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November 16, 2011

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Who needs SARA? 3 tips for grant writing

If you've graduated from a police academy within the past 15 years, you probably remember learning about SARA. SARA is great to have on your side and will definitely keep you focused and moving into the right direction when it comes to solving those pesky problems. But will SARA really help you when it comes to writing a grant?

Meet SARA
SARA is the Community Oriented Policing model of problem solving and stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response & Assessment. The model provides a sort of template for looking at problems within the community and developing a methodical response and a long-term solution so the problem doesn’t arise again. Many times, grant funds are needed in order to enhance the ability to respond to these problems or to create those long-term solutions. However, I often see that the written grant application really doesn’t demonstrate just how that proposed solution will solve the problem at hand.

Let’s start off with the problem. Believe it or not, you have one. If you are seeking funds to purchase some sort of equipment or start some sort of new program, you have identified a need. I haven’t really heard of anyone willing to take on some sort of large, long-term task just for fun lately. Inside your grant application, you will have the opportunity to express what that need is. Generally, most applications are really strong in this section. It certainly is the easier part to write since you already have the statistics in place and plenty of stories to use as examples of the need. But this is only one section of the application and grants aren’t necessarily awarded on need alone, but on the ability to resolve the need. The key word in that sentence is ability.

So often I read through applications and ask, “Why should I think this is the resolve to the problem?” When a grant is reviewed and scored, the reviewer is looking for the answer to that very question. So here are some simple ways to convey your message and convince the reader of your ability to use their money to meet a community need.

1.) Clearly state how your solution will address the specific problem at hand. You may be able to solve many problems with these funds but be sure the problem area discussed in the statement of need is addressed and is the primary topic. It’s kind of like when a guy goes out on a group date with a new girlfriend. If his ultimate goal is to develop a relationship with that girl, he better pay attention to her that night and not his friends. Not that I’ve ever done that.

2.) State how your department has the ability to resolve this issue with the plan you are putting forth. Include information such as your success rate with other grant funded projects, the support you have of community leaders and stakeholders and strategies you will be using that are proven. What steps do you have in place to monitor the success of the project and do you have contingency plans if the project doesn’t go as planned to still make it successful? Why is that piece of equipment “the one”? Most importantly, who are you working with to resolve the issue and create that long-term solution? Collaboration is a huge word in the grant world today and grant makers want their money to go further and help as many people out as possible.

3.) Create goals and objectives for your project that are realistic and that will make an impact. Make sure they are directly related to addressing the problem and cover a wide range of solutions. For example, don’t just focus on how arrests will put offenders behind bars but on how education will empower parents, teachers and others to prevent the situation in the first place. When identifying goals, statistics are great ways to show the greatest impact, but make them realistic. Increasing an arrest or compliance rate by 20% is a little lofty for a short term goal because the goal is based on the actions of people, which may not always happen as anticipated. But, increasing an arrest or compliance rate by 2-5% each quarter could be very feasible since it addresses resolving the problem in smaller quantities. Remember, it’s not quantity that determines success but quality.

So the next time you decide to pull SARA out of the box and put her to good use in your community, don’t forget to include her in your grant application. She won’t steer you wrong, for sure.