Developing a successful grant strategy for a law enforcement agency Part I
A common dilemma for law enforcement agencies is that, more often than not, there isn’t a formal system in place for an effective grants program. It’s a rare agency that actually has a grant professional on staff, someone who has the education, experience and expertise to find, apply for and manage grants.
The more typical scenario is that someone hears about a grant opportunity, or a need is discovered for equipment or technology that can’t be covered under your current budget, so someone is assigned to “work on it.” That someone may be put in that position because of his experience with the subject matter (such as information technology, traffic safety and enforcement, homeland security, or patrol) or – and you may be surprised how often this happens – because he has been assigned to a position that includes desk time and a computer.
What could possibly go wrong?
As a grant professional it almost hurts me to say this, but the reality is that you don’t have to hire a full time grant person to have a good grants program. What is imperative, however, is that an agency develops a system that will support acquiring and managing grants effectively, even if a different person is put in the grant position on a routine basis. That commitment has to come from the top.
Law enforcement agencies are very good at implementing and following procedures. Understanding expectations and ensuring follow-through is the essence of good policing. Thankfully, that works well for grants, too.
This cannot be overstated: In an agency without a dedicated grants office staff, everyone should be actively involved in the process. Make a discussion about grants – what you need, any opportunities that are available – part of the agenda for regularly scheduled staff meetings. When everyone is thinking about it, you are more likely to find great opportunities.
Developing the processes:
Research – There are actually two different types of research associated with grants. One is finding those things that will help you do your job better; the other is finding a way to fund it.
The first part is simple – just ask any officer who recently attended a conference or workshop. Most of them come away from these events with great ideas for improving how the agency does its job. From new technology to modern patrol equipment, there isn’t a shortage of items to spend money on or personnel with an interest in finding them. Some of the best ideas come from those who are doing the work on a daily basis. Let them be part of the process.
One way to harness this valuable energy is to develop a protocol for disseminating information up the chain of command to the decision makers. Develop a “Project Information” document that can be filled out by anyone in the agency. Put it out on the internal drive as a fillable document for ease of use. Information on the form should include:
- Who is submitting the form (name, division, position)
- What is being requested
- Why it is being requested (the problem and expected outcomes)
- How much it costs
The form should be routed for approval by direct supervisors up to a decision maker who can assess its potential to add value to the agency.
Approving the project is just the first step. The next one is finding a funding source.
Anyone can find grant opportunities. For federal grants, look at grants.gov, which lists every available opportunity with links to the actual solicitation. Don’t overlook your local municipal government or even state funders. Private foundations (many associated with local or franchise businesses) are also good resources to look to. A simple online search should provide you with a wealth of information.
Approval to pursue a grant opportunity – Make sure the procedures set up to this point include not only Administration’s approval but also require approval from Budget and Personnel divisions. Getting a grant is an obligation and, once it is awarded, a legally binding contract between the agency and the funder.
When a potential funding opportunity is found, someone within this process has to be responsible for tearing the solicitation apart to see what the requirements and obligations are before time is spent on developing the application.
If you don’t have a grant person in place to coordinate this part, you can request the department that would benefit from the funding work on putting this together. To make it easier to accomplish and more uniform in content, create a form that asks the funder’s name, when the application is due, the maximum amount available, if a match is required, and any specific performance measures and outcomes that are expected to be met. You definitely have to know this before you make the decision to apply.
It’s a good idea for someone in the Budget department to read the full solicitation, just in case something is in there that may not seem important to another department but is very important when considering its impact on the agency’s finances.
One important note: Most grant opportunities are time-sensitive, meaning the amount of time you have to approve the project and develop a full application is short (usually 4-6 weeks for a federal grant). So don’t let this part lag if there is an open opportunity you want to pursue.
Next month: Part II – Creating an Application