We Asked, They Answered: Q&A with 5 Municipal Grant Experts

We asked five municipal grant professionals to answer five burning questions your city might have about the competitive grant process. Read on for their advice and various nuggets of wisdom they have accumulated through years of firsthand experience with grant management.


1. What is the first thing you check in a NOFO when you come across a new grant opportunity of interest?

Robyn Adams, Manager, Grants and Administration, City of Woodstock (pop. 36,198): 

There are two items I check first, the submittal deadline and the eligibility requirements. This is an important immediate first step when reviewing a NOFO as it lets the applicant know whether to proceed with the preparation and application process from both a time standpoint and a legal one as well.

Nydia Akins, Grant Manager, City of Union City (pop. 27,359): 

The first thing I check in the NOFO are the eligibility requirements and the application deadline.

Danny Blitch, Grants Manager, City of Roswell (pop. 92,530): 

The first thing I check is eligibility. I want to make sure the funder makes awards to my type of organization and that my organization is eligible to receive those funds. This means that my organization must be in good standing with the funder, in compliance with previous grants especially reporting, has partners in place, and is truly grant ready.

Phil Minton, II, Finance Director, City of Fort Oglethorpe (pop. 10,531): 

The maximum grant award along with the match requirement.  Then we check eligibility requirements. Finally, we check the timeline (due date, review date, award date).

Sylvia Redic, City Manager, City of Jackson (pop. 5,622): 

Deadline. First and foremost, do I have enough time to get the information together? Second, am I eligible?


2. What is the first step you take when the city decides to apply for a grant?

Adams: I thoroughly review the application and the NOFO. This will allow the applicant to have all the details needed to proceed to the next step in the process. Also, since most grants require input and the creation of documents from other colleagues, organizations, and community members, I immediately start working to collect that information as it can sometimes take time.

Akins: My first step is to ensure I thoroughly understand the grant requirements to determine if the grant aligns with the city’s goals and needs. This process is typically done by meeting with internal stakeholders who are well-versed in the field and can help with the application and establish a timeline for completion.

Blitch: Read the grant’s request for proposals in its entirety. Sometimes this is called a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), or a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) or even grant application guidance materials. This includes reviewing each of the required attachments to ensure my organization can deliver the documents expected by the funder.

Minton, II: We gather our team and begin to build a plan for completing the application. We get accounting, programming (who will implement the grant if it is awarded), department heads and management together to examine the scope of the grant. Then, we delegate the work of the grant application by section to various individuals. The second step is to set deadlines for review and completion of the grant.

Redic: It is strangely important to mention – read the entire application first, not along the way. Do not let yourself be surprised by requirements at the last minute that you would have known had you only read the entire application.

3. What is one thing often overlooked in the grant application phase?

Adams: The regulations and compliance requirements are often overlooked. Thoroughly reviewing the application and the related documents on the hosting agency’s site will prevent the applicant from missing any pertinent information required to submit a successful application package.

Akins: Cities may overlook application prerequisites which can hinder a city’s ability to submit a successful or competitive grant application. Examples of necessary prerequisites, although not exhaustive, include obtaining a resolution and procuring letters of support.

Blitch: The funder’s priorities. The grant’s guidance materials typically spell out in detail what types of projects the funder is looking to fund during a given grant round. I have found over the years that applicants overlook matching their organization’s need for grant dollars with what the funder is interested in funding.

Minton, II: Technical requirements are overlooked many times. You have to really examine what is needed to complete the best grant application (i.e. engineering reports, community input, etc.).

Redic: I would say the budgets are the weakest link. It can be tricky when there are character limits, but do not skimp on budget details, cost estimates and clear narratives.


4. What is one thing often overlooked in the grant administration phase?

Adams: Proper post-award financial reporting requirements are many times complex. Therefore, ensuring all federal regulations are met can be challenging and many times an important detail in this step of the process can be overlooked.

Akins: The grant administration process can be significantly impacted by a lack of communication with the finance department regarding the budget and project scope. Maintaining open lines of communication is crucial to ensuring the appropriate oversight of grant funds.

Blitch: Records retention. According to 2 CFR § 200.334 “Financial records, supporting documents, statistical records, and all other non-Federal entity records pertinent to a Federal award must be retained for a period of three years from the date of submission of the final expenditure report or, for Federal awards that are renewed quarterly or annually, from the date of the submission of the quarterly or annual financial report.” There are at least 6 exceptions to the retention requirements for records!

Minton, II: I think this would be knowing the best way to track data inputs and outputs for the grant reporting cycle. The grant activity needs to be monitored at least monthly so that at the end of the grant period, outcomes and success stories can be shared.

Redic: I would say communication with the grantor. Do not guess, do not assume. Call, and ask. People on the other end of the equation are there to help you, let them help you.


5. One piece of advice for cities that don’t know where to start with grants?

Adams: I would recommend they process registration and use GRANTS.GOV. This is a program management system that offers a large variety of beneficial resources. The site offers various educational opportunities covering the entire grant process. It also allows users to create a customizable search of discretionary funding opportunities best suited for their organization and the ability to apply for them securely and directly through the site. They also offer links to required forms, a workflow management system, and a wide range of support.

Akins: My advice would be to begin by identifying the city’s needs and goals, researching available grant opportunities that align with those goals, and building relationships with other organizations and agencies that can provide guidance.

Blitch: The largest free source for grant information is Grants.gov. Their Grants Learning Center has articles, FAQs, tutorials, and how-to videos. There you will also find the “What is a grant?” blog and a “Federal Grant Writing Tips” blog. The Grants Learning Center also has information about grant fraud and scams.

Minton, II: Identify 1 to 3 people who will regularly be seeking out opportunities, and give those people the margin in their schedules to do so. These people should network with like-minded organizations on a regular basis so they can learn what opportunities those organizations have taken advantage of. Network, network, network. Consider purchasing software to assist in grant seeking. Attend grant training in person, or by webinar. Pay membership fees to your local regional commission (ours is Northwest Georgia Regional Commission) and take advantage of their support. The cost is based on your City’s population.

Redic: Identify a project, then go see if there is money. Do not go find big pots of money and then look for a project that works, not with little to no experience. There are certainly professionals you can hire, consultants, but there is plenty you can do internally if you have someone interested that can spend time concentrating. To city leaders – it may look easy, but it is not. Do not have unreasonable expectations, especially as you get started.


6. Best sources of local match or best advice on meeting local match?

Adams: If you don’t have the required match within your current or planned budget, you may find them through various foundations or through the state in order to leverage the grant but check eligibility requirements first. Other sources available to meet the required match include local taxes and local partnerships.

Akins: I think the best sources will depend on the type of grant and the city’s unique circumstances. The General Fund may be a viable option. However, applicants may want to also consider leveraging resources by partnering with other municipalities or utilizing funding sources such Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST). 

Blitch: The local match must be spent during the grant award period. City funds spent before the grant starts are called "leverage" and do not count as the local match. The best source of matching funds is the General Fund, but the next best source is Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) or Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST).

Minton, II: Usually, existing funds are the best source of local match.  This includes unrestricted grant funds on hand, or funds from our reserve.   Otherwise, we seek out new grants from the community, the state, the federal government, or through partnerships with other non-profits or foundations.

Redic: First, make sure you are clear on the grant guidelines, are you restricted on the match source? If not, then it is simple, “Do you have the money or don’t you?” SPLOST, General Fund, Enterprise Fund, Reserves… You cannot win a grant to pay for your match, so in the end, you have to be able to afford the match. In government, I suggest you get approval from the Mayor and Council or Commissioners for the match before you apply, not after. You certainly do not want to win the grant and then find out the Mayor and Council won’t approve the match, because then you do not get the money.



GMA owes its thanks to Robyn Adams, Nydia Akins, Danny Blitch, Phil Minton, II, and Sylvia Redic for contributing to this article.

The format of this article is inspired by the Atlantic Council's "The 5x5" series.