When officers come to me and ask if I can find them a grant to buy something, my first questions is, “Why do you need it?”
Invariably, their response is, “Because we don’t have one.” That’s the one answer I never want to hear, even if it is precisely why they need it.
When applying for grants, however, you have to dig deeper. It all starts with understanding that you need to have a project with a clear purpose that’s going to help you solve a problem. You can articulate your purpose by utilizing the three parts of a successful grant application.
Part 1: The Problem Statement
You see this on every grant application. What problem are you trying to solve? If you don’t have a problem, you don’t need a grant. Funders want to know that their support is going to have a positive impact in the community.
To articulate a problem, start with numbers. For instance, if you want to get new equipment for your traffic unit, take a look at your traffic stats. Compare the past three years for number of citations issued (by violation type) as well as the number of accidents, accidents with injuries, and traffic deaths. You might focus on your high frequency crash locations or areas where aggressive driving is a concern. Whatever your problem is, this is where it’s going to show up.
Statistics don’t tell the whole story, however. Picture your officers using the equipment. How will it change things for the better? Will there be reduced overtime costs? Will you have a better capability to catch speeders or aggressive drivers? Will prosecutions rise due to better evidence? There’s a reason police departments want that equipment. Show that it will solve your problem!
Part 2: The Project Narrative
You’ve already spelled out your problem. That’s the “why.” The Project Narrative is the “how.” It’s not that you will buy the equipment, install it and use it; the best project narratives walk the funder through the process, step by step. You want to present it in such a way that anyone reading it fully understands what will happen.
In the traffic example, you could say that your traffic squad will perform a certain number of deployments in targeted locations, and that you install speed indicator trailers along select roadways, followed by enforcement in those areas. These activities should relate back to the problem statement in a way that shows those problems being solved.
Part 3: Outcomes and Evaluation
Recently, funders have been focusing heavily on outcomes because it’s not enough to say what you will do. You have to be able to show the impact of your project, which means counting things and taking inventory, probably using the same categories listed in your problem statement. What you track depends on what your expected outcomes are, which are based on your problem.
Think of these three sections as three parts of the same thing: your project. Once you understand that, you will be able to submit an application that has a good chance of getting funded.