Get a head start: Prepare for grant writing

Your Chief has handed you a funding announcement for a grant and you see that it is due in three weeks. Congratulations, you have been selected to write the grant and “get the money”! As you sit there fingering through the request for proposal, you wonder how much time this is going to take. You are also wondering how you are going to get this done with all of your other duties you have as an officer. You may even be thinking that you haven’t a clue how to get started.

A grant is a formal written request for money submitted to a funder for a specific purpose. The process is highly competitive. A strong competitive proposal is a clear, data driven, strategically developed project proposal which fits into your department’s goals and objectives. Given these facts, there are many things your department must do to prepare for successful grant writing before the Chief puts a current announcement on your desk.

Your entire police department needs to be prepared and committed to compete for grant funding. The funders award grants to police departments which have taken the time to plan and prepare to compete for the money. That means that considerable thought has been given to strategically preparing for department needs (not wants), data to demonstrate that need is real, community partners willing to assure their commitment to the process and the internal capacity to manage and implement the funding project.

This may sound like an impossible mountain to climb, but it is not if you take the time to gather the essential information prior to any funding announcement landing on your desk. As the grant writer for your organization, there is a lot of front end work you can do bit-by-bit to prepare for a successful grant application.

First, you need to develop a file or drawer or designated thumb drive dedicated solely for grant funding materials and information. The type of storage is not as important as what goes into that storage space. By gathering the appropriate information needed, keeping it updated and close at hand, you begin the preparation process for successfully obtaining grant funding. Once you have decided how best to store your information you can move on to the details.

Locate your department mission statement: Do you know your police department mission statement? Locate it and keep an electronic version of it in the grant funding file. A mission statement is not meant to be a paragraph or a one page dissertation. It is meant to be a sound byte like: “To protect and serve the town of Hegins”. Anything longer and you could lose the attention of the funder and that is a very bad idea. You will need it for most grant applications and for any planning document your department develops.

Locate a copy of your department strategic plan: Has your department developed a written plan for the purchase of equipment, officer training requirements and essential law enforcement tools from point of purchase to depreciation? Does your department project what staffing and programs will be needed in the upcoming three years? Is this plan based on the critical community demographics, crime statistics and department experience? The funder is seeking well oiled, well organized departments which have completed a needs assessment process, and as a result of that process determined their current and future budgetary requirements for operation. As we are all aware, resources and money have become scarce over the past couple of years and grant funders are looking harder at the departments they fund. They want to be assured that your department has worked to determine needs and how those needs will be built into a soundly prepared plan.

Find out how financial decisions are made: Funders will ask you to demonstrate your departmental capacity to meet your needs for your daily operations. They also want to know that your leadership is determining how those needs will be supported. Strong organized leadership is a key trait the funder is seeking. Does your department manage “by the seat of your pants” or does your department stay focused and purposeful in its approach to law enforcement services for your community?

Gather the grant history of your department: Locate past and current grant applications as well as all financial and programmatic grant reports submitted to each of the funders. Many funders will ask you to list both past and/or current funding received by your department. They are interested in seeing the financial support you have garnered from other funders. Research and develop a case statement concerning any grant projects where money had been returned to the funder or did not pass an audit. Being able to explain these situations to a new funder will help get you past their concerns about funding you in the future. Many times there are sound reasons why the grant was not completed or expended appropriately. Staff turnover, community crisis, or other such issues can prevent a grantee from completing a grant project. Be ready to explain any past problems!

Gather job descriptions, resumes and biographies of essential staff: You will be asked to provide information for the people involved in any grant project funded. Prior to any grant writing, gather the job descriptions of the various positions within your police department. Collect one page resumes from management personnel. Have all management personnel create short one paragraph biographies and add them to your files. This will save you much frustration if you are on a short deadline and the person you need to locate is on vacation or out sick.

Create a report on successful law enforcement services and programs: Create a report listing all the successful law enforcement programs initiated by your department. This list should include the name of the program, type of program, equipment purchased and community impact. Internal department improvement grants including officer training should be list as well. List programs such as Weed and Seed, COPS, Project Safe Neighborhoods, Save Our Schools, G.R.E.A.T, etc. Include all activities outside of grant funding such as community policing, bicycle safety, car seat safety and any other community service or education program implemented. This report can be used to copy and paste any history of programs requested by the funders. These programs demonstrate your community involvement, in addition to your normal law enforcement activities.

Create a list of equipment purchases over the past three to five years: This list would be best developed in a data base format such as Excel. Include the name of the equipment, serial numbers, style numbers, cost, funding source, projected depreciation schedule, rotation date for taking that equipment out of service and anticipated replacement date. In addition to specific law enforcement equipment, also include any computers and software. All equipment has a shelf life and must be worked into your budget planning process for replacement. Funders support equipment purchases if you can demonstrate the need for the equipment along with the appropriate management process.

Develop a sustainability case statement: All funders require applicants to address sustainability of programs, new staffing and equipment purchases made with the grant funding. All grantees must develop a sound, plausible plan for “keeping the program going”. Develop a statement about past history of assuring the continued financial support for the new staff and equipment once the grant funding has been expended. Create a description of how your department has assured in the past that the vehicles purchased will be maintained and utilized beyond the grant funding. By completing this strategic thinking prior to having an open funding announcement on your desk, you can save a great deal of time and effort with preparing a last minute funding opportunity.

Indentify community partners: All funders expect you to have partners within your community. These partners may be horizontal, such as other law enforcement departments, task forces, initiatives and programs in which your department is involved. Partners may also be vertical. Vertical partners are those community organizational involvements related to special initiatives and programs. Victims’ advocacy groups, schools, neighborhood watch groups, local mental health services, drug and alcohol programs are good examples of vertical partners. After listing the partners, create a description of the relationship and successes or positive outcomes these partnerships have created. Include the names of the people involved, their job titles, and the dates of the programs. Many grants require formal partnerships and will require evidence that the partnership is real. Meeting minutes and sign in sheets should be created for all meetings. By establishing this practice you can leverage funding sooner rather than later.

Gather your community demographics and crime statistics: You must begin to gather your community crime statistics. If your department has a strategic plan, the data must be available somewhere in your office. Locate the plan and determine what additional data is needed. Many community organizations have the data you will need to acquire. Don’t reinvent the wheel if someone else has done the work for you. Community statistics may be found at the state departments of labor, health, education and welfare, your local chamber of commerce, school district, community and economic development office, drug and alcohol commission, to name a few. Using the internet, you can locate Part I and Part II crimes, geographic boundaries of your community and census tract information. Make sure you track the source of your data. Also make sure you are using a legitimate source of data and never rely on Wikipedia. Funders know this is a “self reported” unreliable data source. All grants will require data to support your funding request. This task is a good community service project for a college student.

1. Organizational and community history:
Develop a one page organizational history, briefly describing your department’s size and scope and how many sworn officers are on the force. Describe your geographic location, basic population statistics, the industry make-up, as well as the natural and community resources. Locate any community needs assessments already completed by hospital systems, your county administrators, United Way or other community program to complete this profile.

2. Crime statistics
Develop a database of crime statistics in an Excel spreadsheet. Collect part I and Part II crime data, such as robberies, murder, rape, attempted murder, traffic violations. When asking for program funding or law enforcement equipment, data must be used to demonstrate the need for the funding. The crime statistics may be available through your own arrest rates, city or county commissioner’s office, state department of justice, state police, department of probation and parole. Collect the following data: educational levels, truancy levels, gang activity, substance abuse levels, protection from abuse orders, domestic violence calls, homeless statistics, correction data, etc. This data will defend need for the funding. Update this data annually.

3. Community supports and social problems data
This data will help you provide the funder with an understanding of the types of programs already in existence. Collect data about programs such as job training, remedial education, drug treatment facilities, drug prevention programs, youth-oriented programs, etc. With help of your community partners begin to identify gaps in services and duplication of efforts. By doing this data assessment you will be able to provide the funder with a stronger justification for the funding request than just saying your want it!

Many departments have retired officers assist with the grant writing process. They know the business and want to continue to serve in a valuable role. Many retired officers have attended my law enforcement grant writing course as a representative of their former department and returned home to help locate and obtain valuable and needed resources.

Preparing yourself and your organization for grant funding allows you to be better prepared for a successful bid. Grant proposals must be clear, well focused and well written. If you gather the right data, develop a strategic approach to the management of programs and equipment and present a strong case for funding, the money will be delivered to your door.

If you have questions or would like free worksheets for completing this process, please feel free to contact me at I look forward to hearing from you.

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