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Active seekers of competitive grants must be aware of broad social, political, and economic trends that impact their ability to obtain funding. Some of these trends are newly emerging; others are persistent. A few of the more salient trends in the 2010s are explored here.


Trend: Technology

Many grant makers encourage innovative projects for appropriate uses of established and emerging technologies in virtually every sector of public life. They seldom choose to fund the technologies directly; instead, they prefer to fund the perceived benefits or impacts that accrue from using them to solve well-defined problems. Be aware that some funders do adopt a more skeptical view – they may decline proposals for overly technology-intensive projects.


Technology Strategies:

  • Focus on benefits of using a technology not on the technology itself
  • Address any need to train users of the technology before deploying it
  • Offer thorough justifications for technology budget line items
  • Link requested technologies to a project’s goals and objectives
  • Use scientific research literature to justify selections of technologies


Trend: Logic Models

The presence of logic models is increasingly expected as part of more complex grant proposals. Its use is also expected to guide a project’s implementation and evaluation phases. The basic elements of logic models focus both on the present (inputs, activities) and future (outputs, outcomes). Both public and private grant makers may require inclusion and use of a logic model.


Logic Models Strategies:

  • Develop a logic model for use in planning a proposed project
  • Use tables and/or flow charts as graphics to illustrate narrative descriptions
  • Try to capture the entire logic model on a single page
  • Be aware that not every project type lends itself to a simple linear sequential graphic
  • Consider the logic model as a guide for implementation, monitoring, and evaluation


Trend: Accountability

Most funders expect grant recipients to be accountable for the programmatic results and financial expenditures of their projects. Applicants must plan to demonstrate and report measurable results. In the public sector, agencies use such results, aggregated across a program, to decide its longevity and its future levels of legislated appropriations.


Accountability Strategies:

  • Propose ambitious but attainable project objectives
  • Use monitoring and evaluation to measure and track progress and outcomes
  • Plan to incorporate GPRA and GPRMA performance indicators
  • Treat evaluation as a high-priority aspect of effective implementation
  • Work with the grant maker as a partner to ensure successful project outcomes


Trend: Diversity

Public and private grant makers resonate with contemporary demographic trends. They weigh an applicant’s awareness of and responsiveness to such trends. Many programs focus on narrowly defined special populations such as disabilities, linguistic or cultural minorities, or areas experiencing high levels of violence or poverty. They also look for well-delineated plans to deliver services in culturally responsive and culturally competent ways.


Diversity Strategies:

  • Describe staff qualifications in the context of the diversity to be served
  • Offer a plan to address specific needs of special populations
  • Present context and data to characterize the special populations
  • Use literature reviews to identify best practices for working with special populations


This is one of a series on trends in grant making. As a grant writer and/or a grant seeker, you may discern others, or you may discern counter-trends. If so, don’t hesitate to comment.




In the United States of America, about 26 Federal agencies and Cabinet-level departments conduct competitions for discretionary grants. Notices of funding availability (NOFAs) and requests for proposals (RFPs) appear in the Federal Register and on the portal. In addition, they often appear on the individual agencies’ websites.


Organizations planning to seek competitive grants from a federal agency need to register with the government through the Central Contractor Registry (CCR) and to acquire a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number through Dun and Bradstreet.


This post will address federal-level entities (in the United States of America) that hold competitions for discretionary grants for purposes related to infrastructure (e.g., interstate commerce, energy, housing, telecommunications, and transportation). Later posts will address other federal-level grant-making entities.



The US Department of Commerce competes grants in such areas as telecommunications, fisheries, and oceanic and atmospheric sciences, among others. Its website resources cover funding opportunities, program descriptions, grant management, and much more.



At the US Department of Energy, grants are available in such areas as energy conservation, energy efficiency, and alternative energy. Its resources include extensive program guidance as well as links to projects, technical assistance, funding opportunities, and other information.



The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) grant portal and its many links cover funding opportunities, application packages, grant awards, grant-related training materials. They also provide links to related state program offices and a plethora of regulatory and administrative guidance for grants management.



At the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are grant programs in the areas of broadband technology, public safety communications, public telecommunications facilities, and low-power television transmission. Its website provides materials on grant opportunities and pertinent policies, but presents no direct links to application materials or other resources for grant seekers.



The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHA) provides links to information about discretionary grants for multiple purposes including eligibility, program descriptions, and selection criteria, as does its Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program for surface transportation infrastructure.

New technology for its own sake is never a good reason to pursue a grant; too often it merely becomes an untested and unproven solution in search of a problem. But that new technology, selected judiciously and used wisely as a means to solve well-defined problems or to address unmet needs, can prove to be a powerful asset.


Benefits of Technology Grants:

New technology can help its users to translate an organization’s mission and vision into reality. When it is applied well, it can:

  1. Help its users to achieve valued outcomes
  2. Remove or modify obstacles to solving critical problems or alleviating unmet needs
  3. Aid its users in becoming self-directed, adaptive, productive, lifelong learners and creators of meaning
  4. Allow its users to do the tasks essential to reaching their goals and objectives
  5. Deliver measurable direct (or expected) and indirect (or unexpected) benefits to its users


Questions for Planning:

Planners of new technology projects or initiatives must consider many of the same basic questions as other grant seekers. Among the questions useful for preparing to seek a grant for new technology are:

  1. What technology do you have?
  2. What technology do you need?
  3. Why do you need the technology you do not have?
  4. How will you use the new technology?
  5. Who will use the new technology?
  6. What benefits will come from using the new technology?
  7. How will the new technology support your goals?
  8. How will the new technology support your objectives?
  9. How will the new technology support your core activities?
  10. What will the new technology let you do that you cannot do now?
  11. What will happen if you do not get the new technology you need?
  12. Who can partner with you to get the new technology?
  13. How will you evaluate the results of using the new technology?
  14. What budget will you need for the new technology?
  15. How will you support the new technology when funding ends?

Often users of the new technology will need training, technical support, appropriate wares, infrastructure, time and funding. All of these considerations can impact a grant budget.

Proposals that win grants for K-12 education have many predictable information needs. Applicants that have such information at the ready before the announcement of a grant opportunity greatly improve the likelihood of funding.


Applicants may not need every item listed here for every description of commitment and capacity; however, among the proposal narrative elements they should anticipate are: history of commitment, capacity development plans, plans to leverage resources, and experience and coordination.


History of Financial and Programmatic Commitment:

  1. History of growth of local budgets for similar programs or initiatives (from outset if possible)
  2. History of growth of applicant’s commitment of staff to similar programs or initiatives
  3. History of resources dedicated to local programs or initiatives similar to the one proposed:
  • Materials and supplies (e.g., curricular materials, software subscriptions)
  • Infrastructure (e.g., networks, computers, telecommunications, software)
  • Assessment instruments and evaluation processes
  • Specialized training (e.g., pre-service, in-service, credit-awarding courses)
  • Reimbursements for professional development (e.g., tuition, course completion)
  • Collaboration with other project-related agencies (e.g., in proposal planning)


Capacity Development Plans:

  1. Year-by-year plan to develop programmatic capacity during the grant period
  2. Year-by-year plan to absorb related costs (as specific and quantified as possible)
  3. Plan for follow-up services, as needed, for participants during grant period


Leveraging Resources:

  1. Federal funds  – recent history related to new proposal (e.g., sources, amounts, purposes)
  2. State funds  – recent history related to new proposal (e.g., sources, amounts, purposes)
  3. Foundation funds  – recent history related to new proposal (e.g., sources, amounts, purposes)
  4. Corporate funds – recent history related to new proposal (e.g., sources, amounts, purposes)
  5. Local funding – recent history related to new proposal (e.g., sources, amounts, purposes)


Experience and Coordination:

  1. Earlier experience with the same funder and/or the same funding program, if any
  2. Earlier experience with funder’s other programs related to the present grant program, if any
  3. Relationship or relevance to the funder’s other grant programs or initiatives, if any


Later posts will cover information needs for other aspects of educational grant proposals.

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