How Do I Get a Grant?

A Message from Anne Marie Strano, OPDF Director

A telephone conversation we have quite often starts off something like: "My Chief (or Sheriff, District Attorney, Agency Director, etc.) has assigned me to seek out grant funding for our department. How do I go about getting a grant?"   In an effort to provide guidance to those who are charged with such an assignment, I offer this insight to the grants process from the perspective of a grantor.

The process generally has three phases, which are of equal importance:

  1. Planning phase
  2. Application phase
  3. Implementation phase

Planning Phase:

  • Why do you want a grant?

    This may seem obvious, but often when I ask the question the answer is "because my boss said so". This is not the answer grantor agencies want to hear.

  • Define your needs:

    A request for grant funding must be stated in terms of "need". In the case of a criminal justice agency, the need should be stated in terms of crime prevention and control that is relevant to your particular locality.

  • Strategic Planning:

    In determining your department’s need for grant funding, it is best to base it on a strategic plan for the department. At a minimum, this sends a message to the grantor agency that your request has been given some thought and is a priority. I cannot overemphasize the importance of planning. In deciding whether to seek funding for a particular purpose, it is important to ask yourself some basic questions:

  • Is a grant appropriate for meeting your needs?

    Once you have decided your needs, it is then necessary to decide if a grant is the best way to meet that need. Sometimes, a grant is not the best or appropriate way to fund a basic need of the department/community. For example, grants are very seldom available from any source for construction of a police station. This is considered by most grantor agencies as a basic responsibility of a community which establishes a police force.

  • Are you ready for a grant?

    Grants often come with strings attached and you must decide if your department is ready to meet the many administrative and program requirements imposed by the grantor agency. Make sure everything is ready to help ensure the success of your program.  If your department does not have the administrative capacity to take on the requirements of a grant, then it is best to wait until you build that capacity. If the grant requires a cash match, you must make sure that local funding is budgeted. From a program perspective you must make sure your agency is ready to take on the new program. Does the program fit the mandate of your agency? Is the culture of your department ready for the new program? For example, if you plan to apply for a grant to start a community policing program, you must make sure the supervisors and patrol officers are ready to accept such a program, and determine if it will fit in with the provisions of the existing labor contract.

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Application Phase:

  • How is a grant obtained?

    There are a number of different ways grant funding is made available, but they generally fall into two basic categories: Solicited and Unsolicited.

    • Solicited Grants: Obtained through a competitive or non-competitive process. Either way, the process is driven by the grantor agency.
    • Competitive: The grantor agency will issue what is referred to as an RFP (Request for Proposals) or an RFA (Request for Applications), through which the agency is soliciting applications that are most often targeted to a specific category of program (e.g. crime victim assistance, juvenile justice, violence against women, forensic laboratory services, etc.). Many state and Federal agencies will make these applications available online. All discretionary grants offered by the 26 Federal grant-making agencies can be found on http://www.grants.gov. DCJS posts its solicitations on its website (http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/ofpa/newrfp.htm), and sometimes notifies eligible agencies prior to these issuances (usually when eligibility is limited to organizations meeting select criteria such as police departments in particular jurisdictions, DNA laboratories, etc.).
    • Noncompetitive: Often based upon a formula which distributes grant funding to localities based upon various objective factors. This type of grant process is often used for awarding federal funding (e.g. Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants). A community becomes eligible for a specific amount of grant funding based upon such factors as reported crime, level of criminal justice expenditures and/or population. The funding is offered to the community for specific purposes, if the community qualifies based upon meeting certain mandates and/or agreeing to take certain actions.
    • Unsolicited Grants: Initiated by the agency seeking funding. Requires finding and applying to a potential funding agency that has interests common to your need. For example, if your department has need to improve services for at-risk youth, you may reach out to the Annie Casey Foundation, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the Dept. of Justice, the State Office of Children and Family Services, your County Youth Board or other organizations that have an interest in supporting programs targeted to at-risk youth.
  • One of the most effective ways to arrange for grant funding is to influence the process in the formulation stage of the grant program or appropriation. Much of the grant funding offered by the Federal or State government is actually earmarked by Congress or the New York State Legislature for award to specific agencies for specific purposes. These are commonly referred to as State member items or Congressional earmarks. It is important to make your needs known to elected legislators representing the jurisdiction of your department.
  • As a general rule, grant funding is made available by Federal and State governments for specific purposes:
    • to address an emergency, critical need, or crisis;
    • to influence actions by the local government consistent with the priorities of the Federal or State government; and/or
    • to fill a gap in services cause by a Federal or State mandate.
  • It is important to know why the grant funding is being offered so you can tailor your application accordingly. Regardless of how or why grant funding is made available, it is important to understand that there is almost always a far greater demand for the funding then the amount of money actually available. Grantor agencies have a limited amount of funding to award and they have a stake in how it is used. Grantor agencies want to support successful projects, they want their grant funding used for something good and they want to avoid bad publicity. A request for grant funding that is not well thought out and justified is very obvious to grantor agencies.

Drafting the Grant Application:

The following are suggestions for how to answer standard questions that appear in most grant applications.

Describe the problem or need to be addressed:
  • Describe the nature and extent of the problem, using data that is current and relevant to your particular locality.
  • Describe why the problem is occurring.
  • Describe how the problem or need is being addressed now.
  • Describe what others have done to address the problem and how effective they have been.
Describe your proposed program:
  • Make sure your proposed program conforms with the allowable purposes for use of the grant funding.
  • Make sure your desired outcomes are stated consistent with the grant program priorities.
  • Build in a formal process for collaboration with relevant partner agencies.
  • Make sure the program you describe fits within your agency's mandate, builds on what you do best and is reasonable in scope given the amount of funding you are requesting.
State the program goals, objectives, tasks, and performance measures
  • Keep the goal statement brief, but comprehensive in nature.
  • Objectives should describe what you hope to achieve or accomplish.
  • Objectives should be stated in both quantitative and qualitative terms.
  • Tasks should describe how you intend to carry out the program to meet the program objectives; in terms of who, what, where and when.
  • State the performance measures you will use to gauge your performance in quantitative terms (e.g. number of arrests made).
  • Offer a plan for evaluating the success or impact of your program.
Describe your proposed methodology for carrying out the program:
  • Include a timeline for implementing and carrying out the program.
  • Mention if the strategies you plan to employ are considered innovative and have been used successfully in other places.
  • Describe how the program would be supported once grant funding ends.
Describe your agency or organization:
  • Describe how the program fits within your agency's mission.
  • Describe your agency's experience in carrying out a program of this type and scope.
  • Describe your agency's program and fiscal staff capabilities and qualifications.
Program Budget:
  • Make sure the staff or items you're requesting funding for fit within the program that you've described.
  • Make sure the necessary matching funds are budgeted.
  • Make sure the budget adds up correctly.
  • Be realistic in your request

This website includes a list of other tips to keep in mind when applying for grant funding, as well as information on developing a program workplan, and common mistakes that appear in audits.

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Implementation Phase:

  • Once you obtain a grant the job is not over. You are then obligated to successfully implement and carry out the grant program. Often, the person assigned to implement the grant program is not the same person who planned for and drafted the application. Too often, the person assigned to implement the program is not provided with a clear picture of what was originally intended and what the grant was awarded to achieve. This can lead to, at worst, a disallowance of the grant funding provided or, at least, a black eye for your agency. It is important to your future opportunities for grant funding, that your agency not get a bad reputation over failure to successfully implement and operate the grant program and carry out your obligations to the grantor agency.
  • Also, keep in mind that not all grant programs are successful or carried out exactly as planned. Occasionally, unforeseen circumstances will force a change from what was originally planned. Grantor agencies understand this, so be forthright with their staff assigned to administer your grant. Discuss any unforeseen circumstances that impede your ability to carry out the grant program and confer with them on program or budget changes that would be allowed to make your program successful.
  • The grant application process has become highly competitive, as more and more agencies become knowledgeable and experienced in the world of grantsmanship. If you are assigned to seek out grant funding for your agency, nothing is more important then your knowing the needs of your community and/or agency and being able to describe those needs as justification for grant funding. Several resources are available to assist you in planning for, seeking out and applying for grant funding. These resources can be located at your local library and on the Internet. In the world of grantsmanship, it is important to do your homework and to learn from your prior experiences, regardless of whether they’ve been successful. Good luck!

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