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Grant Strategies for Capacity-Constrained Communities

By Bloomberg Associates’ Rose Gill and Megan Sheekey

Megan Sheekey leads Strategic Partnerships for Bloomberg Associates (BA), and Rose Gill is a Principal at BA who helped establish the e311 program

By the end of 2023, the U.S. federal government allocated nearly $1.5 trillion to state, local, and tribal governments in financial assistance programs, primarily through grants. The largest and best-known federal funding sources deployed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been: the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), providing $1.9 trillion in aid between 2022-2026; Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) providing $1.2 trillion in aid between 2022-2026; and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) providing $11.7 billion in aid between 2022-2032. These pieces of legislation created a multitude of competitive grant opportunities for communities of all sizes across the country.

With these unprecedented and likely once-in-a-generation investments on the line, local government officials feel the pressure to maximize these opportunities for their residents. Unfortunately, many local governments struggle with factors limiting their ability to access these funds. For some, lack of internal expertise, individual bandwidth, and organizational structure present major barriers. Other small governments struggle to effectively identify funding, and therefore don’t successfully apply for and manage grants. Although some of the funding has already been disbursed, the Brooking Institution estimated in November of 2023 that 80% of the IIJA’s competitive funding dollars had yet to be awarded. Understanding that the majority of these transformative funds remain available will hopefully ignite a sense of possibility in communities that previously felt like a small fish in an enormous pond.

To address this unequal footing, Bloomberg Philanthropies and its partners continue to offer free resources through the Federal Assistance e311 program, Local Infrastructure Hub, and other initiatives. Because the level of time and effort required to pursue grants emerged as a recurring challenge across these networks, we ended 2023 with a workshop geared toward capacity-constrained communities. We thought it would be helpful to distill some of the grant tips covered in 2023 and key lessons from subject matter experts.


It is essential to identify the factors that may impact your grant-seeking process. Assessing the amount of staff time that will be required, available data and research resources, and internal procedures and guidelines, in addition to post-ward reporting requirements, are just some of the considerations. While these factors could make the faint of heart overwhelmed at the prospect of seeking grant funding, there are ways to break the myriad of opportunities into more manageable and approachable pieces. The challenge is determining when a grant opportunity is the right one for your jurisdiction, and when it is not.

Michelle Thomas, former Business Administrator for the City of Newark, New Jersey, who leads The Thomas Consulting Group, a firm that advises local governments, emphasizes a strategic approach to all grants, starting with categorizing your community’s known priority projects. In doing so, you can focus research efforts and narrow funding searches.

To take advantage of the investments from ARPA, IIJA, and IRA, it will be necessary to begin with a little housekeeping. You will want to confirm or gain access to your entity’s workspace in, the most widely used resource for grant applications across federal agencies. Within, users can find and apply for grant opportunities and review application instructions, tips, and other supports for all process stages. Additionally, before even narrowing down potential grants to pursue, make sure your local government has a Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) through (the U.S. government’s official System for Award Management). The UEI is a required element of all federal grant applications and allows you to sign-in to many key government websites, save searches, view reports, and more. In 2022, the federal government changed from using the DUNS Number to the Unique Entity ID (generated by It can take several weeks to obtain or ascertain a converted UEI, so it is worthwhile to shore up this issue before reviewing potential grants.

To search funding opportunities by keywords or issue-areas, many municipalities are utilizing grants software with research and pursuance capabilities. The Local Infrastructure Hub’s grant search engine is a free resource that allows users to conduct searches across multiple agencies and view both past and upcoming grant opportunities – critical timesavers for capacity-constrained communities.

Thomas recommends, “First, carefully review the eligibility section of a grant notice of opportunity (NOFO) to make sure that your community meets the criteria. Then review the scoring rubric provided in the NOFO to determine if there are factors like having a Hazard Mitigation Plan that could gain you additional points. Understanding the evaluation criteria is key to addressing what reviewers are going to be looking for and can also help you break the application into manageable pieces for your team to divide and conquer.”


There is great pressure on municipal staff to secure federal resources, and a grants plan with clear process steps will save precious time and effort. Creating a “go/no go” checklist for grant prospects establishes consistent internal criteria for the decision-making process. Using a scoring matrix can also serve as important documentation when officials or stakeholders want to better understand why a grant was pursued or not.

A key part of determining “go/no go” is whether applicants can meet post award requirements that are not just program specific but generally required of federal grant recipients. “Since federal funding agencies are required to post their general terms and special conditions as part of the Notice of Funding Opportunity process, it’s important to review those terms closely to see if your organization is willing and able to meet them,” shared Matthew Hanson, former Statewide Grant Administrator for the State of Arizona and current Associate Managing Director at Witt O’Brien’s.


We have frequently written about the need for stakeholder engagement and partnerships to ensure community alignment, build capacity and effectively disburse grant funding. Foundations, nonprofit organizations, and coalitions can bring valuable resources, local expertise, and stronger connections between municipalities and community groups.

For example, the City of Tampa is collaborating with the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (USF-CUTR) to administer a $2.6 million grant award from DOT’s Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) program. USF-CUTR is working with the city on data-driven interventions, evaluation, and community education efforts that will advance the city’s Vision Zero Action Plan.

For a proposal to the EPA’s Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling (SWIFR) Grant Program, the City of Austin, Texas saw an opportunity to engage its nonprofit community and leverage an existing program led by the University of Texas at Austin. The City was awarded a $4 million grant for a new reuse warehouse to accept and redistribute furniture to organizations working with residents transitioning out of homelessness. The grant will support housing needs and as well as keep usable furniture from entering the landfill, reducing waste and helping Austin achieve its zero waste goal by 2040.

Many regional commissions and associations also receive direct appropriations that municipalities can access for federal grant match requirements. “Partnering with other municipalities, county governments, regional entities, and local nonprofits fosters area-wide collaboration and leverages shared resources,” said Michelle Thomas. “These types of collaborations are generally looked upon very favorably by the federal government.”


In 2023, the e311 program expanded its work to engage more American Indian and Native Alaskan tribal groups and hosted a tribal-specific workshop focused on maximizing and managing federal grants available to tribal governments. Representatives from 50 tribes, including all the largest tribes in the lower 48 states, joined the session. The workshop panel featured representatives from the Treasury Dept., the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and inter-tribal associations including the National Congress of American Indians, Native American Finance Officers Association, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development represented by the former Internal Revenue Service Director of Tribal Grants Office, and grant writing experts.

Panelists shared inspiring grant success stories, including a $1.2 million DOT grant for bus and low/no emissions facilities and vehicles to a tribe with approximately 6,000 members. The Hydaburg Cooperative Association received $30,000 for a feasibility study from the Office of Indian Economic Development, and then leveraged the study to secure a $600,000 HUD Indian Community Development Block Grant to construct a café and laundromat serving community needs.

The “Hála Café in Hydaburg Alaska which received an HUD Indian Community Development Block Grant

Panelist Onawa Haynes, CEO of Hozhonigo Consulting, a grant consulting firm that works with tribal governments and indigenous-led organizations, spoke about the direct outreach needed to reach communities. “I deeply understand the unique challenges within Native communities, which can include cultural divide and government mistrust, presenting barriers to accessing federal grants,” shared Haynes. “Knowing that money is being left on the table, I’ve made it my mission to present funding opportunities that respect cultural practices and contexts and ensure the priorities of Native communities are heard, understood, and addressed.”

Hozhonigo Consulting provides updates on funding opportunities for tribes and indigenous-led organizations through a newsletter you can subscribe to here.


It is important to acknowledge that while we love to celebrate when a grant is awarded, there is a great deal of work required to ensure funds are successfully managed and utilized. Many municipalities lose millions of dollars each year on awarded grants that are not drawn down or must be returned due to audit findings.

A recent lost funding analysis conducted in one U.S. city showed that 13% of its federal grant awards were unspent within the granting period, translating to $6 million in lost revenue. Strong grant management will not only help ensure money is utilized but will better position recipients for future grant awards.

Below are more resources for cities and towns to help navigate the grants lifecycle and continue to drive vital funds to our communities in 2024 and beyond.

Understanding the grant lifecycle
Grants Search
Grant Writing Basics Get a Unique Entity ID

Local Infrastructure Hub
Grant Application Bootcamp
Funding portal

U.S. Department of Transportation
Rural Grant Applicant Toolkit for Competitive Federal Transportation Funding
Charging Forward: A Toolkit for Planning and Funding Rural Electric Mobility Infrastructure