In part two of this blog series, Stacey McShane will share how to begin your grants application. You need to plan, get organized and budget.
Applying for grants can feel like a daunting task, especially if it is a task one is unfamiliar with. As you gain experience from multiple applications, you will understand the rhythm and process of each funder you deal with. Once you have identified grants you wish to apply for, it is time to ensure your agency is ready to apply.
One of the first steps before doing the work of applying for a grant is ensuring your agency has the capacity to manage a grant. It is recommended that:
- You discuss the grant application with your fiscal staff and ensure you are following any internal policies related to grants. If you are a county agency, there may be requirements that the application is approved by the county council or Executive. Often there are internal forms required to track the progress of the grant. Your fiscal staff can assist you with ensuring the process is smooth.
- If the grant is a reimbursement grant, ensure that your agency has the funds to make the purchase and submit for reimbursement.
- If the full amount isn’t funded, does your agency have the ability to fill the gap?
- If you are partnering with other agencies, that there is a clear understanding of who will be managing the grant and funds and which agency will be acting as fiduciary for the grant. Often an interlocal agreement will be required to proceed. If this is the case, those agreements are in place.
- That the grant application is supported by the executive level within your department. This could be the Chief, command staff, board of directors, city or county council, city manager etc. Do not proceed until you have authorization to act on behalf of your agency to apply for a grant.
Once these steps have been taken, it is time to begin the application process. It is imperative to thoroughly read the application procedures provided by the funder. Note important deadlines and information requirements. If the funder uses a portal to accept grant applications, set up your account early. Many funders can take up to 30 days to approve your account.
It is recommended you start a notebook AND an electronic folder to keep all information organized and in one place, especially if you are applying for multiple grants. If the grant is funded, this notebook will become your go-to document once you receive the grant. If the grant is declined, you can archive the information for later grant applications. Sections of your notebook should include:
- Grant information and requirements
- Data collection
- Application Documents
- Award documentation and requirements
Keeping both a notebook and electronic folder protects the information and provides redundancy should some information get lost.
Gather any documentation and data that is being required and organize it in the format that the funder is requesting. If the funder does not specify a particular format, organize the information in chronological order or an order that makes sense for the data being required. Many funders will require multi-year data to support your application.
Tip: Ensure you are providing the information exactly as the grant maker requests it. Some funders will require a certain font or font size. Others will require information to be organized in a specific manner. Failure to do so may result in your application being rejected. All information should be accurate, organized and complete. Many funders received hundreds of applications and will not take the time to review your application if you have not followed their guidelines and requirements.
Once you have all information that is needed, it is time to begin your application. Application processes vary among funders. Most funders use web portals to accept and track applications. Once you have set up an approved account, the portal will have required fields to input information. They will also likely have a mechanism to upload required documents.
Some funders only require data and do not request a statement from the applicant. This is most often true for federal or state funds. For private funds, you will likely be required to provide a letter of interest or statement outlining why you are requesting funding.
Telling a story
It is best to keep your statement brief and concise. Remember that funders may review hundreds of applications. You want to capture their interest immediately and tell a story that will motivate the reviewer to fund your project. The best way to do this is to tell a brief story. The story should capture the need within your community and the heart of why funding is imperative. For example, the statement “we are requesting $45,000 to improve cardiac arrest outcomes” does not capture interest or need. Whereas: “The community of Lakewood experienced 200 cardiac arrest 911 calls in 2020, nearly half of those patients did not survive. We are requesting $45,000 to adopt the Resuscitation Quality Improvement (RQI) program in partnership with the American Heart Association. RQI will work with our first responders to master high quality CPR protocols, which will improve our cardiac arrest outcomes. Our goal is to improve outcomes by 15% per year. Each life saved has an enormous impact on our community and this program will help us save lives.
This brief example captures attention, demonstrates what the program will do, and what the community need is. The funder will be interested in learning more and may set aside this application for further review. If your RQI project includes partnerships between agencies, it is very important to highlight this in your application. Funders like to see collaborations, as it indicates a thorough plan, as well as larger community reach.
If the funder did not request data as part of their application, it is recommended you include some brief data points to demonstrate the need. Many current programs are data-driven and the data itself can tell an important story. If you have the ability to make the data visually appealing, it is recommended you do so. Charts and graphs can easily be created and are a welcome way to convey the data points.
If you are struggling with language for your application, reach out to neighboring agencies and talk to grant writers or procurement staff in your county. They may have helpful tips for the process.
When creating a budget for your grant applications, it is important to capture any expenses you may incur. This can include staff time or overtime, contract costs, purchase of any equipment etc. Some funders require “in-kind” contributions. Many agencies shy away from an in-kind contribution, as they have concerns that they will be required to budget a large sum of funds to contribute. Many funders will allow staff time to manage or participate in the program as the in-kind contribute. Check with the funder prior to including staff time as the in-kind, but if they allow it, calculate a reasonable amount of time for your staff and include that as your contribution.
Some funders will fund for 1 year, others for multi-year projects. Many require information on how your agency plans on carrying on the project after their funding ends. Plan on providing this information in your application. Many funders will allow for re-application of funds to continue programs, however, most programs are sunset at 3 years and a new funding source will need to be found.
Many grant applications require you to outline how your program will work and what milestones and deliverables you will provide to the funder throughout the project period. It is extremely important to avoid promises you cannot keep. For example, if you tell the funder you will provide data quarterly that is only available to you at the end of the year, you could wind up in trouble. Set deliverables that are feasible for you to report back on. Speak in goals when outlining your deliverables – Do not promise that you will improve cardiac arrest outcomes by 40%. Set realistic goals that have milestones and data you can deliver on.
The grant application process does not need to be daunting. By planning your time and breaking the process down into bite sized chunks, the reward is worth the work. By staying organized, the process is manageable. The next blog will discuss the next steps and how to manage the grant once you are awarded funding.
For more information about the RQI pre-hospital programs visit https://rqipartners.com/solutions/prehospital-solutions/
This is the second post in the Grants series: Read the first post