Grant-writing: What is a DUNS number?

Facilities need a DUNS number – a unique, free identifier – to bid on government contracts or apply for government grants

By Mark Dunlap, P1 Contributor

A DUNS number, which stands for Data Universal Numbering System, is a free, unique nine-digit number issued by Dun & Bradstreet to a single business entity.

Your number is yours alone, even if you go out of business. D&B does not reuse or reissue numbers to a second business.

If you want to bid on government contracts or apply for government grants, you need a DUNS number. (Photo/Pixabay)
If you want to bid on government contracts or apply for government grants, you need a DUNS number. (Photo/Pixabay)


The DUNS number is often called the "Social Security" number for businesses, but there are millions more DUNS numbers than Social Security numbers and any business in the world can apply for and get a DUNS number. Just about anyone can get a DUNS number, including:

  • Businesses;
  • Non-profits;
  • Government entities;
  • Self-employed individuals.

Physicians, lawyers and contractors are examples of self-employed professionals engaged in a specific commercial business activity who can obtain a DUNS number.


The U.S. Federal government uses DUNS numbers to identify organizations and companies doing business with the government and provide consistent name and address data for its grant application systems. If you want to bid on government contracts or apply for government grants, you need a DUNS number.

Obtaining a DUNS number is the first step in registering with the Federal government procurement systems:

1. DUNS number;

2. System for Award Management (SAM) registration;

3. registration.

You will also need a DUNS number when you register with any Federal agency-specific grant module, such as the National Institutes of Health eRA Commons, the National Science Foundation FastLane and NASA NSPIRE. This is very important. If you do not complete all your registrations, you cannot submit your application.

Last fall, I worked with a company on a NASA grant application. My client had its DUNS number and registered with NASA NSPIRE. When we started submitting the application, we discovered they had not registered with SAM. We had seven days before the deadline, but it took eight days to get the SAM registration approved. Eight days, in itself, is a miracle. I tell folks to expect at least two weeks, and up to four weeks, to get their SAM registration approved.


You have two main ways to apply for a DUNS number. The first is to register through the Dun & Bradstreet website. The second way is to use the Government iUpdate website. You will need the same information, but from what I have read, the process is easier using the iUpdate website and the SAM website recommends using the iUpdate process.


You will need the following information to register for a DUNS number:

  • Legal name;
  • Business headquarters name and address;
  • Your DBA (Doing Business As), if your business is commonly identified by a different name than your legal business name;
  • Business physical address: street, city, state, zip;
  • Mailing address, if it is different from your physical address;
  • Telephone number;
  • Contact name and title;
  • Number of employees at your physical location;
  • Whether you are a home-base business.

Dun and Bradstreet will then verify your identity to safeguard your organization’s data. They will use a series of challenge questions based on your geographical and demographic data. Once you have passed the challenge questions, you will create you user ID and password.

It usually takes between one and five days to get your DUNS registration approved, though it might take longer. Don’t wait until the last minute.

If you don’t know if you already have a DUNS number, you can go to DUNS number lookup. You can search by your organization name and location or by your telephone number. If your search comes up negative, you don’t have one.

You should also know the General Services Administration is looking at replacing the DUNS number, in use since the 1970s, with another identification system, once its contract with Dun and Bradstreet expires in 2018.

About the Author

Mark Dunlap is Grant Professional Certified (GPC) through the Grant Professional Certification Institute, and is a member of the Grant Professionals Association. He has been a full-time grant professional since August 2006 and has more than 19 years of experience identifying and securing grant funding. He has been a grant consultant since January 2012. 

He has written 160 successful grant proposals, totaling more than $37.7 million and reviewed/edited 15 successful proposals totaling more than $17.03 million. He averages 11 successful grants per year and more than $3.8 million per year in grant funding. He has achieved 61 successful health and health care-focused grants, totaling more than $25.18 million, for hospitals, safety-net clinics, and fire/EMS departments. Contact Mark by email at


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