Getting a Head Start on Grantseeking in 2012: What You Need to Know to Prepare
Thursday, September 15, 2011
By Christopher Haight
September can be an important marker for a lot of yearly transitions - students from kindergarten to graduate school return to the classroom, Fall begins, Monday night Football returns. However, for public agencies and nonprofit organizations, it should also herald the start to a new season of grantseeking.
The Federal government is set to wrap up its tumultuous Fiscal Year 2011 (FY2011) come September 30th - meaning there is likely little in the way of new grant opportunities from 2011 funding. During this transitory period, grantseekers should take a prospective look at the funding landscape and what they will need to know and do in these crucial months of preparation.
Both novice and experienced grantseekers should take away some important lessons from FY2011 and embark on a more comprehensive perspective to planning for grants.
Surveying the Landscape
Firstly and perhaps most importantly, grantseekers should understand that no grant program can be considered "safe" in the new age of austerity. Through the multiple funding bills that kept the government functioning up until the final agreement in March, Congress eliminated grants such as Improving Literacy Through School Libraries and Enhancing Education Through Technology. Even security-related funding pots took a hit, as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security saw its first budgetary reductions since its inception a decade ago.
Grantseekers would be best advised to keep a realistic perspective: Eliminated programs are unlikely to be brought back to life and remaining programs will have to fight just to maintain level funding. Those likely to succeed are programs that have a strong backing from either the Obama administration or Congress.
For example, in the early debates over FY2012 spending bills, the House Committee bill eliminated the popular Assistance to Firefighters Grants (worth approximately $400 million annually) - funding that has since been restored in draft versions of the bill as it progressed. Similarly, the Obama administration pushed hard to include funds for its prioritized programs in education like Race to the Top - even if that meant sacrificing other, less well-known programs.
It would be helpful to survey the grants landscape from 2011 to see what was funded and at what levels - this will provide a starting point to form a list of target opportunities. With Congress back in session and FY2012 funding bills at the top of the agenda, following the political developments will also be of utmost importance to determine what final shape 2012 spending will take.
Identifying Diverse Funding Sources
The second key consideration grantseekers should take in preparation for 2012 is the state of competition for funding. Frequently, public agencies and nonprofit organizations find themselves up against more applicants for smaller pots of money. There are several strategies grantseekers can deploy to adapt to this new reality.
One is a keystone piece of advice more typically associated with your retirement accounts than grants is to diversify. This can be done in multiple ways, such as looking to other agencies across the government. Institutions of higher education can supplement grant income by looking outside the Department of Education and towards those offered by the Department of Labor. Nonprofit community organizations may be surprised to find they can find different grant opportunities across the Departments of Education, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as from agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Another option would be to look for new, mutually beneficial partnerships in applying for grants. Partnering can help organizations within the same community apply for larger sums of grant funding than they may otherwise be able to qualify for as individual applicants.
Meaningful collaborations can also make your applications more competitive relative to others by demonstrating that there is community-wide buy-in. Funders - both government and private - prefer to see there are multiple stakeholders who will want to ensure the project succeeds and sustains its positive impact well beyond the grant period.
Building Better Projects
Even with the challenges of limited budgets and increased competition, grantseekers should also use this time to build grant-eligible projects, especially when looking towards federal funding. Grants Office commonly receives requests for research on grant opportunities that are equipment-centric, which often proves the least optimal approach for securing grant funding, as funders prefer to be a part of a larger initiative focused on end results and outcomes. With this in mind, grantseekers should start the process not with "What do we need?" in mind but rather, "What do we want to accomplish?"
A recent article in the New York Times (http://tinyurl.com/3msdnl5) highlighted what many grant funders find problematic in equipment or technology-focused applications in the education field: even with the additional procurement of the latest technologies, student performance remained flat. While there are arguments for technology being ably used to improve academic achievement, the mere fact that a school hasn't been able to upgrade its computers in the past few years will hardly be a convincing sell to most funders. Technology and equipment should be viewed more as the means to an end, rather than the goal itself.
Grantseekers, whether in education or other sectors, should seek to build strategies and initiatives based on research or replicate proven successes in order to increase their odds of securing funding. Positioning a project with a strong academic or theoretical background makes even clearer to funders that all necessary due diligence has been performed and the money will be in good hands.
Putting these three key aspects of grantseeking together can help build a successful grantseeking strategy. First, evaluate the funding landscape - try to gauge what will likely to be available again and what, unfortunately, will not. With this in mind, next try to identify key opportunities across source of grants that you would like to target in the coming year. Finally, begin planning grant-eligible projects by embracing an outcomes-oriented perspective and referencing previous years' guidelines and funded applications to see what it takes to succeed.
Given these demands and complexity of building a well-researched project, it is also important to keep in mind the timeframe of many grant programs. A typical timeline will typically have a Request for Proposals (RFP) released four to six weeks ahead of the actual application deadline. Be advised - this can be a severe time crunch if crucial project details (including budget and management items) are not somewhat developed beforehand. In addition to developing the actual project details, putting it all in writing can be even more onerous, as federal grants can require over thirty pages just for the narrative. Getting started now gives you a head start on the competition.
Grantseeking is not as easy as it may seem at first glance. It is just as
much about strategizing and planning as it is finding and applying. Still, with a better understanding of and firm commitment to grantseeking as a long-term process, organizations can continue to succeed in winning critical grant dollars. A more challenging grants landscape does not necessarily need to mean an impossible one.
Grant Programs to Consider for 2012
We list below some of the top grant opportunities likely to be funded again in 2012:
Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grants: These grants were first made available in 2011 with funding from the student loan reform law passed in conjunction with the healthcare reform law from 2010. This funding provides grants ranging in size from $2.5 million to $20 million to support development and expansion of two-year workforce development programs that target high-growth industries. Because the program was authorized and funded through its original legislation, it will be less susceptible to cuts or elimination through the annual appropriations process.
Assistance to Firefighters Grants: These grants, available to fire departments and nonaffiliated EMS organizations, support equipment and vehicle acquisition. Although a target
in early stages of the appropriations process in 2011, Congress restored funding by the time the final Continuing Resolution passed. A similar trend seems to be setting up for 2012, with funding likely to be restored by the time Congress agrees on final numbers for the year. As one of the few sources of funding available specifically for firefighters, this grant program benefits from a persuasive constituency.
Justice Assistance Grants: Justice Assistance Grants, available through formula and competitive grant pathways, represent a large bulk of federal funding available for local law enforcement initiatives. Given this scope, it is unlikely the entire pot of funding would be eliminated, although it may be open to restructuring (for example, consolidating it into a competitive-only program).
School-Based Health Centers: Much like the Trade Adjustment Assistance Grants, this funding stream was authorized and funded by the health care reform law - meaning it does not require funding from the annual appropriations bills. This means that unless Congress acts to rescind the money provided, there should be another competition. Funding from these grants support capital and equipment requests from school-based health centers or their sponsoring organizations (schools, hospitals, etc.).