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How to write a compelling and fundable problem statement for grants

What to say when the funder asks: “What is your problem?”

All law enforcement officers understand the need for creating a compelling case. In order to complete the cycle from arrest to prosecution you must gather all of the data and information; validate that data and information and then present it in a logical, sequential manner. Grant writing takes the same skills and abilities to create a compelling grant application.

Every request for proposal for every grant is going to ask you the same questions: “What is Your Problem?” Many grant writers have no idea how loaded that question really is. Most of the federal grant applications/request for proposals contains explicitly detailed information defining what you need to include within the scope of the problem statement. Others do not offer much information at all and expect the grant writer to understand the required contents of the problem statement. Before you begin, make sure you understand what the funder considers a problem. You can gain that information by reviewing the funder’s website and reading all materials suggested in the request for proposal. Many grant writers fail to create a sound problem statement by introducing problems that are not clearly stated in the request for proposal.

The problem statement explains the reason for the entire proposal. It should make a clear concise and well-support statement of the problem to be addressed. Each funder will define how long the problem state should be, so follow the directions carefully. The problem statement should be discussed in reasonable dimensions with a clearly defined target population and geographic area of service. The good news is that you do not need to do all of the research on your own.

Any local or state government planning office or local university should be able to provide some excellent support in the methodology of collecting community needs assessment data. Many organizations within your community have already gathered much of the data you will need. Consider contacting the local chamber of commerce, school districts, county planning offices, state data repositories, and other state and federal agencies whose focus falls within the scope of your problem. Types of data to collect depend on the problem you are interested in addressing with each grant project. Within the problem statement you cannot make any unsupported assumptions, “gut instinct statements”, or depend on anecdotal stories. The funder wants a sound, data driven discussion of the problem.

When considering the data you want to include in your problem statement assure that you present data which creates an image in the mind of the funder reading your proposal. You want the funder to clearly see the target population and grasp the full scope of the issue at hand. To do that you may not need a lot of data. A mix of internal and external data can create a full picture. Use quantitative data defined by numbers and percentages

Examples of internal/primary data could be arrest records, cost per client, number of repeat offenders, youth arrest records. Example of external/secondary data may come many sources such as, the US Census Bureau, UCR reports, state agencies such as the state department of justice, local community organization who serve the same population you are targeting within your project.

Always relate your data to your target population. Do not drown the reader with too many statistics and be as current as possible. Use tables, graphs and other charts to define and compare your problem. Images tend to speak louder than words but make sure you include a descriptor at the bottom of any graphs or charts you use to help clarify the numbers. And always keep a clear track of your sources. If you are using the internet make sure your source is legitimate and you know where you “clicked to” as you can change locations very quickly when surfing the web.

Do not be doom and gloom when you develop your problem statement. Make sure you address the community assets and resources available to support your project. The funder wants to see strong integration between your organization and the community you serve. Create your problem statement in an easy to read format, using a narrative which will peak the interest of the reader. Make the funder think “of course they need the funding”!

In order to completely understand how to write a compelling and fundable problem statement, it helps to break it down into several components

Describe the problem. Select and address a primary problem that needs to be eliminated prior to addressing any other issues. Target and address the primary problem by reviewing its history and any past efforts to ameliorate it. Describe how the community is affected. Discuss what happens if this problem/need is not addressed. Do not discuss or focus on the solution anywhere in your problem statement. Begin your problem statement with a problem as it is defined by the funder in the request for proposal. Use strong language like “critical, urgent, imminent, immediate, and dire” to describe the effect on the target population.

Identify the target population. Clearly describe the population affected by the problem. Who are the beneficiaries of this grant project? Where do they live? What is their age? What community issues affect this population in relation to the problem you described above?

Determine your community resources which address this problem. The funder will want to know what is already working and available to address this issue by community organizations. By assessing and mapping your assets and resources you can avoid duplication of service in your community. Begin to inventory the assets and resources related to your target population and the problem you are addressing in the grant. Once you have gathered the appropriate community data, create a paragraph describing these assets you have discovered. Assets may be programs in the community, related service providers, other new grant programs, local community strategic visioning or planning programs, other law enforcement partners, schools, business, etc.

Determine the need for problem resolution through a needs assessment. Gather the data needed to demonstrate that this problem is real in your community and how it compares to other similar communities. Determine what data will help support and identify the need for the project related to the target population. Who is affected by this problem? Where are they located? What economic conditions exist to create this problem? How is this problem causing harm to the target population?

Justify why grant funds should be used to solve this problem rather than local jurisdiction or agency funds. One of the pitfalls you can get into in justifying your grant is in defining the problem as a lack of program or facility. For example, the lack of a youth center in an economically depressed area is not the problem. The problem is that the youth in the area have educational and support needs not currently being addressed anywhere else in the community. The problem is not that your organization does not have the funds for a new patrol vehicle, but that certain levels and types of crime have increased in your community and the vehicle is one of the tools needed to address the increasing crime.

Once you are satisfied you have gathered enough information, begin to create the case for your funding. Allow yourself to write in a “free thinking, writing style” until you have run out of things to say about the problem. Then edit your case statement to meet the funder’s directions. It is much easier to word smith and compress your ideas and thoughts than to try and stretch them.

After you have completed your first satisfactory edit of your problem statement have it reviewed by someone outside of your field. If they can see and understand the problem you are ready to begin to create the rest of your grant application. This is the most important part of your grant. Everything else you develop within the grant will hinge on this statement. If you have focused on a single, demonstrated, real problem, the solution you build to address the problem will be easy!

If you have any questions, please feel free to email at Denise.Schlegel@policegrantshelp.com

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