For police agencies, the most important parts of grant writing are time, information, and following directions.
By Evan T. Sorg, Ph.D. – Principal, Police Grant Writing
Letting grant opportunities pass your agency by?
Securing a grant can help your agency purchase equipment, hire personnel, or otherwise help make budget ends meet. So why isn’t your agency applying for them? As part of my introductory law enforcement grant writing training, I teach that successful grant writing can be boiled down to three things: time, information, and following directions. If your agency has no grant experience, or if you have unsuccessfully applied for grants in the past, appreciating the importance of these three facets of grant writing is the first step on the road to winning grant awards.
If you think that you will just wait for a grant opportunity to be announced and then start preparing your application, just take a look at the 2022 COPS Hiring Program solicitation. It is 31 single-spaced pages. To get a chunk of the $156 Million in available funding, agencies were required to answer dozens of questions, develop an evidence-based community policing program, discuss their problem-solving strategy, and provide a budget including all costs related to hiring new personnel. The time between the grant being announced and the due date was less than two months last year. This will likely be true for the COPS Hiring Grant in 2023. Even for a skilled grant writer, that is a tight window to get an application like this written and submitted. Luckily, many grants tend to be released around the same time each year. To give your agency the time required to complete a grant application, you should proactively search for closed grant announcements that your agency might want to apply for during the next funding cycle. This can be done on a site like grants.gov. Note the date that the announcement was released in the previous year and set a calendar reminder at least 30 days before that date in 2023. If you have applied for a grant before, you know the feeling of panic that sets in when your application is due in a week and you aren’t close to finishing it. Now imagine how much better your application could have been if you had an extra 30 days to complete it.
The best grant applications are tailored to a solicitation’s requirements and thoroughly answer all posed questions. In order to be able to respond to a grant program’s requirements, you are going to need a lot of data related to your agency, jurisdiction, and the population that you serve. For many agencies, it will take time to collect this information and to organize it in such a way that it is ready to be described in a grant application. For example, how many people living in your jurisdiction are living below the poverty line? Have you seen a percentage increase (or decrease) in violent offenses relative to this quarter in 2022? How many miles of roads are there in your jurisdiction? Is there any critical infrastructure in your jurisdiction? If you can answer these questions, great, now is the time to start organizing this information. If not, you have some work to do. When I teach grant writing to law enforcement, I emphasize gathering and organizing data from various sources so that participants are ready to write when a grant opportunity is released. You do not want to have to go hunting down this information when you should be spending your time writing.
A grant announcement (aka solicitation, RFP, NOAF, etc.) will tell you everything that you need to know about a grant. It will pose specific questions and tell you exactly what information you should provide. Period. If you can follow directions, you will increase your odds of success. The key is to be systematic and dissect your grant announcement. I teach to pull out individual sentences included in the announcement that pose a question or ask for you to provide information. Once you have done this for the entire solicitation, you’ll have a list of questions that you need to answer. Then you can systematically go through each question, answer it, and cross it off your list when you are satisfied with how you responded. Being systematic ensures that you are answering all questions posed in a grant announcement.
The Takeaway: Be Prepared
If you plan on pursuing grant funding in 2023, the time to prepare your department is now. Browse past grant opportunities offered by your state or check out grants.gov for past federal funding announcements. See what your agency might be interested in pursuing and begin planning by pulling together all the data and information that you need to complete the application. There are no magic words that you can put in a grant application to guarantee funding–the simplest way to increase your odds of success is to be prepared.