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Federal Grants – How Do Federal Agencies Use Grant Money?

The Federal government uses two kinds of grants:

  1. Grants awarded by an agency of the Federal government (also known as ‘discretionary’ grants)—for instance, a homeless assistance grant given out by the Department of Health and Human Services to a homeless shelter.
  2. Grants that put Federal money in the hands of States, cities, or counties for them to distribute to charities and other social service providers, usually under their own rules and regulations (also known as ‘formula’ or ‘block’ grants).

Thus, you can apply directly to the Federal government or to the entities that receive and distribute funds from the Federal government.

How can our organization find out about funding opportunities?

First, you must become familiar with what is available. The following list contains information on over 170 programs operated by multiple Federal agencies. Use this list as a starting point. More information such as when and how you can apply for funds is available from the agency contact in each listing or from the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA). To use the CFDA, locate the CFDA Number at the end of each listing. Use that number to search for the program on the CFDA website:

An important point: More Federal money is available from state and local programs than from the Federal government. In the past, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services has awarded significantly more money to States and localities– which in turn made much of the funds available to non-governmental organizations and, then, grant applicants. Thus, in addition to finding out more about grants from the Federal government, you will probably want to look into partnering with your State and local government.

We’ve found some programs we’re interested in. What’s next?

All Federal grants must be announced to the public. These announcements (sometimes called a “Program Announcement,” “Request for Proposal,” “Notice of Funding Availability,” or “Solicitation for Grant Applications”) are the government’s way of drawing charities and other groups who may be interested in federal funding. Each grant announcement will contain instructions on how to apply, including information the application should contain, the date the application is due, and agency contact information.

Grant announcements are issued throughout the year. Unfortunately, there is no single document that contains every Federal grant announcement. Currently, most grant announcements are listed in the Federal Register, a daily publication that can be accessed on the Internet ( and at major public libraries. The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance ( also contains information about grant announcements.

How can our organization get more help?

Most Federal agencies have experts available to help organizations apply for and manage their grants. Applicants should call the contact identified in the grant announcement or contact an agency’s regional office. They may also refer applicants to local technical assistance workshops or organizations that are under contract with the Federal government to provide this kind of assistance. Aid may also be available from the organizations funded by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Compassion Capital Fund. These organizations help small, community-based group learn about the grant process and other challenges, such as training volunteers or expanding their reach. They do this at no cost to your organization. You can learn more about the Compassion Capital Fund and the organizations it funds through the White House and HHS faith-based website In addition, for general questions about writing a grant proposal, many State governments and cities provide grant writing workshops, as do a number of nonprofit organizations and foundations.


The following list of over 170 programs represents most of the programs of interest to small, faith-based and community groups. However, there may be other programs in these or other agencies that we have not listed. Additional programs will be added over time. Visit, and to look for further funding opportunities.

The programs that follow are organized into general categories. In most categories, you will find programs from several different Federal agencies. For example, in the Elders in Need category are programs operated by the Departments of HHS and HUD. At the beginning of each category are programs for which the Federal agencies directly receive applications. In every case, the contact information in the listing is a good place to start for learning about the application process and the program as a whole.

You will find “State and locally-administered Federal funding” at the end of most categories. These are the programs in which the Federal government makes large grants available to States and local governments. These States and localities then award grants themselves to grassroots and other organizations. Totaling more than $50 billion, State and locally-administered Federal funding represents a wide range of funding opportunities. To learn about these opportunities, you will need to get in touch with State and local agencies where you live.

Some states and counties have created the position of Faith/Community Liaison. Faith/Community Liaisons are officials or consultants who serve as a bridge between government and faith-based and community grassroots groups.

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