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Basic Hints for Successfully Tapping into Funding Sources

Here are some basic hints for success if you are going to tap into government funding beyond your direct appropriation:

  • As part of your partnership culture, foster a "sense of entrepreneurship." When Bill Paleck, former Superintendent of North Cascades NRA was asked how his park had been so successful rounding up funds from other agencies, his response was that he had a very entrepreneurial staff. This is a combination of necessity, thinking and acting entrepreneurially, rewarding staff and modeling the behavior. This just doesn't happen. It takes leadership to ensure and cultivate that sense of entrepreneurship.
  • Determine cost-effectiveness of going after grants. Tapping into other funds is an investment of precious staff time, often a substantial one. Try to assess your prospects for success and how good a fit your need is with the funding source's agenda. Concentrate where you have solid opportunity for success. Also remember that you can't receive a grant unless you apply for it.
  • Develop grant writing expertise within your staff. Successful grant writing is an art based on understanding the funding source's program goals, priorities, procedures and guidelines and then tailoring your proposal to hit the bulls'eye. Either retain grant writing expertise or get training.
  • Assign one person to write the grant and a team to review it. Having more than one person write the grant can result in a confusing proposal with numerous writing styles. Be sure to include the grant writer in the project- planning phase so they develop a strong understanding of why the project is important and the difference it will make so they can reflect this in your proposal. Review by the park's management team will ensure the park's best strengths are factored in. Multiple reviewers will catch errors that might get through the author's careful review.
  • Invest time in researching each funding source's area of interest and the range of projects they fund. Your park needs this information to explain how your project matches the funding source's goals. Customize each proposal to reflect the funding sources' interests and grant guidelines. Avoid a vague proposal or mass producing the same proposal for various grant funding sources.
  • Grant funding sources look for innovative projects that can have a broad impact. Whenever possible, demonstrate that your project is innovative and can be replicated and used as a model elsewhere. A project that is only feasible under a narrow set of circumstances in a limited area is not a strong candidate for funding.
  • Array those potential grant sources that may be available for your needs and are likely to be interested in your park. One rule of thumb is relative proximity - the closer the source, the more likely there will be an interest and willingness to assist.
  • Ensure the grant preparer has fully met all the application content requirements. Always have a second set of eyes review the application before submitting it.
  • Carefully follow grant guidelines and always stay on top of deadlines. If you have questions about the guidelines, call the grant source project officer. Always keep in mind that funders are looking for ways to narrow the applications to fit the funds available. Don't give them an easy excuse.
  • Invite the grant source project officer for a site visit or to see completed projects so they can view the results of their grant. It's a great way to establish and build a relationship with them.
  • Prepare a proposal that is easy to read for someone who may not be an expert in your field. Avoid lengthy sentences and jargon which can impede a funding source's understanding of the proposal and their ability to sympathize with your project. Remember that grant funding sources are inundated with proposals, so make your proposal stand out by keeping it brief and focused [on the main points.]
  • Often grant seekers leave out key documents in their proposals, such as their 501(c)(3) IRS determination letter, the organization's annual budget, a list of staff and board members, and a list of other grant funding sources that are supporting the project. If the guidelines request documentation, provide it. If for some reason you are unable to provide the information, notify the funding source and explain why in your cover letter or by phone.
  • To ensure successful proposals, make sure your staff assigned to write the grant has time to do sufficient research and packaging.
  • Use creative packaging and matches. Determine which of your partners is likely to be the most successful applicant based on the source goals, guidelines and approval patterns.
  • Sometimes applying through a consortium or partnerships is the best way. Some insist on a government agency recipient; some on a non governmental, nonprofit recipient. Use concepts and images that will convey the significance, potential benefits and visibility of your project. Make it rise above the competing applications.
  • Document the need or problem on multiple levels, using credible statistics, and referencing what your organization is doing to address the need.
  • Provide a realistic assessment of the urgency that drives the proposal submission, accompanied by a realistic timeline that recognizes the realities of anticipated funding cycles. To help you with this, click on to the grant planning guide as a preliminary step in developing a grant proposal.
  • Anticipate the time gap between applying and being selected for funding. Allow sufficient time for grant funding sources to review and evaluate your proposal. Grant cycles can take up to six months after a proposal is submitted before an organization hears if their project is funded. Get started ASAP. Can you're your park afford to wait this long for project funding? If you need immediate funding, other forms of raising money may be more appropriate.
  • Government grants consume more administrative time and costs than most grants from private foundations due to their application process, bureaucratic reporting requirements. Your park or partner should have adequate staff to fulfill these obligations and may need to dip into discretionary funds to hire additional needed support.
  • Exceed the application requirements to be more competitive but don't get carried away with too much narrative which is a turn-off for the funding source's reviewers.
  • Many federal agencies conduct workshops for their grant programs. It's worth attending these events, even if travel costs are involved. A thorough understanding of the grant guidelines and scoring criteria will make your proposal more competitive.
  • Because government grant making can be influenced by politics, obtain support/endorsement from elected officials or respectable experts. Realize that your proposal may not be as competitive as others due to geographic considerations.
  • Cultivate awareness, interest and an informed relationship with your funding source. People give to a demonstrated need and to people. Get to know the funding source administrators and staff who process, rank and make decisions on who gets what. Invite them to your park to see the need and opportunity you have, and especially to see the results of their support to your park. Make them believers by seeing things first hand. You won't be in the room when they review and rank applications so you want them to be informed, interested and aware.
  • Some grant funding sources require matching amounts in order to be considered for funding. It's a way for them to leverage funds while seeing how committed your park is to the project. If possible, it's best to secure funding commitments in excess of those that are being asked as the match - full points may be awarded to the grant applicant during the evaluation process if the match amount exceeds and leverages more fully the base match amount required.
  • Focus on the cost-benefit ratio, clarifying how grant dollars will be maximized through a frugal budget, leveraging other funding, evaluation of results, and sustainability over time.
  • Don't put all your eggs in one basket or funding source. Most funding sources receive far more proposals than they can fund each year, and this becomes more of a concern during difficult economic times. There are simply not enough funds to respond to every proposal. The Foundation Center estimates that the national average success rate for grant applications is 17 percent. However, success rates increase with the assistance of professional grant writers to 60 percent, according to the American Association of Grant Professionals. Be persistent - some projects get selected the second time around.

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