National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
Partnership header Roundtable discussion in a conference room setting
Successful Park Approaches to Grant Writing

The following are park superintendents' strategies on how they and their staff approach securing grant funding.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Superintendent Bill Dickinson tapped $23 million in additional funds in a single year for his park which straddles the Colorado River in Nevada and Arizona. Below are his thoughts on how he and his staff accomplished this.

1. Before seeking grants, a park needs to put the following things in place:

a. Commitment

  • Internal Support - Think through with your staff what it will take to support the entire activity; from applying for grants to getting funds; from planning and compliance to construction to closeout; and ongoing operations and accountability. Commit to providing the necessary support.
  • Cultural Change - Park staff are realizing that you need to leverage beyond your appropriated funds to accomplish more. You also need to understand and work within the guidelines of grant funding sources to help accomplish the park mission. This means embracing flexibility without compromising integrity.
  • Time - You and your staff should take the time to complete the application process and manage the projects through to completion. Everybody has more work than they can do these days. Your grant development and implementation have to be a priority.
  • Direct Staff Involvement and Buy-In - If staff is fully involved, they will take responsibility and be committed to making things work.

b. Staff Participation

Think through who on your staff will need to play these roles:

  • Grantswriting - package applications, provide project oversight and reporting.
  • Contracting - oversee agreement and project contracts for services that can't be staffed in the park.
  • Budget - establish reimbursable accounts and process billings. Be sure to include all costs related to the project.
  • Public Affairs - coordinate publicity and acknowledgement.
  • Planning - identify and verify need.
  • Engineering/design - coordinate drawing, specifications, and project construction supervision.
  • Compliance - ensure natural and cultural compliance and permits are in place so the project/program can be implemented when funded.
  • Resources management - manage natural and cultural resource impacts and considerations. Determine if NEPA or other compliance is necessary.
  • Superintendent and staff - invest in cultivating on-going relationships with fund sources and grantors.
  • Solicitor - Factor in Solicitor review to provide legal sufficiency and terms.

c. Strategic Approach

Identify innovative partnership opportunities to enhance park operations:

  • Identify groups/agencies
  • Identify best programs/fits
  • Identify funding partnerships
  • Develop mechanisms to connect with best sources

d. Assess Your Existing Capacity to Support a Grants Program

  • What's happening now as it relates to grants?
  • Who's presently involved?
  • What's working well and what's not?
  • Why things are working and why not?
  • Have you experienced problems/issues/concerns?
  • What should be happening?
  • Who should be involved?
  • What are your potential sources of support?
  • What are your key implementation strategies?

e. Realize That Results Aren't Immediate

  • Relationships have to be developed and cultivated over time.
  • You have to factor in project application deadlines and approval timelines based on each funding source's fiscal year and cycle.
  • Factor in inevitable changes in systems, processes, priorities and turnover in staff.
  • Not all applications are successful. Often there are more applications for funding than there are funds available. It's important to understand why your application did not score high enough to be selected for funding so you can prepare a more competitive application next round.

f. Considerations for Success

  • Assign key park contact for each funding source, application, and funded project. Always assign a backup contact. This provides responsiveness and a project shepherd. It is also a means for developing an ongoing professional and personal relationship and ombudsman. The key contact ensures timely responses and troubleshoots problems before and as they arise. Key contact needs to be someone who can develop a personal and professional relationship with the funding source, someone who has the responsibility/authority to get work done within the park, and someone who can be accountable.
  • Well identified, high priority needs boost the priority of your project.
  • Invite prospective grantors to your park to see the park project site and need first hand, rather than envision it from afar in a project application.
  • Know and be prepared to communicate your immediate priorities.
  • Educate your source on your future needs to cultivate awareness and interest. Innovative, exemplary projects often have strong appeal to fund sources.
  • Determine grantor funding levels in advance and tailor your project applications accordingly.
  • Know and maintain funding flexibility in your project. If necessary, can you reduce the scope or phase the project?

2. After deciding to seek funds and other support:

Before receiving grants:

  • Build trust by demonstrating commitment and competency.
  • Be willing to do whatever it takes to keep things moving and not have to wait on others to staff the work.
  • Develop agreement and a common vision with clear expectations of project, deadlines and costs.
  • Framework - comfort level
  • Ensure environmental compliance is in place. Delays waiting on compliance reviews and approvals, which are difficult to control and resolve, can be a major source of frustration to funders looking for timely, on the-ground results.

After receiving grants:

  • Design, construction, reporting, inspections, etc.
  • Be available and responsive to requests from grantor.
  • Complete projects on schedule.
  • Prepare timely project completion report with photos.
  • Publicize the successes.
  • Recognize grantor. Make them look good.
  • Be patient.

3. Considerations:

  • Always meet funding sources' needs and interests - this is a cardinal rule in successful grantsmanship. Do your research. Point out connections between your project and their interests. Make it easy for them to connect the dots. Be on the look out for opportunity projects with funder appeal.
  • Ensure ongoing operational responsibility.
  • Be fully aware of matching requirements and show when you can leverage their grant award amount beyond a straight match.
  • If sources don't like to fund federal agencies, involve a sponsor or a partner to apply for and manage the funds.
  • Build some contingency fund amount into cost and schedule estimates since even the best planned construction projects encounter unanticipated complications.

Scott's Bluff National Monument

Scott's Bluff National Monument has enjoyed a consistently high success rate of obtaining grants from government and foundation sources. Superintendent Ken Mabery attributes a number of factors to his park's ability to get grants:

  • The park tries to ensure that key staff in each division receive formal grants training. They use regionally-available grants writing courses from commercial vendors. The Superintendent believes staff gets a broader exposure to grant writing through these "external" courses.
  • All grant applications are reviewed by each operational division within the park, including administration, to ensure that each program perspective is reflected in the application. The process adds value through reviews from multiple perspectives and ensures the richest content in the grant applications.
  • Most of the park's grant applications involve multiple sponsors who review them and provide content and depth before they are finalized. Co-sponsors also write letters of endorsement.
  • Scott's Bluff is along the California and Oregon Trail Routes and regional institutions are ready to invest in initiatives that support tourism and visitation to help support the local economy. The park has scored well on grants for cultural and heritage projects/programs. The park is also pursuing the Children in Nature initiatives to relate to regional residents.
  • The Superintendent pointed out that the same effectiveness principles that work for drafting the park's PMIS entries, which is a similar competition for available funds, can be applied to grant writing.

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