Grants 101: Assessing & Winning Funding
Alec Tiger
September 12, 2022

Reading Time: 6 minutes

With more than $50 Billion of funding, this Federal Grant Windfall after the global pandemic represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Tribal Nations. As funds are being released over the next 5 years (2022-2027) through federal and state grants, now is the time for Tribal leaders and staff to have a strong understanding of the grant system, how to assess grants, and how to write grants.

In this article, we aim to give you basic tools to help you assess which grants best match your needs, and things to consider in order to win funding.  Our goal is to help you secure funding to address the essential needs of the community, and to make a multi-generation impact in your communities.


 “I don’t think that it’ll ever happen again… but it’s here now, and it’s time for us Indian Country as a whole to maximize its value… It’s up to us as Tribal Leaders to go out and make sure we’re maximizing our best effort to put forth and grab these funds or these dollars.” –Chairman Isaiah Vivanco


The Basics: What are Grants?

A grant is a financial award that allows Tribes to fund operations of programs or special one-time projects. Grants are relational agreements, requiring both the federal/state grantor and the Tribal grantee to agree to specific terms. It is important to remember this relational aspect of grants to increase competitiveness of applications and ensure adherence to grant requirements.

The Relational Aspects of Grants
Funders have certain objectives they want to achieve with grant programs, just like Tribes have certain objectives they want to achieve with their programs and projects
Grants have specific legal terms required for the Tribe and the funder. Breaking these legal terms can result in significant legal consequences

There are multiple types of grants that Tribes are eligible for: federal, state, local, and private. Funds are available to Indian Country through all of these types of grants, and it is important to ensure that your staff is considering funding from all potential sources. As stated above, each source will have varying objectives, and projects may better fit some grant programs than others.

Assessing Grants

How do I know if a grant is a good fit for my Tribe’s project? With the wealth of opportunities available to Indian Country, it becomes very important for Tribes to be careful in assessing which grant programs to seek funding through. In many cases, there will be multiple grant opportunities that may be a fit for a project or multiple projects that could seek the same grant. However, while a project may be eligible for a funding source, it doesn’t mean that it is the best fit. There are two key considerations that need to be taken into account when developing a grant strategy for your Tribe’s projects:

  1. Has clear and thorough planning been completed for my project?
  2. Is this funding source the best available fit for my project?

There are a number of key questions to answer for both of these considerations. Using the below rubric provides a good starting point for analyzing projects and grants.

Project Assessment Criteria
Does the project have a clearly defined overarching goal and objectives?
Does the project align with Tribal values, goals, and strategic plan?
Does the project have community or economic data backing its justification?
Has there been community input or approval involved in planning?
Has there been Tribal leadership input or approval involved in planning?
Does the project have a clearly defined budget?
Does the project have space on the reservation, whether for programming, staff, or otherwise?
If the project is a construction project, does the project have A&E plans, right of way, designs, etc.?
Grant Assessment Criteria
Is this grant open to Tribes?
Are there other eligibility requirements that prohibit an application from the Tribe?
Does it align with Tribal values, goals, and strategic plan?
Is it relevant to an approved Tribal project or initiative? a. If yes, which one/ones?
Do the objectives of the grant match the objectives of the Tribal project?
Does the funding level seem worth the effort of applying?
Is there a required match?
Is the timing appropriate for a complete application?
Are there requirements that could jeopardize the Tribe?

Through a clear understanding of each of these criterias, staff and leadership can make well-informed decisions about whether to move forward with a grant opportunity.

Winning Grants

How do I write a successful grant application? Writing successful grant applications can be a challenging prospect, particularly with the limited amount of grant writers available and large amounts of grants being released. However, there are a few tenets of grant planning, strategizing, and writing that should be kept in mind over the next five years.

Delegate Planning to Department or Program Staff

The planning aspects of grant writing require a lot of time and effort from grant writers that takes away from the actual writing of grant applications. Transferring planning responsibilities to government staff can increase the capacity of the overall Tribal system to write grants.

Emphasize Your Need and Support It With Data

A successful grant application will all derive from the need that the grant is seeking to address. A need narrative must be clearly defined and organized, and involve quality data analysis. This data can partially be secondary economic and census data, but must also involve data specific to the Tribal community.

Ensure Your Projects Have Clear Goals, Objectives, & Activities

Successful grant proposals have clearly defined goals, objectives, and activities for what they want to achieve.

All Aspects of Your Grant Application Should Validate the Others

Project strategies and activities must address the project needs. The goals and objectives should lead directly to the outcomes. The activities need to be clearly accounted for in the budget.

Lessons from Case Studies

Projects have many different types of objectives and intentions behind their completion, just like grant programs. Even projects and grants that involve the same activities can have different objectives. The below example shows how three different road projects and grant sources can all have varying objectives.

Case Study A:

Highway Entrance
➔ Improve safety of highway travel and communities members entering the reservation
Grant Program
Scenic Byways
➔ Improve highway infrastructure along federally designated scenic byways

Case Study B:

Tribal Roads Improvement
➔ Increase the safety and quality of reservation roads including pedestrian travel
Grant Program
Safe Streets
➔ Improve all aspects roadway safety within communities

Case Study C:

Parking Lot Grading
➔ Regrade roads and parking lot entering into Tribal travel complex
Grant Program
Economic Infrastructure Investment
➔ Improve physical infrastructure as it relates to economic development projects

While each of the above projects and grants are related to roads, each has slightly differing objectives. Each project could likely apply to any of the grant programs, but each has a best fit program.


The federal grant windfall is an opportunity to capture significant funds for your Nation, but more importantly, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a better future for the next generations. In order to capture this opportunity, it’s essential that Tribal Leadership and staff have a strong grasp on grant programs and how to win them. Keep in mind the following key takeaways:

  • Grants are relational, with both the Tribe and funder having specific objectives and entering into specific legal terms.
  • Not all projects are ready for grants and not all grants are a good fit for projects. Assessing grant and project criteria will protect the Tribe and support successful implementation of projects.
  • A successful grant application is founded on strong planning, quality data, clear objectives, and good writing. Getting staff involved in the planning and recruiting a strong grant writer are the keys to turning an idea into an award.