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JAG funding: Plan ahead or fall behind

Here are 10 ways to help you get organized and plan ahead for your grant application

On the first day, the Bureau of Justice Assistance created a grant in honor of the late Officer Edward R. Byrne in order to enhance and strengthen law enforcement capabilities nationwide. The program was commonly referred to as "JAG.” It was a lot of money and it was good.

On the second day, the local JAG solicitation list was announced and many police agencies cheered as they had money available from BJA specifically for them to fund that much needed project; and it was good.

On the third day the Chief took advantage of a commonly used leadership practice known as delegation and assigned that grant application task to some unsuspecting subordinate (that’s you) who willingly said “Yes, I’d love to do it.” And it was good…for the chief at least.

On the fourth day the lucky guy contacted the vendor and got a written quote for his department's important project, things were on track and it was good.

On the fifth day, the officer got busy with his “normal” duties and wasn’t able to spend time on the grant application but realized that he still had two more days before it was due and he would just spend the entire day on it tomorrow.

On the sixth day, the officer started the day off with a bang and began gathering those all-important stats, compiling that budget and knocking that grant application out. But then he got a phone call. It was duty calling. There had been a robbery and he had to go work the scene and help interview witnesses. He returned to his office late in the day and realized he needed to finish that application because it was due tomorrow and he needed to get the chief to sign off on it. So he stayed late into the night and finally got it all finished. It wasn’t so good anymore but hey, he was done right?

On the seventh day it was time to get that application signed off on and submitted to BJA. Our hero proudly walks into the chief’s office and hands over the grant for his signature. The chief looks at the grant and says “Great job. Now, take it down to city hall and have accounting review the budget and make sure it is correct.” Accounting gives him the big “OK” and he returns to the police department after a couple of hours. The chief takes the grant, reviews it and makes “a few changes.” After all the changes are complete and a few phone calls are made to clarify some information, the chief gets the grant back and says “Great job. Now, take it down to city hall and have the city manager review it.”

“Seriously??????” Off to city hall he goes to spend a couple of hours with the city manager. He has a few questions about the project and is concerned that the goals aren’t realistic. Additionally, he doesn’t know if the city really needs this equipment and the project may need the approval of the city council. He needs to call the chief and the city attorney so he’ll just wait outside the city manager's office and he’ll get back with him in a bit. After all of that is over he can finally get the chief’s signature, upload those documents and submit his application; as long as his internet connection stays up.

Chances are he’ll now say “I’ll be more organized next time and plan ahead.”

Planning is crucial when it comes to grant writing. Federal and state grants require the applicant to know so many technical rules and follow so many guidelines that the process can become overwhelming, fast. Here are 10 ways to help you get organized and plan ahead for your grant application.

  1. Prepare in advance. If you are the grant writer for your department, or know you will soon be, learn about what the typical grant application requires and begin gathering your project information in advance. For example, if you are going to apply for your state's traffic safety grant, look up the application from last year and see what information it requires. Chances are, it will be the same application with a few minor changes on it, if any.
  2. Read the instructions and attend training. All grant applications come with instructions, and many come with a FAQ document. Read those thoroughly. Within those documents you will find some awesome clues as to what the reviewers will be looking for. In this year’s JAG Local Solicitation, you will find this statement: “…we strongly encourage state and local planners to consider programs that are evidence-based and have been proven effective.” This should tell you that as you request funding for that speed trailer, you need to research how that equipment has made an impact on speeding violations, and ultimately crash data, within jurisdictions already using one. Preferably, choose someplace close to you so you can tie their results into your current need. Don’t just rely on generic stats; make it real.
  3. Know your local grant process. Don’t even begin to work on that application until you know what your city or county’s requirements are for submitting grants. The process can be as simple as having the chief sign off on it or it could be as complex as needing the approval of the entire governing body. I have seen internal processes consist of each application needing no less than six different organizational administrators give the green light before the application can be signed and submitted.
  4. Make notes. As you read through those instructions and learn about the grant process, be sure to make plenty of notes. The following tools are essential for this process: pen or pencil, highlighter, Post-it notes and Post-it flags. You can’t go wrong now.
  5. Create a timeline and stick to it. Make things a bit easier and lay out all of the tasks you need to complete the application and put it into a timeline. Breaking the work into smaller parts will make things more manageable and keep you from being overwhelmed. Send that timeline to your supervisor or a co-worker so they can keep you accountable for your deadlines.
  6. Read the instructions. Did I mention how important this is? You’re not assembling a piece of furniture so actually read them this time.
  7. Make a rough draft. As I work on an application, I will print it out and make some notes here and there on things I want or need to change. Additionally, I will highlight areas where I am missing information or think I need to double check on my information. When I print out my final copy, I go through my rough draft and check off my notes in red pen to ensure I made all of the necessary changes.
  8. Take a break. One of the most important aspects of writing is to get up and walk away every now and then. When you spend enormous amounts of time writing one document you can easily become unaware of simple mistakes you are making. So take a couple of breaks to freshen up your eyes and your mind and get back to it. Besides, since you’re following all of my tips, you’ll have plenty of time to get the application completed because you will be incredibly organized, right?
  9. Proofread. Believe it or not, before this article got published it was proofread by an editor. Now, he will make a few changes (only a few) here and there as he sees necessary so I don’t look dumb in front of you with a grammatically incorrect document. This is a good practice for your grant application. Find someone who is willing to review your information and help you make any necessary changes or even give you some wording advice. This will ensure a professional-looking and accurate application.
  10. Submit it early. Or at least plan on it in your timeline. If you plan to submit the grant one or two days before the submission deadline, you have some wiggle room in case something goes wrong. This will allow you time to correct information, adjust your budget or address any other concerns that may arise and still get the application in on time. In this age of technology, we need to be aware of equipment malfunctions that can and will occur. So what if the BJA website goes down on the submission date? Your application is already uploaded and you’ve moved on to the next project. Good job!
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