In an environment of shrinking government funding, finding a law enforcement grant requires preparation, organization and innovation.
"It requires a lot of work and we've seen diminishing results recently," says Fort Wayne (Indiana) Police Chief Rusty York. "We've really had to look at this more creatively."
Although millions of federal dollars are earmarked each year for law enforcement, York says funding is becoming more limited as government money is diverted to homeland security projects and the war in Iraq.
Fort Wayne Police Department's Grant and Research Manager, Ken Gigli, has helped the agency receive more than $18 million in grant funding since 1990. He says the secret to successful grant writing is paying careful attention to details.
"It is easy to get overwhelmed," Gigli admits. "The first thing you should do is sit down and read the application very carefully so you know what they want. Most often, they'll tell you exactly what information they are looking for."Preparation
Many parts of a grant application can be completed before the opportunity is announced. One of the first steps is to contact your state's federal grant representative. Let them know you're seeking information about public safety technology funding opportunities and ask where you can learn more about grant offerings. Are they hosting upcoming training events or workshops for grant seekers?
Gigli suggests that those seeking grants do not hesitate to contact state or national grant contacts for advice. "These people are very willing to help," he notes. "Don't be afraid to give them a call. After a while, they'll get to know who you are and you can start to build a relationship."
You can also begin to gather information about your organization, such as its history, successes, awards or any special recognition it has received. Finding this data ahead of time will allow you to easily incorporate it into a grant application.
Grant funders will want proof that your organization is capable of managing grant funds appropriately. You may want to collect newspaper articles, thank-you cards, letters of support, or anything else that provides evidence of your agency's skills and abilities.
One of the first steps in your grant search should be registering at www.grants.gov. This government Web site is the clearinghouse for all information on federal grants. You can search for available grants on this site and easily set up e-mail alerts that will automatically notify you when law enforcement grants become available.
Registering with www.grants.gov early can save valuable time. It may be required to submit a federal grant application online. Registration is not automatic, so it is crucial to start the process a few weeks before your grant application is due.
During this time, you can also begin shaping your budget. What do you want to purchase? How much money will you be able to use from your agency's annual budget? Do not forget to incorporate training, travel and administrative fees into the total cost.
Not all agencies can afford a full-time grant writer. In most cases, grant-writing responsibilities are assumed by someone already working at an agency. If you are writing grants in addition to managing your usual work responsibilities, you may want to delegate some of the workload.
Decide which parts of the grant application might be best suited to others in your agency and ask those people to compile the sections for you. For example, you might ask your agency's financial administrator to write the budget section of your application. Your agency's history might be best compiled by the chief or another senior member of the department. Assign each person a deadline and remember to leave time to thoroughly review their work and incorporate it into the grant application.Organization and writing
While compiling this information, be sure to keep it well organized. If working on your computer, create a backup copy or burn the data onto a disc. Much of the information can be revamped and recycled for use in multiple grant applications, advises Gigli.
"In most cases, there is no need to reinvent the wheel," he says.
While writing your application, make sure that you follow common writing style guidelines. You can refer to the Associated Press Stylebook or the AMA Style Guide for Business Writing. Avoid using exclamation points or technical jargon in your application. Spell out acronyms on first use. Check your writing for grammar mistakes, run-on sentences and incomplete ideas.
Be clear about how you will fund the project at hand. If your agency plans to contribute matching funds for the project, or if you hope to receive additional money from other grants, explain that in your application.
If you want to use grant money to purchase equipment, give details about which vendor you plan to use and how you came to that decision.
Drea Cole has been writing grants for Colorado's Montrose Police Department for nine years. When she applied for funding to purchase mobile communications software, she described exactly why she selected a specific vendor rather than solicit bids.
"You really want to get into detail," Cole says. "I explained that if we bought a different product, the cost of it and the required interface would be more than the price of the product I had selected. The one I chose ties right into our existing system."
Before sending your application to a grant provider, carefully review what you have written. Check to ensure that your application includes all of the required components. If you are mailing your application, make sure that it is neatly typed and packaged. If you are submitting your proposal online, see that it meets font and margin guidelines. An organized, attractive proposal is the first step toward impressing grant administrators.
The next step is to have a neutral party review the proposal. Ask them to ensure that your document is easy to read, grammatically correct and free of unsupported assumptions.
After you receive grant funding, thoroughly follow any reporting requirements. How you manage grant funds can have a big effect on future funding requests, Gigli says.
"You want to keep them [the administrating agency] in your good graces and not be late for things," he instructs. "If you build a reputation as being reliable, you have a better chance of being considered again in the future."Innovation
Sometimes, finding adequate funding for a project requires a little creative thinking. The Fort Wayne PD recently wanted to purchase software that would allow them to track the location of police units on an electronic map. York says Fort Wayne PD combined several sources of funding to buy the equipment, including $75,000 from the federal Justice Assistance Grant Program and $200,000 from a federal seizure fund.
Consider looking to corporations, local businesses and non-profit agencies for funding. Many national business chains, including State Farm Insurance, Wal-Mart and Target, have grants geared toward community safety.
Cole suggests contacting your state senators and representatives and asking them to let you know about any federal funding opportunities they discover. She also stays in close communication with a lobbyist who represents the Montrose city in Washington D.C.
"We make sure he knows of our needs and that he is out there looking for money for us," she says.
Also, check to see if any of your vendors offer grant assistance. If you are looking to use grant funding to purchase a specific vendor's product, that vendor should offer to help research and prepare grant opportunities.
Recently, many federal grants have focused on supporting projects that increase interoperability and data sharing across jurisdictional boundaries. When applying for funding, consider how your project could benefit not just your community but the region as a whole. Ask other jurisdictions if they are willing to help fund a project that will benefit their residents.
"Grants that have multi-jurisdictional effects and benefits — I've found that those are more successful," Cole says. "Most of our grants have benefited more than just our agency."
Lynze Wardle is a grant specialist and marketing writer for Spillman Technologies.Is a grant right for my agency?
A grant can make the difference between purchasing much-needed equipment for your agency and going without. Grants may also require valuable resources like time, matching funds and regular reporting. The following questions are designed to help you decide if the benefits of applying for a grant outweigh the costs.
- Is there a requirement for matching funds? If so, is it affordable?
- Does this grant fit the short-term or long-term goals of our agency?
- Can the grant proposal be completed within the allotted time frame?
- Do we have the time and manpower to complete a grant application?
- What are the reporting requirements? How extensive are they?
- Who will be given the responsibility of reporting back to the administering agency?