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 basic


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-unit

partner 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 a


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 have

criteria 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 of

the 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 and

collaborate) can’t 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 can’t make the time investment to produce a

quality 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 for

geographic 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 very


If you haven’t 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 haven’t written one before. It will

greatly 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 Dummies

is 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 Foundation

Center at http://fdncenter.org/learn/shortcourse/prop1.html

and a short course on budgeting from the same organization at http://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 your

client’s 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 don’t 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 prepare

that proposal.