by Dawn Kennedy
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part feature on finding funding for your department. Part I addresses how to find grants you may be interested in applying for. Part II will explain how your department can apply for Non-Profit status. Part III will provide other funding opportunities, such as the “1033” Program, which may allow your agency to receive used equipment directly, and corporate giving programs that donate to agencies. At the Ready is not only committed to informing you about great technology, but will provide the information you need to actually procure it, train on it, and use it at your agency.
One of the challenges many first responder agencies face is funding replacement equipment, upgrades, new equipment, and training. The budget never seems to align with the need, and tough choices always have to be made. Funding is available from a variety of sources, but for many small municipalities the idea of applying for grants seems overwhelming and difficult. True, it is a process, and it does require some finesse, but grant money can help you fund the equipment and training your agency needs. There are accountability requirements, reports must be made and submitted, and the money must be spent in compliance with the grant award, but understanding and accepting these ethical duties can strip away the mystery that is the burden of grants.
What a Grant is—and isn’t
First and foremost—forget the guy on TV who runs around claiming that “millions of dollars in grants are just waiting for you to apply.” There are no magic pots of money sitting around for your every desire. Grants are released with a specific purpose in mind. While some of the grant descriptions may be broad, the application must fit within the intended purpose. Grant money is money from the Federal, State, or Local government, or a private corporation, that when used for the purpose awarded does not need to be paid back to the funding source. Scholarships are for training events. Money of both types is available, but you must find them and apply for them in a timely manner.
Preparing to research funding opportunities
The internet is a great resource for finding grant opportunities, but before you start looking, make sure your agency registers, and that your community is able to submit for the fiscal year. For Federal Grant Opportunities, Grants.gov tells interested parties, “The registration process for an Organization or an Individual can take between three to five business days or as long as four weeks if all steps are not completed in a timely manner. So please register early!” The process for registering Organizations can be found here.
• The organization (often a municipality) must have a DUNS number: http://fedgov.dnb.com/webform, which is free if you need one to apply for grants. You can get one immediately by calling 1-866-705-5711.
• Your agency must register with the System for Award Management (SAM) https://www.sam.gov/portal/public/SAM/ with the Tax ID Number (TIN).
• Identify the Authorized Representative to apply and be responsible for the grant. Complete the AOR (Authorized Organization Representative) profile on Grants.gov and create a username and password. You will need to use your organization's DUNS Number to complete this step https://apply07.grants.gov/apply/OrcRegister.
• If your municipality or organization already has an “e-business” Point of Contact, the E-Business Point of Contact (E-Biz POC) at your organization must log in to Grants.gov to confirm you as an Authorized Organization Representative (AOR). Please note that there can be more than one AOR for your organization. In some cases the E-Biz POC is also the AOR for an organization. *Time depends on responsiveness of your E-Biz POC.
• That’s it! You are registered for Federal Grant Opportunities! Here is the link to “log in” and check that you are an AOR and ready to research!
At the STATE level, the registration process may be different, but many states do require similar information requested for federal level grants. For example, visiting http://www.ca.gov/grants.html will provide information on opportunities available from California. Do not neglect to check your state level!
What is a “Best Match”?
Once registered, let the research begin! “Best Match” grants are those that you are most likely to be awarded. Considerations are eligibility, purpose, budget, and implementation plan. Grants are time-sensitive, so the “open” and “closing” dates are critical. If you are not yet registered, don’t bother trying to get into a grant opportunity that closes this Friday. Most grants open with little notice, and close in 30-45 days. Some will say “Open for the fiscal year.” For federal this means September 30th, but these are not too common. You can sign up for emails that will alert you to the opening of particular opportunities. Some of the most common Federal Grant Funding Opportunities for Responders can be found within these agencies:
• Office of Justice Programs: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/funding/funding.htm Since many of the grants from this agency are awarded to State Agencies, look here to see which agencies at your state may receive awards http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/saa/index.htm. The states may then award the funds. Contact info for your state agencies is included.
• Other OJP opportunities are available to help provide Crime Victim Services: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/grants/
• FEMA: http://www.fema.gov/grants offers grants for non-disaster related programs, such as Preparedness Grants: http://www.fema.gov/preparedness-non-disaster-grants and the Assistance to Firefighter Grants http://www.fema.gov/welcome-assistance-firefighters-grant-program among others.
• Department of Justice (DOJ): One of their grant programs, “COPS,” is available to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/Default.asp?Item=46
The most important thing to check IMMEDIATELY, after the opening and closing dates, is the identification of WHO is eligible to apply. Within the notice, you will see a list like this:
Native American tribal governments (Federally recognized)
Special district governments
City or township governments
Public and State controlled institutions of higher education.
Do NOT waste time preparing a grant application if your agency is not listed as an eligible applicant—it will be rejected outright! If you are a county government agency, do not apply for grants that are available only to state agencies. This is a critical, and often overlooked, step in determining “Best Matches.” Next step? What are you seeking funding FOR?
Within the summary of the grant notice there is a broad purpose statement, but only within the (often many) pages of the announcement are the specific categories to be funded spelled out. If the grant does not say that equipment will be funded, it won’t be funded. If the grant states that additional positions will not be funded, you cannot hire people with the money. The purpose will be stated early in the announcement, typically within the first ten pages or so, and there is a list of what will be funded under the award. If you need more personnel AND equipment, you may need to submit to two opportunities if you cannot find the “magic” one.
The budget available must also be considered. There is a “ceiling” listed for each award; not infrequently people see “$10 Million available under this grant” and believe that is what the award is. It may actually be ten $1 million dollar awards, or many smaller ones. Ten million dollars goes a looong way if 100 awards are given for $100,000 each, and $100,000 buys a lot of equipment in most cases. The “ceiling” is the maximum amount that EACH award will be; the “grant ceiling” is the cap for ALL awards under the grant. Additionally, the funding may run for more than one year, so the grant may distribute 1/3 of the funds the first year, 1/3 the second, and 1/3 the third. It varies. You will know right away, with a little reading, whether the grant is something you want to apply for. It is important to know what you need funding for before you go researching.
Overcoming the Obstacles to Applying
You’ve registered, you found an opportunity that looks like a great match, you know what you are funding and how much it will be. You are even under the award ceiling, so you have a good chance to be selected. Now you must get approval to submit from your City Council, or whoever else would be the relevant agency with which you need to coordinate. Find out who in your municipality has submitted grant applications before. Someone will have to herd the cats, make sure the documents are in order, and submit the application online BY THE APPLICATION DEADLINE. Don’t panic. Make a plan. The great person who registered you, the e-biz POC, probably knows how to upload stuff to a website. With a great action plan explaining the need, the opportunity for funding, and your implementation plan, you can get approval. Coordinate with a few members of your department—one who is good with budgets and math, one who is good at project planning, and one who is good with writing—and you will form a great team. You already know who in your department has these skills.
The Application Process
FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS TO THE LETTER. That is the big hint for applying. Answer the following questions: WHAT is the funding going to be used for and HOW will it be used? Have a great implementation plan. Go into detail. Put together an accurate timeline. If it will take 10 days for the city garage to install some equipment, give it 21 days in your plan, just to ensure you meet your implementation timeline. Identify who is the overall Implementation Lead. Which person in your department will ensure the plan is followed? Chief? Captain? Put that person down, do not leave it to the grant committee to figure out how you will be successful in using the award according to their purpose. Your odds of winning go way down when they have to guess. Stick to the page limits. Include all required attachments. Get it in on time. It may seem overwhelming when you have 30-45 days to prepare your submission, so start thinking about it before you start researching!
Now We Wait
Grants close on time. If the date of closing is August 8th at 4 p.m., that is when it closes. You cannot upload after that time. The hardest part is the waiting. The notice will tell you when awards will be announced, and it varies. 30 days after close? September? Each opportunity will tell you when awardees will be announced. You can track your application for federal grants at http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/applicants/track-my-application.html For more information on what happens to your application after submission, visit http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/applicants/applicant-faqs/tracking-an-a...
Best of luck! Our next installment will cover some other ways to get the funding and equipment you need to stay At the Ready.
Dawn Kennedy is the CEO of At the Ready Publications, LLC, former Firefighter/ Paramedic and acquisition professional for both the DoD and UNEQ consulting, LLC.