I have written on occasion that obtaining grants can be a
way to augment your operations should you need additional funding in some
areas. But if you just go out looking for grants because you are short on money
and need to fix problems internal budgeting problems, you are going to come up
short. There are not many organizations willing to hand out money to fix your basicproblems.
However, you can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak,
by partnering with one of your business units in trying to help them solve a techncial
problem that is likely to get grant
funding. This, in turn, could free up your budget dollars if your business-unitpartner can get grant funding for their issue.
As an example, let's say your social service agency wants to
help reduce homelessness, and the homeless shelters in your area lack computing
resources to perform administrative functions. Together, all three groups form
a partnership to create a data collection system for the shelters where the
information regarding their homeless population gets entered into a centralized
system managed by the social service agency for statistical purposes. Once this
concept is agreed upon, you can then look for grants that might pay for such athing.
So, if you are looking to fund the above project where do
you start? First, you need to decide if you want to go for government money or
foundation money. The rules of the game are a bit different for the two. While
governments have to be fair and equitable and treat everyone the same, foundations
play by their own rules. This may or may not work in your favor. Foundation
grants often require less paperwork than government grants, and they can grant
funds at any time. Government grants are usually fixed to a fiscal year and have
definite application periods. But foundations can be fickle, and they can havecriteria that you may not be able to accommodate as a government entity.
Government grants are more structured and methodical and
have strict rules regarding the process and, of course, the administration ofthe grant. However, the playing field for obtaining these grants is relatively level.
Besides thinking about what type of granting organization
you are going to go looking for, you need to know if you are in the position to
do any matching. Matching grants often require a 1-1 match dollar per dollar,
or in-kind contribution. So there is no point in looking at that 10 million
dollar matching grant if you or your partners (always best to partner andcollaborate) cant come up with the match.
Once you have made those kinds of preliminary decisions
you need to carefully study the requirements and deadlines for potential
grants. Your modus operandi in this case is to determine if you can do the
amount of work that is required to prepare the grant (and run it, if awarded)
by the deadline given. Sometimes your answer will be no. It might be a great
grant opportunity, but you just cant make the time investment to produce aquality proposal.
Also, make sure that, as part of your reading of the
requirements, you look closely at eligibility requirements. They can change
from year to year, and often federal grants have additional requirements added
to them if the money is funneled through a state agency. Also look forgeographic restrictions.
The two types of granting bodies also advertise
opportunities differently. Governments usually announce their grants through a
Request for Proposal (RFP). Foundations have a variety of ways for publicizing
grant requests. In fact, foundations may not call for a full-blown proposal at
all, but instead may request a letter of inquiry. A letter of inquiry is often
harder to do than a full blown proposal because it has to be brief (usually no
more than three pages). That means you have to communicate your need, your
proposed solution, and your qualifications for implementing the solution veryconcisely.
If you havent gotten the hint by now, obtaining a grant is
hard work and like most projects, the 80/20 rule applies. In this case,
obtaining a grant is 80% planning and 20% writing. If at all possible, work
with an experienced grant writer if you havent written one before. It willgreatly increase your chances of creating a good proposal.
However, if you do not have the luxury of working with someone
with experience, there are ways of getting up to speed. Most large
organizations offer in-house grant writing training. If you are part of a
smaller organization, many colleges and universities offer these courses as part
of their continuing education programs. And of course there are books and the
Internet. Grant Writing for Dummiesis an excellent book to get you started:
The Internet has a plethora of resources on grant proposal
writing including this short course on proposal writing from the Foundationhttp://fdncenter.org/learn/classroom/prop_budgt/index.html
Participating in grant writing can strengthen your
relationship with your business units and help extend your already limited
funds. I personally believe that every government IT staff should have a
dedicated grant writer, whether in house or assigned to them from another department.
Doing so can be the difference between being able to service only some of yourclients needs or going much further in helping them to do their business.
IT staff often do not think that grant writing is in their
realm of possibilities, but smart government IT management knows that effective
grant writing can add immensely to their capabilities. And anyone can write a
grant; you dont have to be an English major you just have to have a problem
to solve, a solution to propose, and the willingness to do the work to preparethat proposal.