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Playing the Grant Game

Money is out there for new equipment and officers, but winning it requires you to apply for it, follow the rules, and push every button.

August 02, 2011  |  by Ronnie Garrett

But Caves emphasizes conferences and seminars such as those offered by might be the best place to pinpoint available funds. "They organize the info and present it without a lot of fluff," he says. "But if you go once and never go again, then you're not going to be effective, because grants change. What was a solid grant program 20 years ago probably doesn't exist today because of policy changes. You need to get this training every year."

Dot the I's and Cross the T's

Successfully completing a grant application is a lot like taking a test. If test-takers follow the directions and do things as instructed they pass but if they don't, they fail, says Stark.

"Grant writers need to read the directions carefully," she says. "Every grant will be slightly different and require different things in the application."

Failing to follow directions is a good way to get a grant application thrown out, agrees Caves. "You have to read the instructions-even if they're 80 pages long-to find out the types of projects the grant promotes and what's required in the application."

Carefully reading directions also helps grant writers pick up buzzwords to use in their grant proposals. According to Caves, doing so shows they did their homework.

Instructions typically provide a long list of approved and blacklisted purchases. A department asking to use the money to purchase unapproved items will quickly be denied funding. "When I was a reviewer for the Department of Justice, we often found that people asked for things we specifically said we would not fund," Caves says.

Caves cautions agencies not to apply for money just for the sake of doing so. The department's needs and mission must match those of the funding source. "Unless your mission matches theirs, you're going to be spinning your wheels," he says. "When you have a match, send out a proposal and hope for the best."

Be Prepared

The Boy Scouts of America motto "Be Prepared" is one to follow in grant writing. Agencies that look for money but lack data to complete their applications will be unable to file them in time.

"Deadlines are swift and that's one reason you need to prepare ahead of time," says Stark. "You need to know what you're planning to apply for, collect the information that shows a need, and have it ready so when the grant opens you're ready to move."

Advance preparations should include registering for e-grants filing with to obtain a DUNS number and applying for a Central Contractor Registry Number, then registering both numbers with state government. "This needs to be done in advance because the process can take weeks," says Stark.

Grants also ask for community statistics and demographics. It's not enough to say: "We have a lot of violent crime in our jurisdiction." Most grants require agencies to submit Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) reports and other data to demonstrate need.

"We're finding many police departments haven't recorded this information," says Schlegal, author of "Grant Writing-Show Me the Money." "If you don't participate in the UCR, then you don't get the funding. It takes you out of the ballgame altogether."

Being prepared also includes knowing what tools and technologies your department needs, adds Caves. As a grant writer for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Caves began collecting a wish list in January. He encouraged every employee and every unit to submit ideas for items their budgets could not pay for, whether these were new bullet-resistant vests, better digital cameras, or in-car computers. He organized this list in November and provided it to management for approval by January 1.

"When grants opened, I already had my ducks in a row," he says. "I knew what I was going to pursue for grants for the year at the same time I began collecting information for the next year."

Even if the application window has closed and funds have been awarded, Caves encourages checking in with funding agencies toward the end of their fiscal year. "If a funding source cannot get their money spent by year's end, their money for the following year gets cut," he explains. "If you talk to them two months before the end of their fiscal year, they might have funds available for your program or project."

North Carolina once had a judge throwing out DUI charges because citations had been issued at a checkpoint that lacked signage to warn motorists of the checkpoint. Caves asked the Governor's Highway Safety Program for grant money to pay for signage, and they quickly provided it. This funding wouldn't have been available if the department hadn't asked for it, Caves says.

Spend Wisely

Everyone's heard the scuttlebutt over economic stimulus funding, and concerns over whether it was appropriately awarded and spent. Once agencies receive grant monies, it's essential to spend it as their applications said they would.

"A grant is not a blank check that you can spend as you please," says Caves. "It's for you to do exactly what you said you were going to do when you requested the grant."

The funding source must approve any deviations in spending, even for changes that might seem intuitive. Let's say a grant was for 18 computers and, because the price of these computers dropped, the department can now buy 20 instead of 18 for the same amount of cash. "You can't do that without permission," says Caves. "The Feds get really bent out of shape if you change any terms. If you said you were going to buy 18 computers, you better buy 18 computers, unless you receive written authorization from the funding source."

Most grants also require reporting on a scheduled basis, adds Stark. If agencies fail to report on time or do not include the information required, they can be asked to return the money.

While securing grant funding is not a quick process, Caves points out it "can be a very effective tool" that helps police departments drum up the money they need.

"It is a very stressful time," he says. "But stressful times are times of opportunity." And grants are just one opportunity cash-strapped agencies may not want to pass up.

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wisc.

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