Five tips to help get your grant funded
Don’t just wing it – winning takes a deliberate and comprehensive approach
Sponsored by EF Johnson Technologies
By John Erich, Police1 BrandFocus Staff
As a police organization, fire department or EMS agency, you enjoy a lot of prestige and goodwill in your community. People recognize the good you do, the challenging situations you face and the need to support and resource your efforts properly.
None of that means you’re sure to win a grant, though. No matter what award or funding source you apply for – local, state, federal or private – you’re certain to face stiff competition. There are lots of people and organizations out there working to improve Americans’ lives, and they all have financial needs too.
Claiming your share of these coveted funds, even to obtain essential gear, takes a bit more than a badge and a winning smile. There are key approaches and arguments that can often help sway reviewers. Consider these tips from public safety grant experts to help tilt the scales in your favor.
1. Target your applications
The threats emergency responders face evolve constantly. COVID-19 and fentanyl are just two that have emerged in recent years and carried weight with funders. For better or worse, new threats, for which many are unprepared, may have more dollars available than threats that have become familiar over time. Seeking grants in those areas may allow other dollars to be shifted elsewhere.
Lexipol’s 2022 review of the previous year in public safety grants found mental health a big point of current focus – for both struggling citizens and stressed-out responders. And while COVID-19 funding may be waning, it’s not a bad time to pitch preparedness for future pandemics.
New standards and requirements for public safety can also get funders’ attention.
“I know right now there are some issues with new FBI radio standards, and a lot of agencies are having to update what they have,” said Lexipol grant expert Rebecca Jackson, who has written and managed grants for public safety and others. “That wasn’t something they were expecting, and they’re supposed to do it by the end of the year. So that’s an expense coming up, and a lot of them are looking for grants to fund it.”
New products and new technologies come to the emergency services all the time, and many grantors will assist upgrades. If obtaining a new capability can mean a difference to the lives and safety of entire communities, that can be a persuasive case – funders want to benefit as many people as they can.
That said, don’t ask for the moon – there’s better cost-benefit ratio to keeping requests modest.
“Something like the AFG (Assistance to Firefighters Grants) program funds basic equipment,” noted Steve Spraker, a deputy chief with the McHenry Township Fire Protection District in Illinois, who also works with Lexipol. “If you want an SCBA, they’re going to give you a basic SCBA. The ones with bells and whistles are nice but more expensive. So if you’re asking for 20 SCBAs with all the bells and whistles, and two other departments are each asking for 15 SCBAs that are basic, well, they can benefit 30 people in two departments or 20 in one.” That’s not a hard choice.
2. Spread the benefit
Conversely, though, the general wisdom about the most good for the most people need not deter small departments that serve small populations. They can often join forces with their neighbors for regional applications that multiply their impact. Many top grant programs allow this; the AFG and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) are two.
Other awards are targeted for small and rural jurisdictions. For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers grants and loans for purposes like police stations and vehicles in communities of 20,000 or fewer through its Rural Development Community Facilities program, and the Department of Health and Human Services offers anti-drug funding through HRSA’s Rural Communities Opioid Response program and SAMHSA’s Tribal Opioid Response Grants.
Beyond those options, departments always carry the “major event” card: If something big happens in their area – and terrorism and natural disasters both carry substantial funding sway – multiple departments will have to communicate and work together. Routine mutual aid can be leveraged too.
“Maybe it’s about interoperability,” said Spraker. “‘Hey, we’re all on different radio systems, but we respond to each other, and this will really improve all our operations.’”
As the Lexipol review noted, “Working in silos continues to jeopardize agency grant applications … Now is a great time to work with other public safety agencies, public works, schools and other community stakeholders to fill in the gaps.”
3. Explain your situation fully
Many truths of public safety that are obvious to its providers may not be known to lawmakers and private funders. For example, consider how many in leadership think every community’s EMS is delivered through its fire department.
Assume those reviewing your application know nothing about your operations and explain things at that level. And as you’re painting your narrative picture, don’t forget the background – the backdrop of community and population behind the department. Are you swarmed by visitors for some yearly event? Did a local economic downturn lead to increased crime or worse population health?
“Maybe you had a factory shut down and people lost their jobs,” said Spraker. “You want to explain the financial challenges you’re facing. Our department, for instance, is adding paid personnel, which will drive its salary and benefit costs higher. Explain what’s relevant to your financial picture and specific need.”
The Lexipol review cited “downplay[ing] the significance of the financial need narrative” as a common mistake. Applicants “do not provide enough information about their need and why they are experiencing this need,” it stated. “Applicants do not tie economic data from their coverage area into their financial need. Far too many applications give no hard facts … If you’re going to spend the time to apply for a grant, be sure to prioritize the crafting of your financial need narrative.”
4. Ask for a hand up, not a handout
Grants aren’t charity, they’re a supplement. With so many deserving agencies in need, funders are generally more disposed to helping those who also try to help themselves – they want to boost you, not carry you. This lets them spread their dollars and benefits more broadly.
“Funders like to see that you’re trying your best and doing what you can with a situation,” said Jackson. “If you need 50 radios, don’t ask for 50 – ask for 30 and show how you can pay for the other 20. Don’t rely on them to take care of everything.”
Similarly, grants are limited. If what they’re funding for you is a recurring expense – personnel, for instance – funders may want to know how you’ll sustain the benefit once the initial award is exhausted.
5. Be deliberate, thorough, and plan ahead
The biggest tip for a strong bid that maximizes your chances of winning? Don’t wait till the last minute.
“It’s easy to get caught up,” said Spraker. “You know the AFG deadline is coming but aren’t sure exactly when. Then all of a sudden it’s the opening date, and it’s a mad scramble to get your EIN (employer identification number) and other stuff squared away. And then you have to write the narratives and collect all the data.
“You really want to plan six months ahead, so when that application opens, you have the narratives done, and all you’re doing is just gathering data, plugging it in and submitting that application. FEMA says most grants are submitted in the last three days of the application period – if you’re submitting in the last three days, you’re probably making a mistake somewhere!”
“Some grants require certain types of portal access for your applications,” noted Jackson. “Check the access and make sure you have all the appropriate logins, because if you don’t, that can be a huge problem. Sometimes those can take weeks to process.”
Read the notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) and other documentation thoroughly and comply with all of it. Even if you applied last year, aspects can change. That includes formatting – applications can be rejected for such minor reasons. Answer questions directly and fully. Take your time and check everything through twice. You won’t be dinged for beating the deadline by a day instead of a week, but you might be dinged for sloppy errors made in frantic last-minute rushes.
In sum, applying for grants is an effort that needs to be deliberate and thorough, not dashed off in a spare few minutes.
“I think the biggest misconception with grant funding in general is that people think it’s free money,” said Jackson. “Yes, it’s funding, but you have to have a strong application, you have to go through the process, and then you have all the reporting due afterward. It’s a responsibility you have to be prepared to take on.”
About JVCKENWOOD Corporation
JVCKENWOOD is a global manufacturer specializing in automotive and professional system solutions. It was reborn as one company in October 2011 through the merger of Victor Company of Japan, Limited (JVC) and Kenwood Corporation three years after management integration. JVCKENWOOD operates four business segments, car electronics, professional systems, optical and audio, and entertainment software, with image, sound and radio technologies, as well as infotainment and visual software. JVCKENWOOD creates excitement and peace of mind while aiming to achieve profitable growth and become a business group that is widely trusted by society. For more information, visit www.jvckenwood.com/en.html.
About EF Johnson Technologies, Inc.
EF Johnson Technologies, Inc. is an independent subsidiary of JVCKENWOOD Corporation. Headquartered in Irving, Texas, EF Johnson focuses on innovating, developing and marketing the highest-quality secure communications solutions to organizations whose mission is to protect and save lives. The company’s customers include first responders in public safety and public service, the federal government and industrial organizations. The company’s products are marketed under the Kenwood brand.
For more information, visit www.efjohnson.com.