Improve Your Grant Success with the Help of Elected Officials

For the first 15 years of my career, I served as the lone grants administrator for two municipalities in the Metro Atlanta area. I quickly learned about the power of relationships, particularly when building programs and developing grant proposals. For more details about local government grant seeking, check out this blog post.


Most grant professionals, no matter their sector, understand the importance of building relationships with funders, finance colleagues, program directors, board members, and the like. But as I moved into work with nonprofits, I realized that outside of local governments, many organizations do not take advantage of the assistance provided by their elected officials.


Your US Senators and Representatives create the federal legislation that leads to grant programs. Each year they help set the federal appropriations bills for the 26 federal departments (including the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Housing and Urban Development Department, and Department of Justice). This determines how much money is allocated to each grant program. Have a program that is essential to the lifeblood of your organization? Have you ever considered talking to your elected official (or one of their staff members) to let them know the VITAL role that funding source plays in your community? If you want them to fight for your needs, you must let them know what your needs are.


To get the details of how to best lean into working with elected officials, check out the latest episode of Fundraising HayDay. You can listen to the podcast here or check out the video on YouTube here.


The return of appropriation requests (formerly known as federal earmarks) in 2022 makes reaching out to elected officials even more critical for nonprofits.  To be considered,  you must apply directly to  your Senator or Representative.  There are likely hundreds if not thousands of proposals submitted to each of the country’s 100 Senators and 435 Representatives (although a handful of elected officials do not accept or support appropriations requests).


Each member of Congress (which includes the US Senate and the House of Representatives) must sift through so many quality projects to pick the handful they will work to fund. That means that in addition to a quality proposal, it is best to have a relationship with your elected official’s office.


If you have never introduced yourself to their local staff, I highly recommend you make that phone call today. Ask to speak to their grants expert. Tell the staff member who you are, your organization, your mission, and give an example or two of the good works you’re currently carrying out. When you have big events (groundbreakings, grand openings, fundraising galas, and the like), invite the staff member as your guest. (You can certainly invite your elected official as well, but in my experience, the staff member is more likely to show up because they work locally, versus the elected official who must divide their time between DC and their hometown.) Show off the amazing work of your organization. Share your needs. Keep them engaged and interested, so they are willing to help push your request to the forefront of the stack to be reviewed by their boss.


The same applies to state and local (cities, counties, parishes, townships, and the like) elected officials. While they may not have appropriations, states and larger local governments offer grant funds through a variety of means. Having a relationship with the elected official and/or their key staff members ensures that you are kept abreast of the latest and greatest funding opportunities (at the least) and more likely to have a leg up when it comes to grant awards. They can help with support letters. They can be a listening ear if you have an idea on how to improve the grants process.


Whether you are a local government, university, K-12 school system, hospital, Tribal Nation, or some other form of nonprofit, your elected officials really do have the power to help with federal, state, and local grant resources. If you are not building relationships with them (and/or their staff members), you are missing out on improving your chances for funding. As grant professionals, we want every advantage we can manage.


DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 6 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 5 and stay up to date on the new season here.

Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.

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