not get some strong-armed advocacy from your elected representatives?

After you’ve called your elected officials’ office(s), ask their staff members to

  • Keep you posted on future grant opportunities (no matter what your funding status is): Get in the information loop for state and federal monies.
  • Look for discretionary grant award opportunities near the end of the state or federal fiscal year: Some states’ fiscal years end June 30; others end September 30. The federal fiscal year ends on September 30. At these times, leftover monies are quickly dispensed before they have to be returned to the state legislatures or to Congress.

Representatives are elected to serve on your behalf in the national and state capitals, so use your leverage. Make a telephone call or send an email to the local or regional office for your state’s congressional legislators. During your initial phone call or email, ask for a meeting or simply state your funding needs. Tell legislators that your organization critically needs their support in identifying federal funding.

Here are some pointers on when to make these critical contacts with elected officials:

  • When you first realize that you’re going to apply for a federal or state grant-funding opportunity: It’s critical to let your elected officials, both state and federal, know that you’re submitting a grant application so that they can provide you with an introduction to the grant program’s staff, giving you a direct dial-in number for queries. Your elected officials can also track the status of your grant application after it has been submitted to let you know when the application is under review by the program staff. Their processes for tracking your application will vary from state to state.
  • When you need to request letters of commitment from elected officials: For federal grant applications, ask representatives to send their letters directly to the federally appointed official who has jurisdiction over the funding agency (for example, the secretary of education, secretary of labor, and so forth). For state and local government agency grant applications, attach the letter to your grant application package.
  • When you’ve uploaded or mailed the grant application: Send a full copy of the application to your elected officials (national and state, depending on where you’re submitting your application) along with a note that you’d like for them to work hard to get this request funded.
  • When you find out that your application for funding was rejected: Your elected officials can find out why the application was shot down — often faster than you can. And right or wrong, sometimes political clout counts enough to move a request from the rejection pile to the funding pile. (Note, though, that government funding agencies are required to provide written feedback to applicants rejected for funding.)

Also, work to engage elected officials in becoming oriented to your organization’s needs. How? Host an annual legislative event (a breakfast, lunch, or dinner) where you present an overview of your organization and a wish list for programs and services. Make sure to use a slide-show presentation and give each attendee an information packet covering your presentation content. Your only agenda item is convincing elected officials or their staff members that your organization has the most need for government funding.

Some elected officials have a policy of not providing letters of support, advocating, or communicating with nonprofits. While one elected official in your area may not be available, you should still go ahead and contact other elected officials.