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Grants for Small Communities

Written by Stephenie Slahor

The first step in competing for grants is to take a grant writing course such as that offered by Performance Institute. Their 2004 National Symposium on grants for state and local law enforcement was held in San Diego, CA targeting how to find grants and how to get them awarded to your agency.

The grants symposium featured presenters Jeffrey Barlow, executive director of The Hawthorn Institute, a public policy consulting firm based in Jefferson, MO.

Barlow, who is available at jbarlow@1hawthorn.com, specializes in funding strategies, revenue maximization, strategic planning and performance-based budgeting; and Grants Projects Specialist Sergeant Bruce Clemonds, Missouri State Highway Patrol, who is available at Bruce.Clemonds@mshp.dps.mo.gov is actively involved in securing grants for his and others’ agencies and consulting on the methods for locating and qualifying for grants.

Barlow specifically addressed the problems smaller agencies have of competing against the urban giants. By “smaller,” he meant less than 100,000 population.

The competition for grant money 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.

He recommended using Excel or Microsoft Project spreadsheets for ease in bookkeeping, organizational effectiveness (bookkeeping the grant), and how to finance updates to systems that age in three or so years.

Barlow said that smaller agencies must merge their project development with project implementation. “You must think differently to differentiate yourself from the others,” he said. Think about what can be done to improve your chances of getting a grant.

He advised, “Give people what they want.” Ask the grantor what the expectations are. See what could or won’t get funded. Don’t apply at all if it is a grant that will be seen as inappropriate for your agency.

Next, budget. Barlow said, “Plan now for next year’s spending.” Know what is in last year’s program 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 matching fund requirements.

Meet with key people regularly to keep everything 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 won’t change much from year to year. “You can do some advance planning based on last year’s planning and grants,” he said.

Start the application as far in advance as possible, even six months or a year ahead. There will probably be many of the same questions asked by the grantor as those asked the previous year. Develop programs in advance of the actual application writing. “So many of these projects require long-term community analysis, data and statistics, and multiple people from different political parties sitting together to discuss and work out a plan,” Barlow said. “If you can’t get them or their staff to the table, forget applying,” he warned. “It’s not a once-a-year deal. Plan way in advance.”

Next, he said, “think big” and “think excitement.” Although you may think your agency needs only $5,000, when you get that grant, you may find that you’ve shortchanged yourself, he cautioned. Then you won’t be able to do the project.

He advised that you instead make a model program to show performance, and frame it in a way not to sabotage yourself. “Be an exemplary program,” he said. “You don’t actually control this environment, each time. You have partnerships.” He added, “Implement the Cadillac model and not get by with a Yugo!”

Remember that your agency’s role is as a “gatekeeper,” he said. It exists to respond to, investigate, book, and move cases on to the prosecutor. “Have the right players on the field,” he said.

The grant writer should be someone who knows what to do and how to marshal the answers and people needed to get the grant. “Get the right person to put the application together,” Barlow advised. Use a pool of resources and staff to help because, Barlow said, “if you’re not coordinated, you will have things fall through the cracks or not operate correctly and the project will fail.”

The grant writer should be a grants specialist, preferably free of other duties. “This makes organizational effectiveness,” Barlow said, and also increases the chances of being awarded grants.

“Fish all the ponds,” he said. If you are looking for a certain project or certain equipment, don’t limit your application to just one source of grant money. You can apply for more than one grant at a time for a certain project. If you get one grant, you may also be able to get a second one from another source.

Barlow said use one grant as your main source and go to the other grantor, explain that you have received a different grant from another source and you would now like to change the scope of the application. That may allow you to keep both grants and expand the project.

“Be entrepreneurial. Grants come in cycles,” Barlow said. Be flexible because the money may not be there the next year. “Get the most bang out of the buck.” For example, Title 2 Juvenile Justice grants are available every three years. During that period, they fund only continuing projects. So if you miss the cycle, you’re out for three years, Barlow said. “See if it’s the right time to apply,” he advised.

“Seek flexibility,” he said, because being awarded a grant, but not having appropriation authority for spending it could be disaster. Create a pool of appropriation authority, then you don’t have to reconvene the legislative body (city council or county board) but, instead, just get approval. For example, he suggested, get a letter of intent that gives 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 (if replacing state/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. But be sure of your bookkeeping and keep everything within the requirements.

“Balance need and greed,” he said. Yes, squeaky wheels get the grease, but justify your need for what you are trying to acquire. Be certain about the problem you’re addressing. Brainstorm and get a goal, but also have other alternatives addressed. Explain to the grantor why one strategy is best and why others were not used. “That makes a stronger application,” he vouched.

Establish good working relations with other resources in your region, now, before you move toward a grant. “When you need a letter of support, or someone to join in the structure, they’re an existing relationship,” Barlow said. You can then get your framework set.

He said, “Establish those networks and then communicate with them” on an appropriate timetable—each month, quarter, semi-annually, or annually. Be aware of “organizational defenses” in which an agency may not want to collaborate with others. That could be politically based, Barlow said. “You have to know those things are there,” he said; but he advised, “Build anyway.”

When you start the 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 grantor’s template to be sure you match their requirements, he said. 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.

He advised that you haven’t done the grant identification until you determine if you’re eligible as an entity, you meet the requirements, it’s doable in your agency, and there’s a sign off by the executive leadership to proceed. “My number one, biggest activity, that takes the most time, is problem analysis,” he said. “Gather statistics and know the problem is defined and understood by all those involved.”

To illustrate this, he offered the example of getting a police officer posted to a school. That affects the school, of course, but also 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 their input and statistics, and perhaps minutes from their meetings discussing the need for school police, and include all that input in your narrative and data to define the problem more fully. “This starts a database of statistics,” he said. Grants require performance measures in statistics that are “measurable, quantifiable, and easily obtainable” to justify the program.

“You cannot limit yourself to your agency,” he said. The grants require that you be collaborative. “You can’t do a grant in a vacuum. Sometimes you have to get people from different agencies together.”
These people are your “stakeholders” and their input is important to you. They help address the problem and work toward the desired outcome. You need a budget, plan of action, and strategies to do them. “What is the reason you should fund my project” must be answered. Focus on statistics you can quantify. Put in a process objective (one objective might be to reduce the response time), or an outcome objective (for instance, to solve the problem of...).

Ask yourself if the strategies are focused on what they should be. “A grant is a project-specific, strategic plan,” Barlow said. Outcomes of a project are the “end points” that are related to the public benefit. Outcome measures and problems must be explained in a common sense, understandable way. “Focus on the public benefit,” Barlow said. “The public ‘owns’ the outcome. And the public is both public and private.”

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. While outcomes are desired benefits for the public, objectives are the specific targets for improved performance. The accomplishment of objectives leads to the realization of the outcomes.

“Strategy must be understood,” Barlow said. Strategy uses narrative statements of the approach to use to achieve an objective. Those who are tasked to implement the strategies must understand them thoroughly. “We have to show performance and an action plan related to the budget,” Barlow said.

Focus on specific, measurable targets. Know and show who does what and how to get there in your Excel sheets. Barlow admitted that it is sometimes a guess, and changes happen, but a predicted gain of 5% that turns out to be only 4% is “still a gain.”

Another tool to help progress is to have executive signoff. “That pushes people to do things. You can say, ‘You signed off on this, Joe, and you didn’t accomplish it. What’s the problem?’”

Barlow said if a grant is awarded, have a kick-off meeting to remind everyone involved of individual tasks and reporting requirements.

Keep close watch on the fiscal controls. Be sure a bill is allowable under the grant. Reconcile the spreadsheet to show payment. Know the fiscal controls of 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 who does what and make improvements in the flow of bill paying.

Although all these steps are meant for the smaller agencies wanting to compete for grant, they are of benefit to any agency seeking funding grants.

Editorial Note: LAW and ORDER will regularly run a Grant Writing column by Dr. Slahor to continue coverage of this critical aspect of today’s policing.

Stephenie Slahor, PhD is a lawyer who writes in the fields of law enforcement and security. Photograph courtesy of Jim Weiss and Mickey Davis.


Published in Law and Order, Jun 2005

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