The Fund Finder News, by Kurt Bradley, Certified Grants Consultant

Strategy Is Crucial for Grant Success

 

Many departments, and particularly volunteer departments, fight a continuous and ongoing battle in funding their existence. Shrinking tax bases, poor economies and swings from the budget axe take their toll on all departments daily and have become the norm, instead of an occasional problem area. The current state of the national economy has exacerbated this problem even more. Many departments that previously performed at status quo for years, are now finding themsleves in a financial bind.

 

Fundraisers Aren't Enough

 

Most fundraising activities are marginally successful. They allow us to keep fuel in our vehicles, keep the light bill paid and keep the phones hooked up at the station.

 

So how do we continue to wrestle with this beast and serve our populations?

 

One answer to that question is through the use of grant strategy: planning, researching and applying for grants. The grants ballgame is like playing the lottery: “If you don’t play, you can’t win.”

 

But if that’s the case, why do so many of us refuse to get in the game?

 

Overcoming the Unknown

 

In my conversations with chiefs and departments, during the past 10 years I’ve heard the same old excuses, time and time again:

 

  • “I don’t know where to find a grant”
  • “I don’t have time to apply for them”
  • “I didn’t know we were eligible to apply for a grant”
  • “I tried once and got rejected, so I quit applying”

 

Maybe part of this problem lies in not understanding exactly what a grant is or what it takes to get a grant. Let’s examine these 2 issues and see if a little knowledge can tear away the frightening mask covering this imaginary “boogeyman”.

 

Grants as “Solutions”

 

Here’s how Mr. Webster defines a grant:

 

“to allow fulfillment of a request”; “to bestow or transfer formally” or “giving to a claimant or petitioner something that could be withheld”

 

In the world of public safety it means something slightly different. Grants are a gift or monetary award to perform certain deeds or services and to achieve certain goals while solving a particular problem(s) exclusive to our agency and our served populations.

 

Applying for, and being awarded a grant, is not just simply saying,” I need money” and then sticking out your hand. In that scenario, the only thing likely to be placed into your hand will be a rejection notice.

 

All grant programs are offers to fund solutions to problems that exist for your community, and for which no other source of funding is available. In essence, grants are a program or project that resolves a unique problem in your community. Please pay particular attention to the use of the word “program” here.

 

Without exception, a grant is offered to resolve or assist a particular problem in your community. The “funding source” may be a private or corporate giver, such as Wal-Mart, Sears or Microsoft. On the Federal or State level, it could be FEMA or the Department of Homeland Security. Amongst them, billions of dollars are available each year to fund programs that solve these social problems in our society. Many of these problems are public safety issues, of which you are a part.

 

Behind the Power of the Internet

 

You might be asking, “How do I get in this ballgame?”

 

The first step is to do your research and find out “who funds what.” Most of us have at our fingertips the most innovative research tools ever devised:

 

  • The Internet
  • Public information
  • The Freedom of Information Act
  • Websites
  • eGrants processes

 

Websites, grants and data related to your grant, community or problem are all published and updated on the Internet daily. You can even sign up for subscription services from Grants.gov, the Federal Catalogue of Domestic Assistance and the Federal Registry and receive daily emailed bulletins, which spell out what grants are available and what programs they support.

 

Study Your Playbook

 

Now you know where the game is, and the next step is to prepare yourself in advance: Do your homework!

 

Remember: a grant is a “program or project.” As such, you will be asked to lay out a plan of action. Every grant application asks for several main things. These requirements are published in the guidelines or RFP (Request for Proposals), or NOFA (Notice of Funding Availability).

 

This is your playbook. The rules of the game are published here, and you need to follow them to the letter. Research this first. You’ll find that much of the information required in grant applciations is similar from program to program, so keep your information fresh. Now, when a grant program becomes available to apply to, you will already be way ahead of the pack in terms of submitting a proper, well-conceived and well-written grant application.

 

Also bear in mind that a grant funding source has their own set of priorities that they are trying to meet. Always try to discern the funding source’s priorities and form a nexus between their priorities and your own.

 

Remember: It’s their money, and if you want their money, you have to meet their priorities first!

 

 

Paint a Complete Picture

 

Research is the most time-consuming element in a grant application. It is also the one that keeps us from applying for and being awarded a grant.

 

A grant writer must be an artist. You are providing the funding source, or “grantor”, with a picture of your community, its problems, your department’s problems, and the proposed solution.

 

Many times I have received grants for review and am presented with what amounts to a black-and-white picture describing the proposed program, when what is needed is an 8-x-10, glossy, 15-megapixel digital color image.

 

The problem is simple: lack of detail! A person sitting on a review panel should not be left with unanswered questions about your proposal when they are finished reading it. They cannot pick up the phone and call you to have you fill in the holes.

 

When you paint a good picture of your community, the problem it’s facing and how the grant will resolve that problem, then the person on the review panel will have all the information they need to properly evaluate your application.

 

Play Ball

 

Most grant applications have common elements:

 

The Problem Statement

 

This defines the problem you are experiencing in your department. Some of the questions you’ll want to address in this section include:

 

  • Why does the problem exist?
  • What have you done to try and correct the problem yourselves?
  • Why haven’t you funded this project yourselves?
  • How many runs or calls did you answer last year? How many of them were for mutual aid?
  • How big is your service area?
  • How many people live there?
  • What is the primary economic structure of your community?
  • What is the median income for a resident of your community?

 

Much of this is statistical data, which is published and available on the Internet or in your own records. You will generally need a 3-year average and the most current yearly figures for the grant application.

 

This is also the area where you should tug at the emotions of the reader. Grant writers call this the “make em’ bleed, make em’ cry factor”. It is critical to grab the attention of the reader and impress upon them that you need outside help to solve this problem.

 

Statement of Financial Need

 

Here is where you need to know where your budget is derived from:

 

  • How much was your budget last year?
  • How much did you spend on the lights, building mortgage, maintenance of vehicles, fuel, equipment repair etc.?
  • Why can’t you fund this yourselves? For example, did you ask your City Commission? Did the voters turn down the last tax referendum? Did you have two major corporations shutter their plants and move to Mexico? Why are you in need?
  • Your mere lack of a sufficient budget does not, in and of itself, constitute financial need. Nor will you get the job done by simply saying “the current economic crisis in our country.” Everyone, not just you, is feeling the current effects of a down economy. The reviewers want to know what makes you worse off than someone else.

 

These are the questions you need to answer or tell the reviewer about in your grant application. You have to provide hard facts here, so start digging up those statistics and newspaper articles about why you can’t fund these activities with your current budget.

 

Cost Benefit

 

Otherwise known as “bang for their buck.” All grantors, or givers, want to know that the most people will benefit from the least amount of money spent. They don’t give away money to be spent willy-nilly or to benefit just your individual department. In this section you must show that the community and other surrounding agencies as well (think Mutual Aid here) will benefit from your good fortune and their generous gifts.

 

Be sure to relate to the reviewer how the grant dollars benefit not only you, but your mutual aid agencies surrounding you and the citizens of those communities.

 

Project Description

 

This section is where you get to sell your idea to the reviewer.

 

Your job is to paint a very, clear, concise picture for them. You should show good thought processes as to how you have approached this problem and your proposed solution to resolve this issue. It must state objectives, goals and the timelines needed to achieve these goals.

 

This is not a place to exaggerate your goals. You should always under-report and over-achieve here. It is much better to report that you gained 15% when you originally stated that you would gain 10%, than to report 15% and only gain 10%. This is part of what they are referring to when they use the term “performance-based grants”. There must be a clearly defined set of goals for you to achieve and a way for them to measure your success at achieving them.

 

Project Budget

 

Bring in the bean counters and number crunchers amongst your members here. This is not a place where you should be short-sighted.

 

It takes experience to put an accurate budget down on paper, and most of us do not have this skill. This is an area where you should call upon the first rule of proper management: “surround yourself with competent people and listen to them.”

 

If you do not have a budget expert on your staff, seek one out. Most communities are happy to lend the expertise of their city treasurer, a bank loan officer or similar type of professional to assist you in preparing a proper and accurate budget.

 

Evaluation

 

Many grants require that you show how you are going to evaluate the effectiveness of your program. You should always be thinking about how you are going to “measure and show” that you in fact achieved what you told the reviewer’s you were trying to accomplish.

 

This is best accomplished by having clear goals and objectives to measure them by. Be specific in telling the reviewer exactly what it is that you are going to measure, how it will be measured and what those numbers will prove.

 

Sustainability

 

Grants are always designed to be a “bridge” between the need to accomplish something and the lack of funding to accomplish it. Never forget that they are a “hand-up,” not a “hand-out”. As such, most grant funding sources always want to know what is going to happen when the grant finding they give you is spent.

 

You should always have a plan in mind to show the reviewers how the program will be funded going forward after the initial grant money is expended.

 

Public Safety Grants: Get in the Game

 

If you get in the game and play, the grants ballgame is something you can win. Following the rules is the key to successful grant applications.

 

So don’t just sit on the bench. Learn the rules, step up to the plate, and hit a grand slam for your department in the grants ballgame.