Does that title startle you? You read and hear all over that the government gives out billions of dollars each year in grants. And that is a fact, just as we say on our home page and elsewhere. It may seem only right, then, that some of that money should come to you.
But have you tried to get a government grant for something you or your family want or need? If so you may have visited grants.gov, just like people said you should. And you may very well have been totally overwhelmed and frustrated trying to figure out how to locate and apply for opportunities that were right for you. If that left you feeling misled, we totally understand.
Don’t feel bad, and don’t give up. You have plenty of company! Many people are confused about what kind of grants are available and how they can get help, regardless of why they need it. This article explains why Grants.gov may be all wrong for you even though it may be just great for others. And that's ok, because the good news is that you have other options – and it's free to learn about them!
Fortunately government agencies as well as private companies, foundations and other non-profit organizations do give out billions (yes, billions of dollars) annually in financial awards that never have to be paid back.
Discover your program today!
What Grants.gov Is Good For
Grants.gov serves a valuable purpose in theory: to provide a central place where qualified applicants can get information on all federal grants. The execution may sometimes fall short of the goal but overall it is a very useful site for many. Grants.gov is a team effort of 26 federal agencies that award grants. It is led by the Department of Health and Human Services (which lately has also been busy with the Obamacare system…..). The site reports on over 1000 programs which collectively give out more than $500 billion in grants each year.
On the positive side it’s easy to search for grants based on your “eligibility category”. So you can search for a grant and make sure that you only see results that include grants that can be won by individuals. Unfortunately the vast majority of these opportunities will either be for activities in another country or they will only apply to highly specialized research scientists. For example, a grant opportunity we found this morning (May 30, 2018) that is available to individuals is for High Performance Housing Innovation. Sounds interesting — and you might have a great idea. But read on and you’ll find that they are looking specifically for teams that can present an integrated approach to maximize energy efficiency. So it may not be the kind of “individual” grant opportunity you are looking for. But who knows? If it does apply to you, go for it, if not, read through your search results and see if you find some great ideas…
Just as grants.gov contains a wealth of information about current grant opportunities, it also has loads of information about grants in general. This is a great place to get educated if what you are really looking for is a grant — especially a government grant for which you are eligible. Remember that this does NOT include things like benefits and financial aid — these are funding for specific projects that help specific groups targeted by the government. If you go to grants.gov and click on the “Grants Learning Center” you will find just about everything you could want to know about grants, including the basics. There’s a section with frequently asked questions, an ongoing blog and much, much more.
Because grants.gov has created standards for all types of grant information and application procedures, it is easier for those looking for funding to find, understand, and submit applications for grants. They can also easily determine eligibility criteria and deadlines for phases of applications, thereby avoiding wasted time and energy. Applications are submitted and processed online so the entire process is streamlined.
If you are a federal, state or local government agency, a contractor (or would-be-contractor) or a well-established not-for-profit organization, you will find grants.gov to be a treasure-trove of information. Anyone can search by keyword for current grants (also known as “funding opportunities”); you may in fact be overwhelmed with the amount of information returned. And that is just in the summary! You may click on individual grants to get more detail regarding deadlines, eligibility requirements and award amounts – no log-in is required.
Keep in mind that in order to apply for any kind of grant on this site, you will have to register. They recommend, though, that before bothering to register you first do a search to see if there are any grants for which you are eligible. (Check the “Synopsis” and the section called “Full Announcement” to be sure you understand the requirements for eligibility). Also take a look at the page called Check Your Eligibility. This can take a while but it’s a good idea that may save you time … if you can’t find a likely grant for you there’s no sense bothering with registration.
With all that said, there are still occasions where grants.gov might be useful to you as an individual. There are useful ways that you can filter a search of this huge database — and you do not have to be registered in any way in order to do that. Click “Search for Grants” at the top of the home page and then enter your keywords (the areas that interest you and/or the type of grant you are looking for). Then be sure to go over to the column on the left. It provides options for you to filter the results you get. Be sure to go to the Eligibilities box and click what applies to you or your organization. You can also check “Individuals” if you are looking for a grant for yourself. When you click search you may get a lot of results. Fortunately they provide summaries of funding announcements and you can scan through them fairly quickly. Most will probably not be anything you can apply for but — maybe some will! Just go in with your expectations appropriately set and remember, they do not list grants that provide financial assistance directly to individuals.
For example, we recently clicked the tab to search by eligibilities (very handy resource) and checked only “Individuals”. Out of the thousands and thousands of grants included in grants.gov, only 29 possibilities were returned. Some of those were forecasted rather than current projects. And the most interesting required very specific knowledge and skills of individuals to actually be eligible. For instance a project related to the donation or adoption of embryos was very intriguing but (not surprisingly) did require that applicants be totally up on the most recent developments in both medicine and law regarding embryo donation/adoption. So you might want to check out grants.gov just to see what interesting grants actually are available to individuals — just don’t hold out high hopes unless you have a very specific level of expertise.
You might find interesting reading on the grants.gov Community Blog. Though much of it is aimed at agencies and others who typically apply for government grants, some posts are aimed at individual users. For example, a headline post is about “exploring eligibility” and asks where someone can get grants for school. Though grants.gov is not the place to do that they do offer useful information and direct users to other useful sites. They also explain what sort of education grants they do list — like those used by other government agencies, institutions, non-profits and sometimes even businesses. So there are some good lessons to be learned even if you won’t find a grant or other personal assistance here.
Update May 2016: Changes and improvements seem to be being made more frequently lately to grants.gov. These are good because they increase its readability and usefulness. The home page no longer looks like a dull and drab government website. It has a changing block at the top that highlights current events and opportunities as well as topics most frequently accessed on the site. The newest grant opportunities are also prominently featured, and on the right there are summaries of grant-related blogs, government notices, warnings about possible fraudulent activity you might be exposed to and more. So even if you don’t expect to find a grant listing you can apply for you might find some interesting and useful information on this site.
Grants.gov is updated daily so if you are a qualified applicant it is worth searching the database often for opportunities.
What Grants.gov Is Not Good For
Many people who go searching for grants are actually looking for benefits or personal financial aid. Those things will not be found here. You can however find out a lot about them in our recent article about Government Benefits and we encourage you to check that out. If you are an individual looking for a grant to start a business you will be disappointed (though you might find the help you're looking for in Business Grants). Small businesses, however, CAN find grants on grants.gov! And while you may have heard that individuals can find grants here if they want to do research. That is the case but believe us, you have to be a very (very) good scientist or researcher in very narrowly defined areas to find your grant here. Learn more in Grants for Research.
If you are short on patience you will be in for some frustration. There are three types of registration required in order to apply for grants, and a healthy supply of acronyms goes with them. The entire process can take anywhere from 4 days to several weeks, so start as soon as possible if grant applications are in your future.
Grants.gov is very clear from the outset about three things:
- It lists only federal grants
- Very few if any of those grants are awarded to individuals; and
- None of those grants are awarded for personal financial assistance.
So regardless what anyone tells you, if you need personal assistance due to financial need grants.gov is not the place to go. Instead, take a look at the information and resources in our summary of federal assistance in the United States. And if you are in the market for an actual grant you will find some great information and direction in our article about how to find grants.