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Special Report: Grant Writing, Part 1
Written by Stephenie Slahor
You have a project, but you need the money to do it.
Enter the grant. Your money just might come from one of the more than 100,000 federal Web sites, or the even more numerous regional, state, county, local and private organizations that have grant money waiting for you to tap.
Yes, the competition can be keen, but success is possible if you use knowledge, strategy, patience, and attention to detail. Every grantor has its own procedures and requirements. To be successful in obtaining a grant, you must know what the grantor wants from its applicants. In other words, you must be informed about your potential grants and every step that it takes to get them. Excellence in planning, grant application writing, and processes for carrying out a project are critical to your success, the success of your agency’s project, and your success with future grants.
Start the process right where you are. Know your agency well—its goals, resources, work, problems, and performance evaluation standards. Start now in writing a thoroughly prepared, concise, and explainable narrative about why your agency needs a grant, and what will be done with the money. If you skip this step of knowing your agency, it could foil your attempt to get a grant because your narrative is critical to explaining who you are and why you need grant money.
Homeland Security Grants
Since Sept. 11, 2002, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there is increasing recognition that security begins at the local level. Therefore, local agencies must be prepared now more than ever before. For that kind of preparedness in projects, equipment, personnel, training, exercises, and other issues, nearly all agencies’ budgets need enhancement through grants. The DHS, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, and other departments and agencies have law enforcement and homeland security grants each fiscal year. Certainly most of these grants focus on urban areas or high-risk sites likely to be targeted by terrorism, but agencies in less-populated areas also qualify for grants. The State Homeland Security Grant Program creates mechanisms for prevention and response to terrorism, for the purchase of specialized equipment, and for funding of exercises, training, and planning associated with each state’s strategy for security. There are also increases in the levels of funds available for prevention and intervention at the state and local levels. Police agencies can even seek funds for information-sharing projects that will pre-empt terrorist acts, harden vulnerable targets, emplace threat recognition measures, set intervention activities before a threat can be executed, improve communications, and help manage and administer such projects.
Each state’s overall strategy is different, so you must know your state’s strategy in authorized equipment lists for the fiscal year, training, exercises or other matters. Go to www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/display?theme=14&content=3283 for a complete list of State Homeland Security and Emergency Services (tab Emergencies and Disasters, subheading Planning and Prevention). You also need to study www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/states.htm for background on your state’s homeland security contact and what grants are available in your state.
The DHS Web site (at www.dhs.gov) offers programs for free training. Because you can get certain equipment only if you have personnel trained in that equipment, use the opportunity for free training. That makes it possible to apply for those equipment grants. A complete list of grants for emergencies and disasters is found on the DHS Web site with “Read More” prompts to help you decide if the grant is appropriate for your agency. The Web site has a responder knowledge base to give information on available equipment, certification and standards, training, cost resources and reviews; Rapid Assistance Teams for applicant assistance services; an equipment purchase assistance program; a Homeland Defense Equipment Reuse program; Domestic Preparedness Equipment Technical Assistance Program; a Pre-positioned Equipment Program available for rapid deployment; an Interoperable Communications User’s Handbook; and material that can be used for references in your own grant applications’ narratives.
About $1.7 billion is available through DHS for homeland security grants, all with an eye toward building states’ and urban areas’ preparedness, not only for terrorism but other disasters. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff says the funds help make certain that “finite resources are directed to areas most at risk and to solutions that are innovative and regionally driven.” He says DHS is pledged to “ensuring that our partners have the training, equipment, and resources they need to become better prepared.”
In fiscal year 2006, DHS adopted a dual, risk-based and effectiveness-based approach in allocating its funds within the Homeland Security Grants Program (HSGP). This helps align federal resources with national priorities. It also targets capabilities established by the Interim National Preparedness Goal to generate the highest return on investment in increasing the nation’s level of preparedness. Because the DHS sees preparedness as a shared responsibility, state and local agencies play a significant role in consistency of effort and preparedness.
HSGP funds can be used for planning, organization, equipment, training, exercises, management, and administration costs, and presently include five separate grant programs—State Homeland Security Grant Programs (for planning, equipment, training, and exercise needs for response to terrorism); the Urban Areas Security Initiative (for planning, equipment, training and exercise needs in high-threat/high-density urban areas and to build enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism); the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program (for prevention of terrorism and to provide law enforcement with funds for intelligence gathering, information sharing, hardening of high-value targets, strategic planning, interoperable communications, and collaboration with public and private sector partners); the Metropolitan Medical Response System; and the Citizen Corps Program. Go to www.ojp.usdoj.gov/odp/grants_hsgp.htm for links to the state-by-state breakdown, allocations, the Interim National Preparedness Goal, and further information on HSGP funds that might be available to your agency.
The grants and training component of the DHS Preparedness Directorate partners with federal, state, local and private sector officials to strengthen the capabilities of state, local, tribal, and regional authorities to prepare for, prevent, and respond to terrorist acts and other catastrophic incidents. Grants and Training provides a broad array of assistance to the nation’s emergency responders through funding, coordinated training, exercises, equipment acquisition, and technical assistance. Besides the Web site mentioned in the previous paragraph, information may also be obtained from the Office of Grants and Training by e-mailing email@example.com or calling (800) 368-6498.
DHS seeks to assure that first responders are prepared, equipped and trained for any situation, and that DHS information and resources are coordinated to prepare for and respond to a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or other major emergency. Excellent links to grants, training and exercises, information sharing, equipment products/standards/grants, resources for citizens and communities, and DHS resources and guidelines can be found at www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/display?theme=63&content=3547&print=true.
Also of great value is www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/display?theme=38&content+5681&print=true, which has links to how to find and apply for grants through DHS, FEMA, the Transportation Security Administration Grant Programs, www.Grants.gov, grant administration resources, and other resources.
U.S. Senate and House Conference Committee Reports can be accessed at www.loc.gov (the Library of Congress site) for the status and amounts of appropriation bills for basic state grants, terrorism prevention, urban security, training, port security, rail and transit security, emergency management, and first responder training. These reports can keep you up to date with what is available or what will be available in grant money.
DHS recognizes that some agencies have received equipment grants because the equipment was needed because of a present emergency, but the shift at DHS is toward supplying equipment before an emergency is under way, so that terrorism can be prevented.
Another continuing trend at DHS is the move toward coordinated strategy instead of state strategy. It is a transition to “targets” and away from equipment with an emphasis on interoperability and prevention. For example, information sharing will move toward large projects to integrate efforts that might even include public and private partnerships through data storage to analyze travel movements, gun/explosives purchases, and other screens of potential terrorist activity, and to increase border security initiatives and biometric identification methods for screening of travelers. Major regional sectors will be working more closely, and “target hardening” will be a goal for such sites as stadiums, malls, etc. Caps on the more mundane aspects, such as management and administration, are likely.
Not all the emphasis is on urban areas or high-risk targets, though. DHS recognizes that terrorists might strike anywhere, including the “heartland” of the nation in communities outside major metropolitan areas. These heartland areas are often geographically large, but with small population levels. Their local authorities may not have adequate resources to respond to emergencies. (For example, there are more than 1 million firefighters in the nation, of which about 750,000 are volunteers. More than half the nation’s firefighters protect small or rural communities that have scarce resources and fewer than 5,000 people.) So the DHS has developed strategies to build capability in communities outside the urban areas to develop mutual aid agreements to share resources. Unifying command and control procedures and protocols is the goal so that specialized resources can be shared, rather than duplicated, in every jurisdiction. And other programs, such as the Citizen Corps, provide opportunities for residents to help make communities more secure by training people in emergency response skills, police service programs, and medical reserve units.
Studying what is available to your agency is going to take time. But it is an essential component in the process of applying for a grant. Keep both a notebook and disk (for backup) of Web sites you find useful or timely, and read links on those Web sites to expand your list of potential grantors. As you make notations about specific grantors, keep track of what each funds, when its grant cycle begins and deadlines for applying. You can devise a calendar that will help you stay on schedule with the grantors you’re most likely to petition.
Although you’ll find that most grant applications give you a fair amount of time to prepare everything, be aware that sometimes, states have to submit applications in less than two months after certain grants are announced. Then, just days after the receipt of the state’s application, the Office of State and Local Preparedness must make an award. That kind of quick turnaround means you must plan, within your agency, even before you begin your grant applications. Have resource information available, ready to insert into grant applications. Once you’ve had to work under this kind of time constraint, you may want to do a little lobbying work with your Congressional and state legislature delegations to get the administrative and application processes more realistic, especially the grant money for day-to-day type projects.
By Congressional mandate, all federal grants must be listed in the Federal Register at www.gpo.gov and on what’s becoming the very useful www.Grants.gov Web site. Although there are occasional flukes in the listing process, www.Grants.gov is almost a complete, one-stop source for listings because nearly all federal agencies have complied with the listing mandate. The Web site’s online process allows searching and applying for grants through standardized processes, and you can also sign up for e-mail alerts for new grant opportunities. Besides the grant listings, there are forms that can be downloaded and then submitted online. The Web site is a time saver for most of the federal grants research you may want to do.
Another one-stop source is http://FirstGov.gov, an official portal to federal Web sites with grants. Yet others are http://Fedgrants.gov (but this one has been merging with www.Grants.gov), and http://it.ojp.gov, which is particularly valuable for its contacts for each state and to see who is getting funding for which projects. Your agency might be able to partner with another if you are in the same geographic area because many grants funded through the Department of Justice (DOJ) involve three-year projects. The Web site gives grant program information, applications and deadlines.
The Justice Technology Information Network (JUSTNET) at www.nlectc.org describes how Department of Defense supplies and equipment are transferred, without charge, to state and local law enforcement agencies through the 1033 Program. Police agencies have been able to acquire vehicles, weapons, computer systems, body armor, fingerprint equipment, night vision equipment, radios, TVs, first-aid equipment, tents, sleeping bags, photographic equipment, and other property, all on a first-come, first-served basis, provided that any particular requirements are met in certification or training. The equipment is on an “as is” basis. Most states also have free equipment programs, such as alternative power supplies for computer or 911 systems. In addition, the JUSTNET Web site describes programs such as the 1122 program for drug interdiction, surplus property donations, night vision devices, and small, mobile robots to be shared among agencies within a specific geographic region.
Check the Office of Justice Programs, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at www.cops.usdoj.gov/Default.asp?Item=118 for more information.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention recently announced the availability of the “National Evaluation of the Title V Community Prevention Grants Program.” The report reviews the process of the Title V Program, which provides communities with a framework for developing and implementing comprehensive juvenile delinquency prevention plans. At the time the report was drafted, more than 1,500 communities had received Title V grants.
TeamALERT (www.teamalert.net) offers law enforcement agencies the opportunity to submit their equipment and training needs into a secure, online archive. The Web site is a project of the U.S. Army’s Test, Training and Technology Integration Office to provide law enforcement with a means for consulting about equipment and training issues and needs; finding specially-trained backup forces in seconds; and establishing new standard technologies for law enforcement, all at no or low cost to agencies.
The U.S. Army’s Electronic Proving Ground Special Programs Office has a Technology Transfer Program providing equipment and training, at no cost to agencies, for deployments and operations, and equipment. Check www.epgctac.com for opportunities for case management/analysis programs and devices for detection, interception, surveillance and tracking. Although there may be delays, the wait may be worth it if your agency qualifies for free help.
The DHS National Domestic Preparedness Consortium has grant money to provide services to your agency, particularly in training. That training will qualify your agency for equipment it otherwise would not have. The Consortium includes the Center for Domestic Preparedness, Anniston, AL; the Academy of Counter-Terrorist Education at Louisiana State University; the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; the National Emergency Response & Rescue Center at Texas A&M University; and the National Exercise Test and Training Center, Department of Energy, Nevada Test Site. Eligible jurisdictions can qualify for free training, travel to the training, meals and lodging. Portions of the curricula are available for free on their individual Web sites. Some of the training is for senior officials (mayors and council members), and if your local officials take such training, their qualifications should be mentioned in your own agency’s narratives when doing later grant applications. Most of the consortium’s help goes to large, urban police agencies or regions where a major “target” is found, such as a stadium or mall. You must focus on what is appropriate for your jurisdiction’s size. In other words, don’t ask for training on weapons of mass destruction incidents if your agency is in a town of 10,000 and has no targets, but do a little thinking “out of the box,” too. Yours may be a small agency, but it might be within 200 miles or so of a major nuclear facility, a major airport, an interstate or a major highway. Then the picture changes, even though your agency is small. Your agency is now likely to be a part of the response and coordination if an emergency occurs at such a nearby site. So, even though you may be part of a small agency, you might be able to obtain the grant for what you need in training and equipment by including such facts about your region in your grant application’s narrative or by tying your equipment need to ongoing training exercises in your area. Mock exercises, planning, interoperable communications, or teaching use of equipment are all valid factors grantors might consider.
The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Web site lists grants by agency and CFDA number. The catalog is maintained by the General Services Administration, the Office of Government-wide Policy, the Office of Acquisition Policy, and the Regulatory and Federal Assistance Publication Division (http://188.8.131.52/cfda/cfda.html).
Another help is the Law Enforcement, Corrections, and Forensic Technologies Resource Guide obtainable from the Office of Justice Programs by calling (800) 851-3420 or downloading and printing it from www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/186822.htm.
Bio-terrorism preparedness grants for projects, training and exercises are addressed on such Web sites as www.hrsa.gov/grants/default.htm (emergency preparedness and curriculum development); www.federalgrantswire.com/bioterrorism_training_and_curriculum_development_program.html (grants listed and tips for writing proposals); www.fema.gov/government/grant/index.shtm (for FEMA grants); and http://hazmat.dot.gov/training/state/hmep/hmep_hmep.htm (Department of Transportation hazardous materials project grants).
Remember that your work is not just in getting the grant, but also having the appropriate authority to spend it and the personnel to do it. Stretching staff or hiring temps could be problematic. Also consider the possibility that equipment is delivered after the grant period. Again, you have to plan well in advance so that you build in what you’ll need, when you’ll need it.
Smaller agencies can, and do, compete against the urban giants. That competition could be because of size, matching issues, problem identification (how to get attention on your problem at the local level), internal controls on money, formula distribution problems (usually based on population numbers), dealing with program and fiscal reporting to the federal level, organizational effectiveness (bookkeeping the grant), and how to finance updates to systems that age in about three years. Strategically, smaller agencies should merge their project development with project implementation. Differentiate your agency from all the others. Think through what can be done to improve the chances of getting a grant. Ask the grantor what the expectations are. See what will or won’t get funded. Don’t apply at all if it is a grant that will be considered inappropriate for your agency budget.
Next, think about your agency’s budget. Plan now for next year. Know what was in last year’s budget, and put together a strategy within the required time frame for the grant. List the grant program, notes from the pre-bid conference, when items are due, and any matching fund requirements. Meet with key people regularly and keep everything and everyone on track. Keep a link to the program and highlight the application. Cut and paste it to a document in Microsoft Word of all the funds related to your agency. Know the “purpose categories” because they don’t usually change much from year to year. You can do advance planning based on last year’s planning and grants.
Start your grant application as far in advance as possible, even six months or a year ahead. It’s likely that there will be many of the same questions asked by the grantor as those asked the previous year. Discuss and develop projects and programs in advance of the actual application writing. Most projects require long-term community analysis, data and statistics, and multiple people from different political parties sitting together discussing and working out a plan. You have to get everyone to the table and meet regularly, not just when grant application time occurs. That means you have to plan well in advance in an ongoing process. Use your leadership and negotiating skills to manage all the players involved. And, yes, sometimes it’s impossible to get people to cooperate, and, yes, sometimes you have to give up on getting a grant because of that. But don’t write it off every year. Try to develop a working team for future applications and keep that group going.
When considering grants, think big. Although you may conclude you can get a particular project going for, say, $10,000, you might be shortchanging the project, and that could mean that the project fails for lack of money. To avoid this, create a model program to show performance, and frame it in a way not to sabotage the project. Remember that your agency is a “gatekeeper” to respond to and investigate incidents, book, and move cases on to the prosecutor. Look at the big picture in all its steps, and don’t limit yourself.
The successful grant writer knows what to do and how to marshal the answers and people needed to get a grant. You can do it by yourself, of course, but sometimes it helps to have a pool of resources and staff to help. Someone on your team might catch something that otherwise would have been overlooked or not properly planned. In an ideal setting, the grant writer would be a specialist, free of other duties in the agency. This ideal creates organizational effectiveness and increases the chances of being awarded grants, but it is not always possible because of personnel or financial restraints. Still, it is a goal toward which you can work, if you find that you like the tasks involved in discovering, applying for, and managing grants.
If you are planning for a specific project or looking for certain equipment, don’t limit your application to just one source of grant money. You can probably apply for more than one grant at a time for a certain project. Receiving one grant doesn’t always cut you from receiving a second grant from another source. You may be able to use one grant as your main source and then explain to the other grantor that you have received a different grant from another source and you would now like to change the scope of the application. That might let you keep both grants and expand the project.
Grants come in cycles, so you must be flexible. The money may not be there the next year. Get the most from every dollar you receive. Some grants cycle every three years. During that period, they fund only continuing projects. If you miss the cycle, you’re out for three years. Do your homework and know when it is the right time to apply.
Being awarded a grant, but not having appropriation authority for spending it could spell disaster for your project and the chance to obtain future grants. To help avoid this quandary, create a pool of people who will be the appropriation authority. That way, you don’t have to reconvene the entire legislative body (city council, county board, etc.), but, instead, just get approval from your appropriation group. For example, a letter of intent can give access to the funds or supplemental funds down the road. Or estimate the appropriation to increase as funds come in so you can spend the money as needed.
Be aware of the law, ethics and problems of supplanting (replacing state or local funds with federal funds). In some cases, you are not supplanting unless the money is reallocated, such as some cases when moving money to a grant match from the existing budget. Be sure of your bookkeeping, and keep every detail within the requirements, or you’ll be violating the law and losing the opportunity for future grants.
Justify the need for what you are trying to acquire. Be certain and exact about the problem. Brainstorm and get a goal, but also have other alternatives addressed. Explain to the grantor why one strategy is best and why the others were not used. That will make your application stronger and show that it was well-planned.
Establish good working relations with other resources in your region now, before you begin the process of applying for a grant. Doing so will help you when you need a letter of support or someone to join in the structure. That existing relationship will get your framework set faster and more efficiently. Establish networks and communicate on an appropriate timetable—each month, quarter, semi-annually, or annually. Be aware that some people and agencies get defensive and may not want to collaborate with another. If it’s politics, there might not be much you can do about it now, but you can build for the future.
Before you start a grant application, do a search of the literature to increase your depth of knowledge about what the grant requires, what’s available, and the memo of understanding. Use the grantors’ framework to be sure you match the requirements. If there is something outside your parameters, know whether you can exert some control over it or not. Establish and coordinate a steering committee of experts in each area to guide their individual areas. You haven’t done the grant identification until you determine if you’re eligible as an agency, if you meet the requirements, if it’s doable in your agency, and there’s a signoff by the executive leadership to proceed. Analyze the problem, gather information and statistics, and know the problem is defined and understood by all the people involved.
Suppose you need a police officer posted to a school, and you want grant money to do that. The project affects the school, but remember to look at the “big picture” and how the project will affect the community, school officials, students, school transportation service, mental health services, child protective services, foster homes, juvenile justice, juvenile courts, the parent-teacher organization, health agencies, etc. Get input and statistics from all of them, and perhaps even minutes from their meetings that discuss the need for school police. Include that input in your narrative and data to define the problem more fully. You now have a database of statistics about your starting point. Because grants require performance measures in statistics that are measurable, quantifiable, and easily obtainable to justify the program, be collaborative and not limited to just your agency. You can’t do a grant in a vacuum. Sometimes you must get input from people in other agencies and put all that information together. These people are your “stakeholders,” and their input is important. They, too, address the problem and work toward the desired outcome. Your budget, plan of action, and strategies will probably involve them to some extent. Doing all this tells the grantor the reasons why your project should be funded.
Focus on statistics you can quantify. Put in a process objective (e.g. to reduce the response time) or an outcome objective (e.g. to solve the problem).
Ask yourself if the strategies are detailed. A grant is for something project-specific, and that has a strategic plan. Outcomes of a project are the end points related to the public benefit. Outcome measures and problems must be explained in a common-sense, understandable way. Focus on public benefit because the public owns that outcome. Limit your outcomes to a few because the more you have, the more you will have to measure. Choose the best ones and measure those.
Outcomes vs. Objectives
Outcomes are the desired benefits for the public, but objectives are the specific targets for improved performance. The accomplishment of objectives leads to the realization of the outcomes. Your strategy uses narrative statements of the approach needed to achieve an objective. Those who are tasked to implement the strategies must understand them thoroughly. You must show performance and an action plan related to the budget.
For low-cost or free help, use a community college professor or graduate students to put your strategies into Excel databases, and let the professor analyze the data to help you formulate your evaluation process properly. Gantt charts can also be used, but Excel may be easier. Focus on specific, measurable targets. Know and show, in your Excel or Gantt sheets, who does what and how to get there. Yes, sometimes you are just guessing, and changes can and do happen, but a predicted gain of 5% that turns out to be only 4% is a gain nevertheless.
Another tool to help your progress is to have executive signoff to push people to do things. With signoffs, you can be direct with someone—“You signed off on this, Rick, and you didn’t accomplish it. What’s the problem?”
If your grant is awarded, have a kick-off meeting to remind everyone involved of his tasks and reporting requirements.
Keep close watch on the fiscal controls. Be sure each bill is allowable under the grant. Reconcile the spreadsheet to show payment. Know who checks up on payments and who pays. The person who writes the check should not be the one who reconciles the bill. Make it a policy not to hold a bill more than one or two days at any one point of its progress through receipt to mailing payment. That can keep the turnaround period low as a bill works its way through the mail unit, fiscal unit, program manager, grant administrator, fiscal clerk, etc. Map out a flow chart of who does what. If necessary, make improvements in the flow of bill paying.
Full-time Grant Writer
Give more than ample time to the process of grant applications. As already mentioned, it pays to have someone employed full time as your agency’s grant writer and manager. It’s too difficult to have someone add grant writing to his/her workload, and then end up giving it only 10 or 20% effort. That almost guarantees the person will see the grant writing as additional duty, and even if the person wants to do it, won’t be able to do so because of the time constraints of other duties. In effect, grants are a service to the community, just as the other work your agency does. Looking at it as another service, and having a full-time person doing grant applications, allows for the funding of programs that would otherwise be neglected or non-existent.
Look Everywhere for Grants
Know where to find funds, know what the grant application reviewers want, and know how to get help applying for grants. Know why your agency needs funds and what the grant funds will be used to finance, and know how you’ll evaluate the project. Research, and then do more research. Plan ahead. Seek out grant sources, but look beyond the obvious ones. There are Web sites that might have your grant money such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office (www.rurdev.usda.gov/rd/newsroom/2004/firstresponders2004list.html) that offers grants to rural areas to develop essential community facilities for public use. Those “facilities” include such police-oriented items as rescue operations, police and fire stations, vehicles, and jails.
Published in Law and Order, Sep 2006
Rating : 10.0
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