Private funding for public safety: Vital info to have before you apply for grants

Once you identify a good prospect and you understand which type of foundation you are dealing with, there is still more work to do before you can submit a grant application. You will need to do some research to learn more about the foundation and its giving practices. The Foundation Center website is a great tool for this, but you should also look at the foundation’s own website (if it has one), annual report, grant guidelines (request by telephone or email if they are not available online), and a recent IRS form 990-PF (available free at

Before you contact a foundation about funding your specific program or department, you need to know the following pieces of information:

The foundation’s mission and current priorities to ensure that your program or department fits within its current focus.
Names of important people in the foundation (for example the president of the board of directors), so that you can address your letter of inquiry or cover letter for your grant proposal to a specific individual.
Geographic focus and fields of interest to ensure that you are eligible to apply for grant funds.
Past grant recipients will tell you whether the foundation funds agencies like yours.
Average grant size and range of awards will help you determine the correct grant amount to request.
Number of grants made each year and number of grant applications received to help you determine your chances of receiving a grant award.
Types of support provided (for example some foundations only provide start-up support or program support, while others provide general operating support), so that your budget request includes only the categories funded by the foundation.
Application guidelines will enable you to prepare an application packet that meets the foundation’s specific requirements.

Doing your homework is a vital step in the process of pursuing private funding for your public safety programs. It is important for two reasons. First, your time is valuable. You want to ensure that your expertise and hard work are not wasted by writing and submitting grant proposals that have no chance of success. Before you start preparing a grant application, check to make sure that the foundation provides grants in your area, to agencies like yours, and for your specific type of project.

Second, you want to submit the best possible grant proposal to a private foundation. The more you know about a foundation, the better able you are to tailor your application to its specific interests and priorities. Knowing the name of the foundation director will allow you to address your grant proposal to the person in charge, which will attract attention to your application. Knowing the foundation’s average grant size and range will help you prepare a grant budget request that corresponds to that foundation’s giving practices. 

About the author

Sarah Whelan is a Senior Grant Writer for Police Grants Help. She has worked in the law enforcement field since 1995 and has been writing grants for over 13 years. To date, she has helped more than fifty police departments and sheriff’s offices identify funding opportunities and prepare high-quality grant applications to seek funding for their programs. Ms. Whelan earned a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice, with specialization in Criminology and Research, from Northeastern University. Her previous work experience includes roles as Director for the Fenway Anti-Crime Task Force, Information Officer for the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Training Council, and Director of Grants and Finance for the City of New Bedford Police Department. Ms. Whelan has earned $20 million in grant funding for clients across the country through proposals to federal, state, local, corporate, and private funders. As a recognized expert in grant writing, Ms. Whelan’s grant-related articles have appeared in International Association of Chiefs of Police Net Alert, Connecticut Chiefs of Police Association Hotline, New Jersey Police Chief Magazine, and Police and Security News. She currently lives in Connecticut and runs her own professional writing business.

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