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, dont roll your eyes. I know that while some departments live and
breathe because of grant funding, technology departments dont 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 organizations 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.
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 dont go looking for a $5 million matching grant if
you dont 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, employees 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. Thats
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
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 havent 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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