Private funding for public safety: How to create winning grant program ideas

To obtain private grant funding, you will need to come up with innovative program ideas that appeal to private donors

I can tell you definitively that you have almost no chance of receiving money from a private foundation to pay for officers’ salaries or for overtime patrols. To obtain private grant funding, you will need to come up with innovative program ideas that appeal to private donors. These program ideas should further a foundation’s mission, represent an original technique to tackle an issue, and show potential to create real change. The following are strategies that will help you generate and develop winning program ideas. Each is corroborated by one or more factual examples of public safety programs funded through a private foundation grants. 

Partner with Other Agencies
Many private foundations place a high priority on collaboration, and a successful grant program idea will demonstrate that your department works in partnership with other community agencies. Consider teaming up with your local Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, community development agency, regional employment board, neighborhood coalition, school or religious institution. Collaboration with other community groups will not only increase your chances to receive grant funding, but it will also increase the resources – in terms of personnel, facilities and expertise – available to make your program a success.

Partnering with other agencies may also give you the added benefit of having a 501(c)3 nonprofit status for your project. Private foundations often restrict their grant making to nonprofit organizations that have 501(c)3 status with the IRS. Your nonprofit agency partner can serve as the official grant recipient and fiscal manager for a private foundation grant that also provides funding to your department.

This strategy of creating partnerships has achieved private funding success for law enforcement agencies. One example involves a municipal police department with the responsibility to oversee its community’s animal control function. The department’s veterinary care costs for feral cats and stray dogs were enormous and growing, so the department sought a private foundation grant to help alleviate the financial burden. In partnership with a local no-kill animal shelter, this police department won a grant from a private foundation for a program called “The Animal Rescue and Education Project.”

Touted as an innovative approach to animal control, the program combined tactics to reduce euthanasia with education of the community about the proper treatment and care of animals. A family foundation awarded the program a grant that paid for equipment for animal control, educational materials for the community, police personnel costs to run a “Pet Day” in a city park and veterinary care for stray animals. This innovative and collaborative project idea both improved the department’s service to the community and helped alleviate its budget troubles. 

Request Goods and Services
Money is tight these days, even among private grant makers, so you might seek support for your programs in the form of donations of goods and services. Corporate foundations, both local and national, provide merchandise and supplies to aid in the delivery of public safety programs. Donations might include bicycles for officers, helmets to distribute to local children, signage for special events, or computer equipment. Local businesses also provide volunteer time of their employees, which could make a significant contribution to your program or event.

The National Rifle Association Foundation is one example of a private foundation that donates equipment to public safety organizations. Through a grant application process, police departments compete to receive an Eddie Eagle mascot costume. This costume enhances delivery of the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program for gun accident prevention to children in pre-kindergarten through third grade. The cost of the Eddie Eagle costume is over $2,500, so obtaining this equipment grant would represent a considerable savings for your department.

Law enforcement agencies have also received equipment grants from private foundations to support police dogs. Through competitive grant processes, departments may receive stab proof and bulletproof vests to be worn by K-9 officers. If purchased by the department, these vests can cost nearly $1,000 each.

Think Outside the Box
To compete successfully for private grant funds, you will need to develop program ideas that are original, creative and unique. Think of new ways to solve the problems in your community, because private foundations are more likely to fund a program that is new and promising. Coming up with an original program idea is easier said than done, but some real-life examples may help spark an idea.

Community policing officers in one police department received funding from a community foundation and several corporate grant makers to implement “bicycle rodeos” in neighborhoods throughout the city. During these events, police officers registered bicycles, demonstrated important safety techniques and provided documentation about bicycle safety to adults and children. Grant funding paid for the officers’ time, and donations of goods provided valuable equipment and refreshments to support these events.

Another example of private funding awarded for a creative program idea involves a program for at-risk youth called “Live and Learn.” This program targeted high school age girls who had dropped out of school, were at-risk for failing or dropping out or were expelled from school because of delinquent behavior. Run by police officers and enhanced by guest speakers and field trips, Live and Learn focused on teaching disadvantaged girls some basic life skills they need to survive but had not been taught by their parents or the school system.

Lessons included balancing a checkbook, opening a bank account, registering to vote, dressing for a job interview, and basic restaurant etiquette. This innovative program appealed to a large corporate foundation whose mission was to improve the lives of disadvantaged girls. The foundation awarded the department sizable grant, which paid for the entire cost of the program, including police overtime, consultants, supplies, and field trip expenses.

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