Tips for small communities

Accessing federal grants: Tips for small communities

The influx of federal funding presents a tremendous opportunity for small communities to access resources for local priorities. However, the complex federal grant process also poses barriers for resource-strapped towns, villages, and rural counties. Through strategic planning, strong partnerships, and process improvements, your small community can overcome these obstacles and successfully compete. These were some of the key findings from USDR’s new report: “No Front Door: Barriers to Access for Small Communities Seeking Federal Grants.”

US Digital Response

2 min read

Be strategic with your grants planning

  • Maintain an updated annual plan of 2-3 top departmental priorities where federal grants could impact most. This focuses efforts only on closely aligned opportunities.
  • Set aside dedicated weekly hours for the grants point person to aggregate and scan newsletters, associations, and curated tools like USDR’s Federal Grant Finder to pinpoint potential federal opportunities.
  • For each potential opportunity, evaluate fit, effort level required, and your chances of winning based on past performance and peer community data. Avoid wasting effort on mismatched or unlikely wins.

Leverage partnerships at every stage

  • Reach out early to potential partners like neighborhood nonprofits, regional agencies, or adjacent local governments to assess interest in collaboration.
  • Divide responsibilities like data collection, narrative writing, and budget development based on organizational strengths.
  • Formalize partnerships through Memorandums of Understanding to share resources and provide required matching funds. This boosts competitiveness.

Use grant assistance from intermediaries

  • Intermediary groups like community foundations, economic development councils, and metropolitan planning organizations provide invaluable technical assistance on grants. Some example groups include the Local Infrastructure Hub and the Nevada Office of Federal Assistance (for Nevada-based organizations). 
  • They can guide small communities through the process, provide data and statistics to inform applications, and even act as fiscal agents to remove administrative burdens.
  • Lean on them throughout the process for insights on positioning, writing tips, and grant management best practices. For example, view the Grant Writer’s Guide by Community Funding Accelerator. 

Investigate using technology

  • Free grant search software such as USDR’s Federal Grant Finder centralizes data on funding opportunities, application consideration status, and reporting deadlines. 
  • Small investments in automation yield substantial efficiency gains and free up staff time from administrative tasks.

The federal grants process presents challenges for small local governments with limited staff capacity. But your community can access the resources needed to deliver on local priorities by strategically pursuing the best-fit opportunities, leveraging partnerships, adopting automation technologies, and advocating for applicant-centered reforms.

Streamline your search for federal grants today

Learn how USDR's Federal Grant Finder saves your community time in finding relevant grants.

About the author

US Digital Response

Content Writer

U.S. Digital Response (USDR) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that helps governments, nonprofits, and public entities respond quickly to critical public needs.