DUNS Bites the Dust

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If your organization applies for Federal funding, you’ve gotten to know the commercial data firm Dun & Bradstreet—more specifically its unique numeric identifier called the DUNS number. Your organization probably has (or had) a DUNS number, along with 300 million others, so the Feds could tell exactly which agency or organization you are. DUNS was the word since 1962, and since 1978 the Federal government has asked for it in all its applications.


In 2014, somebody discovered that Dun & Bradstreet, not the Federal government, kept ownership of all those numbers, all that information. It took five years and $40 million to another big firm (Ernst & Young) so the government could transition to a new system. The government being the government it took another two years for the roll-out.


April 2022 saw the ribbon-cutting: Welcome to the Unique Entity Identifier (UEI). This is the new and official 12-character alphanumeric tag you will use in Federal funding applications. One big advantage for nonprofits is the one-stop registration process—previously you had to go to Dun & Bradstreet’s system to get the DUNS, then back to the Federal system to enter it.


Now you get your UEI from Uncle Sam—actually from SAM, the System for Award Management, where you go to register to do business with the Federal government. It’s not discretionary, you must register through SAM before you start applying for Federal grants.  Don’t get caught by deadlines, SAM can take at least 24 hours to process your information—and don’t forget to renew annually. (If your organization is already registered with SAM, you should have received a UEI automatically)


Overworked and overstressed proposal writers and nonprofit leaders might be tempted to wave all this off with a “bah, humbug, just a lot of administrivia.” Anyone with Federal grants experience will remind you that even the best proposals often get rejected because of a defective entry in a single box. Funding, not just the devil, is in the details.


Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center
and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.

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