The language of federal grants and contracts will be unfamiliar to many people, particularly those seeking federal funding for the first time. One of the purposes of this guide is to help users decode that language so they can more easily navigate the landscape of federal grants. The following is a glossary of key terms and abbreviations that are used throughout the guide and commonly appear in federal opportunities:

Community-based organization (CBO)

An organization, typically understood to be a nonprofit, working to serve a specific geographic area and/or population with programs and services such as housing, human services and employment assistance.

Community development corporation (CDC)

A nonprofit real estate developer working to benefit a specific neighborhood, community or region. CDCs are usually CBOs.

Community development entity (CDE)

Defined by the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund as “a domestic corporation or partnership that is an intermediary vehicle for the provision of loans, investments, or financial counseling in low-income communities.” CDE certification is required for organizations to participate in the New Markets Tax Credit Program.

Community development financial institution (CDFI)

A private financial institution that is mission-driven to provide responsible, affordable lending to help low-income and underserved communities prosper. CDFIs can be banks, credit unions, loan funds or venture capital funds.

Cooperative agreement

A funding instrument similar to a grant in that assistance is provided with no repayment obligation. Unlike grants, cooperative agreements require “substantial involvement” on the part of the funding agency. Conditions vary, but the agency will typically be involved in planning, monitoring and decision making for the funded activity. Cooperative agreements are often used by federal government agencies to accomplish specific agency priorities, and are not always subject to open competition in the same manner that grant awards are.

General operating support (GOS)

Flexible grant dollars that are not tied to any specific activity or program and that nonprofits can use to support their operating costs


An organization that assembles grants and other financing capital from government, philanthropic and/or other resource providers and distributes it to community-based organizations in support of their work. Intermediaries typically also provide capacity-building assistance and technical assistance to help community-based organizations meet their goals.

Local arts agency (LAA)

An LAA may be a unit of local government, a nonprofit, a for-profit or a hybrid agency.


Similar to match, leverage is funding raised to support the activities funded by a grant. Leverage, however, is funding raised over and above the match requirement. Not all federal grant programs require leverage, though many encourage it.


Funds a grantee is required to furnish in order to receive a grant award. Match is often discussed in terms of a ratio, such as 1:1 or higher, or in terms of the percentage of a project cost that federal funds may cover, meaning the rest of the project cost must be furnished by the grant recipient. Match may be cash or in-kind contributions and typically must come from non-federal sources. Agencies often require the funds to be similar in type and purpose to the grant award, e.g., a private grant given for the same program or activity would constitute eligible match, but a loan or a grant to a different program might not.

National Endowment for the Arts (Arts Endowment, Endowment)

The federal agency that funds and promotes arts and arts activities.

Notice of Funding Opportunity/Notice of Funding Availability (NOFO/NOFA)

Commonly used alternative terms for Requests for Proposals

Project support

Funding that is intended for use on a specific project or program and cannot be used for other purposes

Regional arts organization (RAO)

A nonprofit organization that partners with the National Endowment for the Arts and state arts agencies in several states to fund, support, and promote arts and arts programming. There are six RAOs.

State arts agency (SAA)

A state government agency funding and promoting arts and arts activities. There is an SAA in every state and U.S. territory.

Tax credit

A set amount that taxpayers may subtract from the income tax they owe. Federal and state governments issue tax credits to support desired activity such as affordable housing development or historic preservation. Credit holders, often nonprofits without tax obligations, can sell the credits to investors. The nonprofits thereby receive cash to fund their development activities and the investors receive a dollar-for-dollar reduction of their burden.


Many federal grants are open to “federally recognized tribes,” defined by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as “an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.” Some grant opportunities are open to tribes other than federally recognized tribes; potential applicants should read the funding notice carefully to determine eligibility.