Distinguishing Among Different Types of Federal Awards, Including Block Grants, Cooperative Agreements & More

Over the last three years, we have published a wide range of blog articles that explain the ins and outs of federal grants. In some of these posts, as part of our “What Is…” series, we define key terms that applicants might encounter when browsing opportunities from federal grant-making agencies.

In this post, we review the various types of federal funding opportunities and provide a link for readers to want to learn more about a specific type of federal award.


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What is an Award?

A federal award is a legal instrument through which you (i.e., an applicant) are awarded a grant agreement or cooperative agreement by a federal grant-making agency (i.e., a grantor). Click here to go deeper.


What is a Grant?

When the U.S. Federal government transfers anything of value from the Federal government to a non-federal entity to carry out a public purpose authorized by U.S. law. Click here to go deeper.


What is a Discretionary Grant?

A “discretionary” grant is a grant in which a federal agency selects the awardee (i.e., grant recipient) based on merit and eligibility. After you apply for a discretionary grant on Grants.gov, the applications are sent to the federal agency for a competitive review process and final funding decision. Click here to go deeper.


What is a Block Grant?

Block grants are primarily awarded by the federal government to U.S. state or territory governments, although some block grants are awarded directly to local governments. The block grant recipients then implement the programs within those broadly defined functions (i.e., the purpose & parameters defined by legislation).

“Broadly defined” is relative to other types of grants, such as a discretionary grants, which often have much more specific and focused rules for how the grant program can be implemented. Block grants are distinct from discretionary grants because they generally allow for more autonomy and flexibility to the states to decide how to implement the program. States may use the block grant funding to establish a program or to make sub-awards to local organizations to provide the services within their region. As long as the legislatively defined purpose and parameters are met, the primary block grant recipients may elect how to utilize the funding. Click here to go deeper.


What is a Research Grant?

Certain assistance programs and grant opportunities are legislatively authorized federal assistance programs that federal grant-making agencies use to support research.

What do you mean by “research”? A simple definition of research is the “careful study that is done to find and report new knowledge about something” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). While many of us may picture scientists in white coats performing lab experiments, the range of research grants is far wider.

Additionally, a “research grant” isn’t one, specific type of grant. Rather, grants that fund or support research could be awarded through a discretionary grant, block grant, or any of the other types of grants. Click here to go deeper.


What is a Cooperative Agreement?

A cooperative agreement is distinguished from a grant “in that it provides for substantial involvement between the Federal awarding agency or pass-through entity and the non-Federal entity in carrying out the activity contemplated by the Federal award” (Uniform Guidance). Click here to go deeper.


What is a Contract?

This is when the U.S. Federal government acquires (i.e., purchases or procures) goods or services from a non-federal entity. Click here to go deeper.

3 thoughts on “Distinguishing Among Different Types of Federal Awards, Including Block Grants, Cooperative Agreements & More

  1. What is a “pass-through” entity on a cooperative grant? Could it be a single nonprofit who applies for the grant on behalf of several organizations in the community?


  2. In your discussion of grant types, you neglected to mention fixed amount awards. Although not widely used, FA awards are typical in cases where funding opportunities are limited and do not fit the usual definition of a discretionary award. A prime example is where funds are awarded for performance-based activities rather than tied to incurred costs, as is the case with participant support costs in volunteer programs.


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