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How to use sophisticated research to find grant opportunities

Broaden your search with key words that focus on the problem you want to solve with grant funds, remembering that you can partner with other agencies and non-profits


Anyone who has been working on grants for any length of time probably has a daily routine. It goes something like this:

Step 1: Check your email for new requests from command staff to find a grant for a necessary project or piece of equipment.
Step 2: Go to grants.gov to see what’s available right now.
Step 3: Sigh.
Step 4: Repeat tomorrow.

Sounds like fun, right? Of course not. And it’s not very productive, either. Since your job is to find funding opportunities to match the current and future needs of your agency, it is imperative that you have a clearly defined and well thought-out system for research. Time spent on internet searches can yield some very good results, as long as you know how and where you need to look.

Current Opportunities
Let’s start with current opportunities. Obviously grants.gov is a great resource, and one that you need to check daily. But are you limiting your search to only Department of Justice opportunities? Sure, that’s where you will find the law enforcement-related grants, but it’s not the only place you should be looking.

For instance, the Department of Transportation often has opportunities that could fit needs within your traffic division to reduce the number of crashes or increase the number of DUI arrests. 

Broaden your search with key words that focus on the problem you want to solve with grant funds, remembering that you can partner with other agencies, including non-profits and educational institutions — either as the lead applicant or a subgrantee. 

Mental health and reentry — both of which directly impact law enforcement — are hot topics these days, with many grant opportunities available to address them. Are juveniles a problem? Check with local nonprofits that focus on the needs of young people to see if there is something you can do together. Keep your mind open to these partnerships, and you can definitely increase the number of potential grants available to you.

Even if nothing that fits what you need is currently available, check to see what was open in the past two years or so to determine what might come available in the near future. Federal opportunities are typically repeated on a regular basis, so what has been offered before will probably come around again. This can’t be done on grants.gov, so go to each department website and review their funding archives. You should be able to review the old solicitation to see if it would fit your project. If you find something, make note of when it was offered before and wait for it to be released around the same time of  year. 

In addition to federal opportunities, don’t forget about state funding. Many states have specific agencies that provide grants for law enforcement (such as those that administer the state allocation for Justice Assistance Grants – JAG). 

But don’t forget to do a little outside-of-the-box thinking. Is your jurisdiction rural? Agriculture-based? Low-income? You may find an opportunity with a state agency you never considered. Again, broad topic searches should lead you in the right direction.

Foundations are another good option to include in your research. Start with local businesses, which may be able to fund a small project directly without the need for a complex application process. If you have nationally-based businesses in your community, check to see if they have a foundation or giving program. 

Many have primary focus areas they typically support, such as youth, the elderly or community development. Is there a way you can slightly realign your project to fit their needs? Even if your project isn’t a perfect match, don’t let that stop you. 

But don’t just blindly submit an application that doesn’t address their topic area and hope for the best. A phone call or email to the funding contact is required when you are asking them to consider something not on their list. You may be invited to submit an application if they think your project is worthy. You won’t know until you ask.

Your grant search should be thorough, but also flexible. It’s tiring just hitting the search button over and over, but once you have done it a number of times, you should have a good list of those agencies and foundations you need to look at regularly. Add in a few random searches from time to time as new topics come up and your list will grow. 

One last piece of advice: While you are doing your Internet grant search, look for articles, blogs, or other resources that talk about grants. There is a wealth of information at your fingertips, and reading everything you can will improve the job you do as your agency’s grant professional.

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