Federal grant portal offers new tool to help navigate the application process.
In 2002, the federal government launched Grants.gov, a central access point for finding and applying for grants from all 26 federal grant-making agencies. The move was meant to simplify the task of seeking federal grant dollars - but the process remains far from easy.
In an effort to provide more clarity, Grants.gov implemented a WebEx conferencing tool in 2007. Now governments and nonprofits can set up live Web conferences where Grants.gov staff members help them navigate the grant process. The little-publicized feature lets grant-seekers interact electronically with one of the grant portal's experts.
"It has a camera so the audience can see me. We walk through a standard presentation, and then we go live into the Web site. The sessions are interactive; we answer any questions the audience may have," said Michael Pellegrino, management analyst officer of Grants.gov. "They can submit questions in the chat area. There is also a conference number where they call in. I prefer, for the most part, we answer them verbally. I've done a small session with two people. I've done [sessions with] upward of 225."
State and local agencies have been slow to adopt the Web conferencing feature, which isn't clearly advertised on the Grants.gov site. To schedule a Web conference, click the "Applicant Resources" link on the Grants.gov home page. Then click "Outreach Request Form." Fill out the form and e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. According to the site, someone from Grants.gov will contact you.
Grants.gov users participate in the Web conferences from their desktops or watch in classroom settings with other grant seekers.
Grants.gov has seen a 25 percent increase in grant applications since deploying the WebEx function last year. Pellegrino said he couldn't necessarily attribute the increase to the Web conferencing, but it has helped. He has conducted 16 Web conferences so far in 2008.