It's hard to believe it has been almost 17 years since 9/11. 9/11 brought many changes to our world and specifically public safety. One of the biggest areas of change for law enforcement since 9/11 has been in funding projects.
There are three primary ways public safety agencies fund projects: budgeting, asset forfeiture, and grant funding.
Since 9/11, public safety agencies have had to rely on grant funding more and more. From 2001 to 2006, the public safety market had an abundance of grant funding available, especially federal grant funding. Today, there are still billions of dollars in grants available for public agencies to apply for and obtain. However, the rules have changed considerably since 2006, and there are many steps a public safety agency must complete to be successful.
For more than 10 years now, I have had the opportunity to speak with public safety agencies across the United States daily. Some of the public safety agencies I speak with have been tremendously successful in obtaining grant funding. Others have had little to no success. These conversations have led me to ask myself the following question: What methods or strategies can I develop that any public safety agency can deploy to obtain federal, state, or private grant funding for their projects?
This question led me to create "The 5 Keys to Asking for Grant Funding Intelligently." I developed "The 5 Keys" from content I found in the business and personal development field. The premise is the success or failure of obtaining grant funding has zero to do with available funding or other resources. It has everything to do with the public safety agency being resourceful throughout the grant funding process.
I have consulted with businesses that provide public safety solutions for over 10 years. I have worked with them to create what I call the "Grant Funding Assistance Strategy." What I do for these businesses is learn the features, advantages, and benefits of their solutions so that a city, county, or state organization can:
- Get approval to pursue grant funding
- Identify what grants are specific available to match your need
- Locate the point(s) of contact that oversees the grant
- Build a successful grant justification paper
- Secure and protect the grant funding
Once this information is researched and put together, the companies I worked for would send me their prospects and clients, and I would begin to coach and strategize with them with the outcome of the public safety agency obtaining the funding to make the purchase. However, I never fill out the grant paperwork, nor write the grant justification paper on behalf of the public safety agencies. I often use the analogy that my role is to assist the public safety agency as if I was an offensive coordinator calling the plays for the quarterback of the football team. I have done this for thousands of public safety agencies, all over the United States. I have helped hundreds of public safety agencies obtain millions of federal, state, and private dollars.
I don't share this information to brag. I share this with you to impress upon you that "The 5 Keys to Asking for Grant Funding Intelligently" is based on what I have seen public safety agencies do to succeed in obtaining a grant. I share this with you so you can be successful in getting the funding you need to complete your missions safely. I have never worked with a public safety agency that wanted a solution because it was "cool." They usually want for equipment, software, or training to save time, save money, reduce liability, or most importantly, save lives.
Here are the five keys.
Ask for What You Want
Asking for exactly what you want means being clear about the problem you want to solve, what you specifically want, how what you want will solve the problem, how you plan to implement what you want, and the financial investment necessary to secure what you want.
Define what you want with absolute precision as well as why you need it and when you need it. Spell out what you need in detail so anybody you share this project with—may it be fellow public safety officers, elected officials, or grant funding points of contact—will have a crystal clear understanding of what you need. You need to be able to show what results you'll be able to produce with it. How you will save the agency time and or money. How you will be able to reduce liability on the public safety agency and the community. How you will save lives with this solution. Remember, the purpose of obtaining a grant is never just about the money; it is equally about identifying the problem, quantifying the problem, solving the problem, and implementing the solutions.
Ask for Help
The grant funded project will require multiple members of the agency to help. Find and ask people with the resources to help. Start with your fellow public safety officers. Members of your team or division have a vested interest in the success of the project. From there, you are going to need the support and assistance of the agency's leadership.
Once you have a team from the agency, it is time to get the support of the elected officials of the community. The average grant funded project is reviewed and voted on by a city council, county board, or state administration five to seven times. You must build rapport with the elected officials and make sure they understand the problem and how to solve it. It doesn't matter if the project is researched and laid out in extreme detail. If the department's leadership as well as the elected officials in the community are not on board, the project is dead in the water.
Lastly, if you know other public safety agencies that already have a grant funding solution you desire, ask them how they secured the grant and model their success. Success leaves clues. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel if a neighboring agency has invented it. Whatever you want is something someone else already has. The trick is to find those people and figure out what they did to get it.
Create Value for the Person You're Asking
When you are assembling the team to turn your project into a reality, some are going to get on board with little resistance. But there are going to be others who will need to understand how assisting this project to become a reality is going to benefit them. The key is to appreciate and understand the world of your audience. Some people will see the value in the project because it will save the agency time and or money. Others will be motivated because it reduces liability for the public safety agency or the community, and some will be moved by the number of lives the solution will save.
Questions to ask potential members of your project team include:
- When it comes to this project, what is most important to you?
- What needs to happen for you to support this project?
- Is there any specific information you need to support this project?
Take the time and figure out how you can help the person you are asking first. If you are adding value for them, they will listen to you.
Believe You Will Succeed
Sometimes the hardest person to convince that obtaining funding for a project is viable is you, the person who wants the solution the most. If you aren't convinced about what you're asking for, how can anyone else be? From time to time, I speak with public safety officers who want a solution and want to apply for a grant, but have little to no belief that they will be successful in getting the project funded through a grant. I have learned over the years if I cannot raise their belief level to a point where they are certain they will be successful in obtaining funding for a grant, there is nothing I will be able to do to ensure their success. So, the first thing you will have to do is create focused congruent belief in your ability to lead this project to be funded.
Focus on the why. "Why do you want this project to be funded?" or "What is most important to you in getting this project funded?" Some of the reasons might have to do with the job. Some of the reasons might be more personal and must do with you.
Public safety agency and community reasons could include saving time, saving money, reducing liability, and/or saving lives.
Personal reasons could include: making a difference, career growth, overcoming an experience, and staying safe for your family.
Once you get clear on the why, the how will come. Once you are clear on your "why" you will be able to find and ask everyone needed to get the project funded.
Now that you have your psychology right, it is time to express that absolute conviction you have for the project to others. There is a saying in the business world: There is a sale made on every sales call. The question is, did the salesperson make the sale or did the prospect? When you know you have absolute certainty in the project, you will be ready to sell the project to others.
Michael Jordan is considered the greatest basketball player who ever lived. He made 12,192 baskets and averaged 30.1 points per game over his career. What most people don't know is Michael Jordan missed 12,345 shots. His belief was simple: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." His belief fits perfectly in the world of grant funding. You miss 100% of the grants you don't fill out the application and write the justification paper for. You miss 100% of the projects for which you don't secure funding.
Every project can be funded if you are committed to getting it funded and never give up. This doesn't mean there won't be setbacks in your efforts. You must change your approach and adjust from time to time until you achieve what you want. When you study successful people, you'll see that they kept asking, kept trying, kept changing—because they believed that sooner or later they would find someone who could satisfy their needs.
In summary, I read a lot of articles about grants. How to apply for a grant. How to write a grant justification paper. How to fill out a grant application. I could go on and on. What I don't see enough of is how to play the entire grant funding game.
To me, what is most necessary is focusing on the grant justification paper and the application. But that's only pieces of the puzzle. Just as important is the psychology of the lead person on the project. Without commitment, focus, drive, flexibility, and resiliency, the application and justification paper will never be completed.
I want to see every agency have the equipment, software, and training it needs to provide the absolute best possible service for its community. My ultimate goal is to see every public safety officer get home safely to their families and loved ones. I hope this article and "The 5 Keys to Asking for Grant Funding Intelligently" is a resource that serves both of those outcomes.
Michael Asimor is the founder and CEO of Dynamic International, which specializes in grant coaching and grant strategies to help end-users tap into federal, state, and private dollars.