Banking

Grant Funding: Get your share of the "free" money


I was going to begin this post with "in these tough

economic times" in regards to funding for technology, but when do you ever

have enough money to fund all the worthwhile projects that need to be done? It

is rare to have more than enough money to get the job done.

That being the case, we should always be on the lookout for

ways to add to our existing funding streams. Grant funding is one way to do

that. Oh, don’t roll your eyes. I know that while some departments live and

breathe because of grant funding, technology departments don’t often seek them

out because of the work involved – and they are work!

However they are certainly worth the effort and can provide a significant boost in your funding stream – often for years.

So what kinds of grants are available?

There are numerous kinds of grants and sources of grants. Some of these are:

Higher Education, Grants for Non Profit Organizations,

University Grants, Non Profit Funding, K-12 Grants, School Grants, Education

Grants, Science Education Grants, Vocational Education Grants, Federal Grants, Government

Grants, Corporate Grants, Technology Grants, Technology Funding Grants, and the

list goes on.

What specific grants within the categories listed above can be had?

This is where research comes into play. My first visit would

be to your organization’s grant coordinator (if you have one available). If you

do, make them your friend! They can be invaluable in navigating the myriad of

possibilities out there. If you do not have a resource such as this, you can

make use of the thousands of resources, paid and free available on the Web.

http://www.fedgrants.gov/Applicants/
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/top/grants/grants.htm

Before you start looking or making an appointment with your

grant coordinator, make sure you have your list of needs/projects in hand. In

fact, one of the questions I always ask when evaluating a potential project is:

"Is there any grant funding available?" That way, if the request is

from a department, they will have done some of the research and perhaps used

their inside information to determine grant-funding availability.

Also be prepared to answer whether you have "matching

funds" available. Some grants require you to put up half the funds in

order to get the grant. So don’t go looking for a $5 million matching grant if

you don’t have millions to put up as a match. However, be aware that your match

does not always have to be in the form of dollars. In-kind contributions, such

as value for work performed, employee’s salaries, hardware and software, can

sometimes be used as all or part of your match.

Things to know.

Once you begin searching, keep an open mind. Acquiring grant

funding is as much an art as a science. Know that while being super analytical

can help you as a technologist, it is a drawback when evaluating possible

grants. Know that grantors often give grants to programs/projects that in your

mind are "loosely" connected to the purpose of the grant. That’s

where the art of grant writing comes in. I am still boggled by some of the

grant awards I have seen over the years and those were a testament to the "creativeness"

of the grant writers.

Also know that partnerships are highly valued when awarding

grants. Grantors look kindly upon partnerships, especially public/private

partnerships. So it is worth your while to foster good relations with other government

organizations - local/state/federal as well as not-for-profits and even for-profit

organizations.

Understand the strings attached. Many people assume that

grant money can only be spent for the express purposes of the grantee and that

no one else can take advantage. This is expressly false. I have had grants that

were for a specific department but purchased enterprise-level hardware because

by doing so, I was able to provide the specific services to the department

required by the grant. The fact that the rest of the organization benefited

from the purchase was just a plus.

The point is you will need to understand the caveats of the

grant. Some grants assume you never actually own what you purchase with the funds and they expect that you return goods back to them when you take

them out of service. Others offer much greater flexibility. Understand the

grant to maximize your flexibility! Gray areas can be your friend.

Make sure you are prepared to be a diligent record keeper

and can show exactly where, when, and how grant funds were expended. You will

be required to do so.

Lastly, under the category of things to know, be prepared to

spend the money! You will drive your finance department and the grantor crazy

if you get funds allocated to you and then do not move forward with spending the

funds at hand. So if you get a grant, make whatever projects associated with

them a HIGH priority. Trust me, I speak from experience on this and being

cautious and frugal is not what the grantor is looking for. In their minds, if

you are not using the dollars in the time allotted, they may as well have given

the funds to someone else.

When you finally choose one or more grants to go after, it

is then time to put on your writing hat. If you haven’t written one before (and

even if you have), it often pays to get a model of a grant submission that was

awarded funding in previous years. It can also be worth your while to take a grant writing course to learn some of

the ins and outs. Additionally, if you made friends with your grant coordinator

you might get lucky enough to be able to work with a grant writer who can write

the majority of the grant and let you fill in the technical parts.

In any case, being able to bolster your funding via

grants can go a long way in giving you the ability to meet the technology needs

of your organization. Like anything worthwhile, there is an investment to make

in order to get started, so forget about easy money. But know that your hard

work can provide dividends for years to come.


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