Applying for grants is a detailed and multi-step process, but following are 10 steps that will help ensure a strong proposal. Before beginning Step 1, research which grants you are eligible for and information about the agency providing the grant; determine which federal and state agencies offer grants for their specific areas of activity and information about those grants, including the funding priorities, application procedures and submission deadlines; and, contact the person responsible for reviewing grant proposals at the agency to start building a relationship. Eventually, that person can become a reliable source of information.

While the following steps and examples were mainly developed for those applying for public safety and interoperability grants, the same basic concepts can be applied to just about any grant application. However, be sure to check the guidance for specific requirements of any grant for which you are applying.

For example, the requirements for a Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) grant may be much different than those for an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant or a Smart Grid Investment grant. There are simply too many grant programs offered to have a uniform set of guidelines across of all of them.

To find out more about individual grant programs and the agencies that are offering them, visit www.grants.gov. The site allows visitors to search for grant opportunities by agency, category, eligibility, funding instrument type and sub-agency.

Step 1 — Begin With a Plan

The first step in writing a grant application is to give a clear view of the equipment your agency has and the resources it will need to reach its goals. Inventory all your equipment and standard operating procedures, and outline governance structures. It is extremely important to be familiar with your requirements for an enhanced system before outlining what you will need for new equipment.

You can also increase your agency's chances of securing a grant by joining with other agencies or departments with similar needs. While you may spend more time coordinating the proposal process between each other, the funding body may find it easier to award one grant to a partnership than to evaluate the applications for two or more separate agencies. In fact, many grants that fund interoperability communications now require multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional collaboration.

While later steps will address the details, the plan also should focus on:

  • How your agency plans to solve an interoperable communications problem;
  • What the project will cost and how costs will be split;
  • How your agency will measure and evaluate success; and
  • Who will be responsible for every aspect of the project.

Step 2 — Draft Your Dream Team

Getting your agency ready for a grant proposal requires a lot of preparation, and the team members preparing the proposal should have different strengths. An ideal size team is four to five members and should include number crunchers, IT-savvy individuals, statisticians, radio system trainers, stakeholders and those with creative ideas. Whether you are applying for a communications grant or any other grant, a mix of team members helps ensure that all the bases are covered and all interests of key constituents are considered.

Step 3 — Pose Your Problem

This step describes the need or problem that the project will address — frequently referred to as the Narrative Problem Statement (NPS). The NPS outlines recent issues, events, threat assessments and/or system vulnerabilities that demonstrate the need for project funding. Know that there are different local, regional and statewide requirements for this part of the proposal, so research the information you should include to comply with your state's Statewide Interoperable Communications Plan (SICP), or similar plan requirements. Use issues in your region to support the need to carry out the project, including local economic factors, special events or unfunded mandates.

An example of an effective NPS:

The purpose of this proposal is to enhance public safety radio coverage in numerous areas of the City of XYZ. Due to the geographic terrain and antiquated equipment, there are several dead spots in our jurisdiction. These dead spots prevent officers from sending or receiving radio transmissions. If an officer were to need immediate assistance, his or her ability to reach out for help is greatly compromised. Rapid population growth, increased calls for police and fire assistance, and a lack of resources dictate that we seek alternate sources for new radio equipment that will enable seamless interoperable communications throughout our jurisdiction.

Step 4 — Outline Your Outcomes

Next, the team needs to provide a statement of desired project outcomes, including a description of the outcome and benefits to be achieved from a completed project. The outline should include a chart to further detail expected outcomes with suggested indicators, targets and a timeframe, along with measurable expectations and milestones. Finally, the statement must provide specific measurements you will report to the funder at the end of the funding period.

An example of an outcome statement is:

The success of the project will be determined by the ability to communicate with each other and other jurisdictions without interruption or the system being overloaded and busy. This can be accomplished by implementation and augmentation of the mobile radios, public safety microphones, consoles and the upward expansion of the tower with additional microwaves. These additions will give our agency and other agencies a wider area of coverage as illustrated on the maps provided.

The success will be measured through testing antenna strength and will reflect the amount of power that is being used to send and receive radio signals. There will be a comparison of the communication and service that our agency currently has with the communication and service that will be provided through the added equipment.

Step 5 — Monitoring And Managing Activities

The grant proposal then must document the activities for implementing, monitoring and adapting the new communication system, as well as the project's desired results. This section should reflect conversations between your agency, partners and vendors. You also will need to reference product requirements and design documents in this section to ensure the funding agency has a clear view of the legwork performed and the solution that best fits your agency's needs. The section also should include detailed steps on how you plan to implement the radio project and state who (name and title) will be responsible for each action throughout the design and installation.

Step 6 — Find Your Future Funding

Another integral part of writing your agency's application is to propose how it plans to fund the project in the future. As many public officials can attest, large projects, like radio systems, require maintenance and other fixed costs over time, so having a source of long-term continuous funding available is a critical component of the grant process. When discussing future funding (also known as sustainability funding), always document additional potential funders who can help cover future costs.

Step 7 — The Big, Bad Budget

No grant proposal would be complete without a budget to outline the project's costs over the implementation and beyond. Pay special attention to the budget section of the application, because it receives a lot of scrutiny and review from the funding agency.

Naturally, the budget should include line-by-line details of all the project's costs broken out by year. Also, be sure to include the funds you are requesting for the project, as well as any matching funds your agency or local or state government can provide. Do not be shy about touting what you will be bringing to the table. The funding agency will want to see that you are making an effort to contribute to the system as well, instead of just asking for funds to pay for it outright.

Step 8 — Go for the Gold: Set Goals and Objectives

Along with the budget, the goals and objectives section is one of the most important parts of the grant proposal. This is your opportunity to list what you hope to achieve with the project. Often, the terms "goals" and "objectives" are used interchangeably. But, in the grant proposal process, goals are the ultimate outcomes desired over a long period of time and can be difficult to measure. Objectives are the criteria you will use to measure your methods to reach your overall goals, and are measurable and specific. Most grant applications contain one to three goals with between five and 15 objectives. Below is an example of a goals and objectives outline.

Step 9 — The Cost/Benefit Analysis and Showing Financial Need

Describe in-depth how you plan to use and save the money you are requesting. Include how the project will benefit the community, mutual aid partners and other groups. Ensure every budget item ties to the narrative statement.

Showing financial need also is a critical part of this step. Natural disasters, housing market slumps, high unemployment rates, droughts and high levels of fixed-income residents are all factors that can severely limit your ability to fund a large-scale project, so tell the funding agency about any factors that are exhausting resources.

Step 10 — Describe the Impact

Finally, describe how the project will affect operations. Interoperable communications systems will allow agencies to coordinate efforts during a disaster and in daily operations. Emphasize how the new radio system can protect critical infrastructure and help first responders perform their job efficiently and safely.

Pay attention to all the elements of the grant application process. Government agencies often fail to receive the funding they require for critical projects because they do not include all the information necessary. By using the 10 steps as a guide, you will have a fighting chance at getting the funding you need for your interoperable communications project.


Lee Connor is grant funding program manager at Harris Corp. Public Safety & Professional Communications in Melbourne, Fla.

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Where the money is

A few good places to begin your research for interoperable radio grants:

Department of Homeland Security
www.firstresponder.gov
www.dhs.gov/xgovt/grants/index.shtm

Federal Emergency Management Agency
www.fema.gov/government/grant/index.shtm

Department of Justice
www.justice.gov/10grants

Broadband grants
broadbandusa.sc.egov.usda.gov

Grants.gov
www.grants.gov

Do's and Don'ts for grant proposals

Do:

  • Tell a compelling story
  • Research, research, research
  • Follow to the letter all grant guidance rules
  • Pay attention to font, size, length, deadlines
  • Use grant guidance buzz words
  • Use active verb tense
  • Present letters of support or letters of commitment
  • Add graphics, including maps, charts and tables

Don't:

  • Make math mistakes — all numbers must tie together and add up
  • Use outdated statistics
  • Exaggerate expenses — keep all expenses necessary and reasonable

Sample Goals and Objectives

GOAL 1:
To purchase new radios and upgrade existing radios to obtain greater radio reception
OUTPUT/OUTCOME
Measure & Timeframe
Objective 1.1:
Ensure the operational implementation for forty (40) mobile radios
6 Months
10/01/09 - 04/01/10
Objective 1.2:
Ensure the operational implementation of forty (40) public safety microphones
3 Months
10/01/09 - 01/01/10
Objective 1.3:
Ensure the operational implementation of three (3) 800 MHz dispatch
12 Months
10/01/09 - 09/31/10
GOAL 2:
Purchase and install radio tower equipment for better service to all users in Counties X, Y and Z
OUTPUT/OUTCOME
Measure & Timeframe
Objective 2.1:
Conduct surveys of towers to ensure best coverage for all service areas
3 Months
10/01/09 - 01/01/10
Objective 2.2:
Extend the height of an existing tower to give optimal range of radio coverage
9 Months
01/1/10 - 09/31/10
Objective 2.3:
Ensure the operational implementation of five (5) repeaters
9 Months
01/1/10 - 09/31/10