How to write a successful grant application, one step at a time

A lot of people ask me about writing grants. How hard can it be? After all, it’s just putting some information down on an application about how great their non-profit organization is, how many great things they do, or how broke they are, right? And then...

Someone with even a small bit law enforcement knowledge knows that every police department has basic needs that must be satisfied in order to function, including officers, training, vehicles, uniforms, weapons, and communications capabilities. It’s when the grant request is above and beyond these basics that specifics will come into play. For example, any department might have a use for night vision equipment to help with night-time surveillance. Wanting night vision equipment to help you see better at night is not something that’s going to resonate with a grant program’s review panel in a competitive manner.

Instead, communicate why your agency has a need for it in the first place. Consider the expense of military grade equipment; what is the Return on Investment (ROI) to the department and community for this project? Has there been an increase in night-time drug trafficking? Burglaries? Assaults? What’s happened in recent history to prompt this particular request?

Without doing the research to know what the deep-seeded reasons are, you as a writer aren’t going to be able to distinguish your application from allthe others.

Talk turkey

One of the most important specifics that many grant applicants skip over is the financial reasoning behind a request. After all, you are making a request for some other entity to give your agency some of their money. The first question they’re going to expect an answer to is “Where is your money going now that prevents you from making the investment in the project?” This means you need to know where your money is going every year to the penny, which is going to require intimate knowledge of your own budget and all expenditures under every line item.

To be even more competitive you should know why you aren’t getting more funding, and simple answers like “city/town council is making cuts” aren’t enough. Why are they making cuts? Why have revenues gone down? Has a major employer closed? Has tourism been a staple and now your area isn’t getting the same level of visitors as in the past? Have you recently had a natural disaster that diminished state or local reserves? These types of local and specific financial conditions will only affect a small number of potential applicants, and will help shore up the need for non-local funding to effect improvements.

Once you get to this point, you’ll find answering subsequent questions will now be more intuitive, because you’ll have asked yourself the questions and prepared answers that point to specific reasons behind your request, improvements that will be made, and the need for outside funding for your organization.

Again, these are basic beginning steps to a successful grant application. There are many nuances to every step of the process, but a strong start will help make your journey that much easier, and also repeatable for every grant application you attempt thereafter.


Brian P. Vickers has been in the fire service for 18 years with numerous state and national certifications for fire, rescue, and EMS disciplines. He is a former department training officer and district captain, as well as a former Army National Guard soldier. He is CEO of Vickers Consulting Services (VCS), a public safety consulting firm specializing in strategic financial planning and grants.