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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Health Resources and Services Administration
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Debunk Grant Myths

Grants Technical AssistanceFederal grants can be excellent funding opportunities for your project, but not understanding the process can lead to a great deal of frustration. Debunking common myths will assist you with your grant applications. 

Federal Grant Myths:

Myth 1: Applying for a Grant: The Skinny.

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Myth 1Fact: A HRSA grant can be a great way to fund a promising project that otherwise might never get off the ground. But you can't believe everything you've heard. To receive a HRSA grant, you have to be eligible.For most HRSA programs, that means you must be: a nonprofit community-based health care provider, a college or university, or a State or local government agency. You have to have your own funding, too. Most grants don't cover all costs. A HRSA grant is not "free money." Getting a grant requires serious effort, and it doesn't end when the check hits your account. You have to: report back regularly, show you're meeting all terms and conditions of the award and do all the things you promise in your application, which is like the business plan for your project. For more information, read HRSA's Myths and Facts About Federal Grants.


Myth 2:If we get this grant, it will take care of all of our project costs.

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Myth 2Fact: Federal grants rarely cover all the costs of a project. Many grants are designed to leverage other sources of funding to get the community to invest in a worthy project to meet community needs and further the program’s purpose and objectives. Grants often provide only a portion of the funds needed for a given project, and many times require non-federal matching funds at specified levels. Granting agencies want assurance that funded projects have the potential to become self-sufficient once they are off the ground, and that they will be sustainable when the grant period is over.


Myth 3: It’s easy to get a grant – it’s “free money.”

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Myth 3Fact: Applying for a grant requires a serious time-commitment to fully understand the funding opportunity announcement (FOA), its requirements, and your organization’s capacity, structure, and resources essential to fulfill the purpose of the grant. Responsiveness to review criteria is essential, as well as other requirements of the grant, to be considered favorably for funding. You will need time to research and develop your proposal, write the application, and meet the submission requirements specified in the FOA.


Myth 4: It should not take much time to do a grant proposal. All you have to do is fill out special forms and/or type up a “standard” proposal.

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Myth 4Fact: The criteria for all applications are different, as are the agencies that offer them. The reality is that the work that precedes proposal writing can take up more time than the actual writing. In general, on average, writing a grant proposal may take about 20 hours, but some proposals may take much longer. One of the reasons why people underestimate how long the process can take is that they fail to realize that there is more to grant proposal writing than just filling out forms. Much of the preparatory work that leads to putting together a grant proposal can also be very time-consuming. This can include reading hundreds of pages on the history of funding agencies, their funding history, and the nonprofits that they have funded in the past. In some cases, it can include reviewing several Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs). FOAs are the documents that the 26 Federal grant making agencies use to announce funding. All grant proposals are very carefully evaluated.

Myth 5: Most grant proposals get approved, if they are done right.

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Myth 5Fact: Actually, one can submit a well-designed grant proposal and still not get funded. Writing the proposal well is, of course, important, but grants are given, except in rare cases, on a competitive basis. This means that the applications that are scored highest by a review committee are funded. Unfortunately, there is only so much money to go around and, because numerous organizations apply for the same money, most proposals are not funded. An organization, in fact, may send out dozens of proposals before one is actually funded. Additionally, even when a grant is received in one year, there is no guarantee that it will be funded again the next year. That is why funding agencies warn organizations not to depend on grants alone for their financial survival.

Myth 6: Once a grant proposal is approved, the process is over; it does not come with terms and conditions/responsibilities.

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video buttonFact: In fact, getting the grant proposal approved is only the beginning. Most grants require that organizations submit carefully-prepared, detailed progress reports on the programs that were funded. An awardee’s job is to meet the goals of the application and show that the project is sustainable after the end of the funding. An organization is charged with managing a promise – to use the money according to the plan presented in the approved application. In many instances, single- or program-specific independent audits are required. Awardees are responsible for following reporting procedures to demonstrate programmatic progress. Awardees that do not meet the terms and conditions of their award can lose money and possibly future awards. Site visits may also be required to evaluate the organization’s progress. Finally, the organization may be required to provide evidence that the program that was funded had a positive, measurable impact on the target population. Failure to demonstrate progress may result in discontinuation of the award.

Myth 7: I won’t have a competitive application if I don’t enlist the help from a professional grant writer; I have no chance in receiving a grant.

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Fact: Not all organizations that are funded have professional grant writers. A well-written application needs to be responsive to programmatic requirements, specified review criteria, and must effectively demonstrate an applicant’s competences and capabilities to successfully implement the grant. Agencies are looking for well-designed projects that align with the need outlined in each funding opportunity announcement (FOA). Applicants should fully read each FOA to understand the components that must be included in an application. Each part of the application will be reviewed and scored according to the criteria included in the FOA. Funders will also be looking at the application budget to make sure the costs are reasonable, allowable, and link to the proposed activities. If applicants follow the instructions in the FOA and present a well-designed and well-written proposal, they have just as good of a chance at scoring as well as applicants that do have professional writers.

Myth 8: As long as I click the submit button at by the deadline, I have submitted my application to HRSA.

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Fact: A successful application submission means that you have transmitted an error-free submission to the correct FOA by the deadline.  If you click submit and you receive an error message after the deadline date, then you do not have any more time to correct any deficiency, whether the deficiency is a simple administrative matter or is an omission of an important section of your application.

Myth 9: The grants application system is slow, cumbersome, and problematic.

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Fact: The system used by HRSA for most grant applications has been in place since 2003.  It is used by virtually all grant making agencies to announce awards and to receive applications.  It uses the current technology, has been updated regularly, and, except for high volume solicitation dates and unforeseen system-wide glitches, runs smoothly and efficiently.

Myth 10: The grant application review process is simplistic and caters to organizations that “know the drill.”

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Fact: The federal government goes to a great deal of time and trouble to ensure a fair and equitable grant review process so that the best applications are funded.  At HRSA, we generally use only external (that is, non-HRSA) reviewers who have proven expertise in the field under consideration.  We eliminate reviewers who have a conflict of interest, real or perceived, and ensure confidentiality in the process itself so that reviewers can be straightforward in their assessments.  The applications are ranked and finally selected by a program official who may take other factors into consideration as required by statute, such as populations being served, and/or geographic distribution of awards.

Myth 11: Anyone can become a HRSA Grant Reviewer.

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Fact: HRSA receives 3,500-5,000 competitive applications on an annual basis and thereby has a strong need for qualified reviewers with education and/or expertise in various health care areas such as: health professions training; HIV/AIDS treatment; maternal and child health services; organ transplantation; primary care for underserved persons; and rural health care. Objective reviewers must be knowledgeable in the field of endeavor or subject matter under review, be sufficiently independent of the entity applying for assistance, and be able to render an objective and unbiased evaluation.


The primary mode for reviewer recruitment is through the HRSA electronic reviewer database.  Currently, the database has over 10,000 registrants, but with new programs being implemented each year and HRSA’s commitment to recruit new reviewers to ensure objectivity, there is a need for more registrants.  Reviewers are either self-nominated or nominated by program officials to register and apply in the database.  Along with the registration and application process, registrants are asked to complete the reviewer assessment and to upload a current resume or curriculum vita (CV).  This is a one-time process that takes approximately 45 minutes to complete all steps.