The pre-award phase represents the beginning of the grant lifecycle, which includes announcing opportunities, submitting applications, and reviewing applications. Below are explanations of what generally occurs during the pre-award phase.
Both the grant-making agencies and prospective applicants conduct their planning processes. The awarding agencies prepare and publish Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) based on the related legislation and their budget.
An FOA includes all the pertinent information and requirements for an applicant to assess their eligibility, competency, and interest in the funding opportunity. How do you find these opportunities? That's where Grants.gov comes in.
You, a prospective applicant, can use the Search Grants function to navigate through opportunities and settle on the right FOA for you. Once you select on a funding opportunity to apply for, there are two high-level steps, in addition to your own application development processes, to work on before submitting your application in Grants.gov:
- Register to apply for grants
- Complete your application
Registering to Apply
Registering to apply for grants on Grants.gov includes several steps and types of registration, including DUNS, SAM.gov, and Grants.gov accounts. We have pages dedicated to walking you through the Applicant Registration processes under the Applicants tab. It's not a highly complex process, but it can take 1 to 3 weeks to complete, so please register as early as you can. Do not allow yourself to miss the application deadline because you waited until the last week to try to register.
Completing Your Application
Before jumping into the process of filling out the application, you (i.e., an organization or individual) should spend time analyzing your own capabilities as compared to the specific eligibility and technical requirements detailed in the application instructions. The application planning process is lengthy, but it is critical when considering the importance of carrying out government-related work and the competition you may face for funding. While the specific steps vary widely depending on the type of grant you are applying for, major components of the planning process includes developing your ideas, conducting research, writing your proposal, and completing the application in Grants.gov.
If you are interested in more specific information or training on the development of an effective proposal, there are a number of options out there. First, we recommend perusing the awarding agencies website. Often, the awarding agency provides specific information on pre-award processes pertaining to their types of funding opportunities. Next, we also recommend looking at the Grants.gov Community Blog for additional information and upcoming grant events from across the grants world.
Once the application submission deadline passes, the awarding agencies get to work reviewing the applications. The specific process for reviewing an application varies based on the type of grant you applied for. The generally applicable steps are as follows:
- Initial screening to ensure application is complete
- Programmatic review and assessment of the substance of the applications
- Financial review of proposed budgets
- Award decision and announcement
In the initial screening, sometimes called a basic minimum requirements review, the agencies will check each proposal to ensure it includes all the required elements to qualify for the grant. What the specific requirements are will vary for each grant, but common elements are eligibility, program narrative, and budget attachment. The key for the initial screening is that the agencies are looking for the presence of the required element, not the quality of the element. If your application does not meet all of these basic requirements, then your application is likely to be rejected.
Programmatic Review and Assessment of Applications
The remaining applications undergo a thorough review and assessment for their technical and programmatic quality and competency. Again, this varies depending on the type of grant you applied for. For discretionary grants, the review is conducted by independent experts who assess the applications using the uniform rating or scoring system established by each awarding agency.
A common format is a peer review panel of at least three people, who assess and score each application independently. Then, the peer review panel will convene to discuss the merits of the applications. A series of policies and assurances are in place to maintain a fair, objective process based on material facts in the applications and without conflicts of interest (COI) for the peer reviewers. The federal agency staff monitor and participate in this review process.
While an application may have technical and programmatic quality, your budget also needs to be well-documented and reflect the requirements of the grant program. The federal agencies conduct a cost analysis, reviewing each line item and the overall proposed budget to ensure compliance with statutory and financial regulations. Additionally, the financial review also factors in the total budget for the grant program in relation to how much money each application requests.