Frequently Asked Questions

Question of the Week

Question:

Our court just won a grant award. Can you give us an example of a press release we could use to announce this award?

Answer:

The Cass County, Michigan, 43rd Circuit Court recently posted a press release regarding a federal grant award that can serve as a template for a similar press release you could use to announce your award.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. I just found out I didn’t receive a federal grant I applied for this year. Should I resubmit my application next year?
  2. I received a new federal grant in the last week. What are the first five things I should do?
  3. Do I have to be a grantee to access federal training and technical assistance?
  4. What is training and technical assistance (TTA) and how might I use TTA?
  5. I have heard that serving as a peer reviewer is a great way to improve my grant writing skills. How do I become a peer reviewer for a federal agency?
  6. I am new to grant writing. As I search for grant opportunities, how do I decide if I should apply? Some of the grants seem very competitive.
  7. I have never used Grants.gov and I am feeling overwhelmed about where to start. How do I register to receive funding announcements?
  8. Most grant solicitations require that an applicant demonstrate that they have “maximized the cost effectiveness of award expenditures” in the budget narrative. What level of detail is needed to maximize my scoring in this section?
  9. Where are grant awards posted?
  10. How can I receive alerts about federal funding announcements when they are released?
  11. Should I select my program researcher or outside subject-matter expert at the planning stage of the project or through a competitive selection process post-award?
  12. Should I partner with a researcher or an outside subject-matter expert on a grant?
  13. How much time should I set aside to write my first grant?
  14. I have a grant that requires an in-kind or cash match. What kind of documentation do I need to maintain related to my match? What common audit errors should I avoid?
  15. It’s June and I just received an email from a Federal funder that I applied to this year asking me to modify my budget. I have not had any other communication about my grant application. Is this a sign that I might get funded?
  16. When are federal grant awards announced?
  17. What is important to know about letters of support when writing federal grants?
  18. As this year’s federal grant season comes to an end, what should I be doing next to prepare for next year’s grant season?
  19. Should I provide an in-kind or cash match, if it is not required, to improve my odds of being awarded the grant?
  20. Are there examples of publicly available funded grant applications that I can review?
  21. What is the difference between a grant award and a cooperative agreement?
  22. I’m reading a solicitation and it says eligibility is limited to “Units of Local Government”? Are courts considered “units of local government?”
  23. What is the difference between a subaward and a contract?
  24. Where should I put my references for research or data I am citing in my application?
  25. Where do conference registration fees go in my budget?
  26. The instructions say that my program narrative has to be double-spaced. Do tables and footnotes have to be double-spaced?

I just found out I didn’t receive a federal grant I applied for this year. Should I resubmit my application next year?

It is so disappointing to find out you didn’t win a grant award, especially if you worked really hard on your application. Below are a few tips for next steps. 

  1. Go back and review how many awards were anticipated. If the answer is fewer than 10 awards were anticipated, you were applying for a very competitive grant program where they may have received over 100 applications. It may be a good idea to consider if your project could fit into a less competitive grant program next funding season.
  2. In the next two months you will receive written feedback from the peer reviewers.  It’s important to carve out the time to review your application against the original solicitation questions and the peer review feedback.  It’s normal not to agree with all the peer review feedback but it’s important to use the feedback to identify ways you can strengthen your application.  
  3. Make the time to revise your application if you are applying for a grant program that is a good fit for your project. The most common issue you will identify when you review your application and the peer review feedback is that you skipped a question or provided an incomplete answer.  Many applicants are successful winning a grant award with their second submission if they use the peer review feedback to fully revise their application.

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I received a new federal grant in the last week. What are the first five things I should do?

Congratulations on your new award!  There is a lot to do with a brand-new grant award but the first five things you should do are as follows:

Celebrate first.  It’s exciting to win a new grant award!  And then…

  1. Read the Notice of Funding Award (or the equivalent award document) thoroughly and ensure that both your finance department and your legal staff receive a copy and review it as well.  Once everyone has reviewed, if you can comply with the requirements and any special conditions, have the authorized official sign the award document and return it.
  2. Work with your financial team to set up your budget in your accounting system so you can track expenses to your grant award.  But remember, you cannot expend funds until you have received financial clearance from the granting agency.
  3. Send out a press release about your project acknowledging your partners and your funder.
  4. Sign up for any mandatory financial training required by the funding agency.
  5. Meet with your agency leadership to review any hiring needs if your grant includes new personnel.  While you cannot expend grant funds until you have financial clearance, you should not delay in planning for your new hires.

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Do I have to be a grantee to access federal training and technical assistance?

Federal agencies have a variety of training and technical assistance opportunities that are available to non-grantees. Opportunities range from peer-to-peer exchanges for programs that are in the planning phase, professional scholarships to attend training, and virtual and onsite training on topics that impact the court such as substance use disorders

If you are interested in identifying specific opportunities that align with your interests, feel free to submit your area of interest to us by email to fundingtoolkit@sji.gov and we may feature it in an upcoming post!


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What is training and technical assistance (TTA) and how might I use TTA?

The scope of training and technical assistance varies by federal agency but generally involves connecting state, local, and tribal justice agencies, including courts, with national experts to provide assistance designed to address a specific need within the justice system.  The State Justice Institute offers technical assistance in the form of grants to provide state or local courts, or regional court associations, with sufficient support to obtain expert assistance to diagnose a problem, develop a response to that problem, and implement any needed changes. SJI TA Grants may not exceed $50,000.

Other federal agencies provide smaller scale technical assistance at no-cost. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC), for example, provides TTA on a wide range of criminal justice topics, including adjudication, corrections, crime prevention, justice information sharing, law enforcement, mental health, substance abuse, violence reduction, and tribal justice. Services may involve assistance implementing programs and strategies, curriculum development, data analysis, classroom and virtual training, peer-to-peer visits, research and information, and strategic planning.


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I have heard that serving as a peer reviewer is a great way to improve my grant writing skills. How do I become a peer reviewer for a federal agency?

Being a peer reviewer is an extremely helpful way of improving your grant writing skills.  Not only will you have the opportunity to review a variety of applications from all over the country, but you will also better understand how to write an application in a way that makes it easier for the peer reviewer to score.

Many court professionals are well suited to serve as peer reviewers for the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.  The process of being a peer reviewer varies by federal agency but, generally, if you are selected as a peer reviewer, you will be assigned approximately 8 to 10 applications to review within a 2-week period during grant review season (typically the spring or summer).

Before becoming a peer reviewer, you will be required to participate in an orientation telephone call, which covers the roles and responsibilities of the reviewers and the background and purpose of the grant program under review. Reviewers are required to enter scores and comments into an automated data system and participate in a consensus call with all other reviewers on their assigned panel. Peer reviewers are typically compensated for each application reviewed, which includes your time and participation in both the orientation call and consensus call.

To apply to be a peer reviewer, email an up-to-date resume or curriculum vitae to ojpprsupport@usdoj.gov


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I am new to grant writing. As I search for grant opportunities, how do I decide if I should apply? Some of the grants seem very competitive.

There are several questions you should answer to determine the “fit” of the grant opportunity for your court.  These initial questions include:

  • Does the funding opportunity align with your needs?
  • Is your agency and your project eligible for the grant?
  • Can your agency meet the mandatory requirements?
  • When is the grant application due?  Do you have enough time to put forward a quality application?
  • What percentage of applications will be funded? If you are new to grant writing, you should primarily be looking for funding opportunities where the expected number of awards exceeds 20.

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I have never used Grants.gov and I am feeling overwhelmed about where to start. How do I register to receive funding announcements?

To get started with Grants.gov, you will first need to register for a Grants.gov account. There are several different types of Grants.gov accounts based on your role within your organization. This video walks new users through the different types of registration options and the steps to complete registration. If you prefer written instructions, you can find the Grants.gov online user guide here.

Once you are registered for a Grants.gov account, you can search for funding announcements of interest to you.  This video walks you through how to use the search feature of Grants.gov.

Are you interested in additional information about how to use Grants.gov?  The Grants.gov YouTube Channel has over 50 up-to-date videos that; walk users through the steps to search for opportunities on Grants.gov, create a workspace, add applicant team members to the workspace, complete application forms, and various other assistance tools. Most videos are under three minutes.


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Most grant solicitations require that an applicant demonstrate that they have “maximized the cost effectiveness of award expenditures” in the budget narrative. What level of detail is needed to maximize my scoring in this section?

The degree of detail needed will vary depending on the nature of the project.  However, it is essential that every expenditure be explained thoroughly.  A sample budget narrative can be found at the following link: https://www.ojp.gov/funding/grants101/sample-materials.


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Where are grant awards posted?

Most federal agencies post the grant awards that are made on their website.  The following links can be used to track the FY 2020 awards:

SAMHSA awards: https://www.samhsa.gov/grants/grant-announcements-2020


BJA/OJP/OVC/OJJDP: https://external.ojp.usdoj.gov/selector/solicitations

Most, if not all, awards will be posted by September 30, 2020 for FY 2020.


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How can I receive alerts about federal funding announcements when they are released?

Subscribing to the grant programs or funding agencies relevant to your work through grants.gov is an efficient way to ensure you won’t miss any funding announcements.  You will need to establish a grants.gov account.  Once you have an account, you may want to track funding announcements from:

 Department of Justice

  • Bureau of Justice Assistance
  • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
  • Office for Victims of Crime

  Health and Human Services

  • Administration for Children and Families
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services

You may consider following additional federal agencies, based on your interest.  In addition to following these agencies on grants.gov, you may want to sign up for agency alerts on their websites and follow the agencies on Twitter. 


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Should I select my program researcher or outside subject-matter expert at the planning stage of the project or through a competitive selection process post-award?

ANSWER:

There are several benefits to selecting a research partner/consultant during the planning stage if your procurement process allows for this.  Partnering at the outset will allow both parties to develop a shared understanding of the project from the very beginning and craft an appropriate scope of work based on the available resources. Selecting this individual or entity at the outset of the project will also prior allow you to leverage any experience they may have with the funder or the grant program you are considering.  Their insights and past experiences may be helpful as you draft your application.  Finally, many evaluators or consultants will assist with the writing of your application at no cost which may improve your odds of being funded.


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Should I partner with a researcher or an outside subject-matter expert on a grant?

The answer to this question depends a bit on your project but there are several benefits to considering a partnership with an external partner who may serve as a subject-matter expert or an evaluator on your project.  Some of the benefits include:

  • The individual or entity may have significant experience with the funder or the grant program you are considering. Their insights and past experiences with successful applications may be helpful as you draft your application.
  • Including an evaluator or a subject-matter expert in your project signals an openness to feedback, documentation, and external, third-party review. This may strengthen your application, depending on the funder.
  • Some evaluators/consultants will assist with the writing of your application which may improve your odds of being funded.

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How much time should I set aside to write my first grant?

Federal grant writing becomes easier over time as you have more material and examples to borrow from to pull together your proposal.  A reasonable schedule for a first-time grantee might look something like this:

  • Completing the required registrations – 1 day (spread out over multiple weeks)
  • Reaching out to partners and coordinating the proposal (if needed) – 1 day
  • Writing the first draft of the budget – 2 days
  • Collecting letters of support/Drafting the required MOUs – 2 days
  • Writing first draft of the proposal – 7 days
  • Reviewing the first draft against the requirements – 1 day
  • Corrections and changes – 2 days
  • Completing the attachments – 2 days
  • Re-editing the final proposal – 2 days
  • Final corrections and changes – 1 day
  • Final proofing of all materials – 1 day
  • Submitting the proposal – 1 day

Grants involving a larger number of partners may take longer to prepare due to the coordination required.


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I have a grant that requires an in-kind or cash match. What kind of documentation do I need to maintain related to my match? What common audit errors should I avoid?

One of the most common problems grantees have related to their match is failure to document or account for the match, whether it is a cash or in-kind contribution.  You will need to maintain appropriate records related to your match which may include receipts, timecards, invoices, etc. as documentation.

Common problems related to matching to avoid include:

  • Using other federal funds as match, where the funds are restricted and cannot be used to match other federal grants. Most federal grants cannot be used as a match on another federal grant.
  • Match deemed unnecessary to operate the grant.
  • Match amounts that are unreasonable or excessive.
  • Claimed match not in the approved grant budget.
  • Match claimed on Federal Financial Report (FFR) is based on estimates, not actual amounts incurred.
  • Match expense incurred outside of grant award period.

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It’s June and I just received an email from a Federal funder that I applied to this year asking me to modify my budget. I have not had any other communication about my grant application. Is this a sign that I might get funded?

Federal funders are typically completing their review of applications between April and August.  As part of the review process, a Federal agency may identify an error in your budget or something about your budget that needs to be modified.  Funders do not have the resources to request adjustments to applications that are not under strong consideration for being funded so it is a positive sign if you are asked to make an adjustment to your application.  However, you’ll have to wait until awards are announced to be certain you will be funded.


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When are federal grant awards announced?

Unless otherwise specified in the solicitation, grant awards are announced before the end of the federal fiscal year which concludes September 30th.  The majority of federal grant awards are announced in September.


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What is important to know about letters of support when writing federal grants?

Often, federal solicitations do not provide much information about the requirements related to letters of support.  Below are some tips that may be applied when there are no specific directions.

  • Letters should be addressed to the current Director of the applicable Federal agency. The signed letters should be included as a single electronic attachment – there is no need to mail a copy of the letter(s).
  • If you are including letters of support from project partners, the letters should explain each partner agency’s anticipated role in the proposed project. Some Federal agencies also require that the letter state the percent of time partner agencies will contribute to the project. Make sure you read the instructions carefully for any requirements of this nature. 
  • Unless otherwise articulated as not allowable, a single letter of support signed by multiple agencies is an acceptable alternative to multiple letters.
  • Letters of support from your Congressional delegation are welcomed and present an excellent opportunity for you to educate key public officials about your proposed project. However, these letters do not impact your application’s score and do not factor into decision-making.

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As this year’s federal grant season comes to an end, what should I be doing next to prepare for next year’s grant season?

Summer is the perfect time to tackle three important tasks to prepare for next year’s grant season.

  1. Review solicitations from the previous grant season to identify future opportunities. A good place to start is to review the solicitations in the Past Funding Opportunities in SJI’s Funding Toolkit.  Solicitations rarely change significantly from year to year to so the time invested in reading old solicitations will pay off in the future.
  2. Identify partnerships you need to build to expand your application opportunities. Courts are not eligible for every grant opportunity nor are they always the strongest applicant choice.  But there are many solicitations where the court can be the beneficiary of funding, directly or indirectly.  Courts can and should partner with other organizations.  Now is the time to reach out and begin those conversations, especially when building a relationship with an organization that would be a brand-new partner.
  3. Collect data now to build your statement of need for next year’s applications. Every solicitation requires a statement of need.  If you don’t have current data (i.e., data that is less than one or two years old) that makes a compelling case that your court/community is in need, use the summer to build this evidence.  Your statement of need can be strengthened by conducting surveys, hosting focus groups to collect qualitative data, or using an intern or staff to gather data that you may not already have.  These activities often take months to complete. Using the summer months to start building your case will pay dividends in next year’s grant season.

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Should I provide an in-kind or cash match, if it is not required, to improve my odds of being awarded the grant?

Unless the solicitation specifically requires a match or indicates providing a match will be considered as part of the application review process, there is no advantage to voluntarily offering a match.  Furthermore, if your budget indicates you will be providing a match, you will typically be required to document the match in your financial reporting.

A more effective approach is to outline, in your program narrative, how you will be leveraging existing resources to support your project. Providing this type of information indicates that you are thoughtful about using existing resources and coordinating various initiatives. By providing this information in your program narrative, versus your budget, you avoid committing to the record-keeping associated with tracking a match.


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Are there examples of publicly available funded grant applications that I can review?

Some grant programs release samples of applications that have been previously funded.  Reviewing these applications can be a useful starting point but it is important that you review the current requirements in the most recent solicitation as the required questions may change from year to year.

Sample Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Program (COSSAP)

Sample Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation applications (CTAS)

Sample Drug Court Applications


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What is the difference between a grant award and a cooperative agreement?

The federal government makes awards for financial assistance through both grants and cooperative agreements.  A cooperative agreement is distinctly different from a grant in that it provides for “substantial involvement” between the Federal agency or pass-through entity and the grant award recipient.

In general terms, “substantial involvement” refers to the degree to which federal employees are directly performing or implementing parts of the award program. In a grant, the federal government provides oversight and monitoring but is not directly involved in the project. In a cooperative agreement, federal employees participate more closely in project activities, often working side-by-side with the grantee. The specific ways this involvement is integrated varies by Federal agency.


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I’m reading a solicitation and it says eligibility is limited to “Units of Local Government”? Are courts considered “units of local government?”

Solicitations from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention frequently provide the following definition:

A “unit of local government” means—

  • (a) Any city, county, township, town, borough, parish, village, or other general purpose political subdivision of a state.
  • (b) Any law enforcement district or judicial enforcement district that—
    • (i)  Is established under applicable state law, and
    • (ii) Has the authority to, in a manner independent of other state entities, establish a budget and impose taxes.
  • c) For the purposes of assistance eligibility, any agency of the government of the District of Columbia or the federal government that performs law enforcement functions in and for—
    • (i) The District of Columbia, or
    • (ii) Any Trust Territory of the United States.

If you are unclear if your court is eligible to apply based on the funding announcement or the guidance provided, it is best to pose the question to the funding agency directly.  Each solicitation lists a contact for questions.  Email your question to the appropriate contact to receive official guidance on eligibility.


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What is the difference between a subaward and a contract?

If an outside entity will “carry out part of the project or program,” the agreement between the recipient and the outside entity is a “subaward.” If, instead, a recipient agrees to provide funds to an outside entity, and, in exchange, the outside entity will provide the recipient with goods or services ancillary to the award, rather than “carry out part of the project or program,” the agreement is a “procurement contract (or procurement transaction).”

Examples of subawards:

  • A recipient receives grant funds to provide a suite of services (e.g., substance abuse treatment, victim services, training, peer recovery support) and agrees to pay award funds to an outside entity to provide some of these services.
  • A recipient receives grant funds to develop (or improve) a particular product (e.g., training materials, a curriculum, a resource guide, a new technology) and agrees to pay award funds to an outside entity to develop or improve one of the products.
  • A recipient receives grant funds to conduct research or analysis and enters into an agreement to pay award funds to an outside entity to conduct part of the research or analysis.

Examples of contracts:

If a recipient is purchasing or leasing an item from an outside entity that makes the identical (or virtually identical) item widely available to others (e.g., to the mass market), the purchase or lease of the item by the recipient is considered to be a “procurement contract under an award.”

Some examples of items that frequently fall into this category: 

  • Office equipment for use by recipient employees (e.g., laptops, printers/copiers)
  • Office supplies for use by recipient employees (e.g., paper, toner)
  • Software licenses for widely available programs such as Microsoft Office or Adobe Acrobat
  • Purchase of a license needed to include copyrighted material in training materials to be produced and distributed in connection with an award
  • Cell phones for use by recipient employees
  • Body-worn cameras for law enforcement officers employed by the recipient

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Where should I put my references for research or data I am citing in my application?

Footnotes are the most common approach if the funding agency does not provide specific guidance in the solicitation or notice of funding opportunity.  However, it is more appropriate to include an attachment for your references if you are submitting to an agency that is a research organization (e.g., National Institute of Justice, National Institute on Drug Abuse) or you have several citations.


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Where do conference registration fees go in my budget?

Conference registration fees should go in the “other” category of your budget for all Office of Justice Programs grants.


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The instructions say that my program narrative has to be double-spaced. Do tables and footnotes have to be double-spaced?

As a general rule, your application must be double-spaced, use Times New Roman font at 12pt and have 1-inch margins.  The following may be single-spaced:

  • Tables
  • Callout boxes
  • Footnotes
  • Logic Models
  • Abstract
  • Letters of Support

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Need Help?

Send us your funding and grant questions. Experts will provide answers as well as references to additional resources.