By Jim Hegarty, PE
1. Dream Big
When I was a young engineer, one of my mentors told me this: “There’s no such thing as a money problem, only idea problems.”
In other words…“Good ideas attract money.”
I like to ask my public-sector clients what they would do if money were no object. To start, I have them make a wish list. Write everything down. Everything they want to accomplish for their community.
Why? It is easier to find money on purpose than to rely on luck. It surprises me how many communities react to, rather than plan for, funding opportunities or announcements. When funding becomes available, the first recipients are largely those whose projects were shovel-ready.
Planned. Designed. Ready to go. Defeatists don’t win grants. Visualize the things you want to happen, so when opportunity knocks, your projects are planned, designed, and ready to go.
Gather your staff and community leaders and start dreaming. What would you do if you had the money to do it? Write it down. Everything you can think of. In my next posts, I will suggest some ideas to help you bring your dreams to reality.
Pick any project on your wish list—where will you find enough money to make it happen? Look to your network. No, I do not mean ask them for money! They are, however, a key link between you and money. Key people in your network might include:
- Financial Advisers
- Peers in other communities
- Associations (MML, MTA, MLGMA, etc.)
Describe what you want to do, and ask them if they know where you can find favorable financing or a grant. Chances are several of them can point you in the right direction. For smaller projects you might be able to get seed money from local service clubs and charitable or community foundations.
In addition, do not forget your digital resources:
3. Make Your Pitch!
Once you have identified your project and found a prospective funding source, it is time to make your pitch! Usually, this means writing a grant or funding proposal. Every organization has its own proposal format and scoring system. Here are eight key items to include somewhere in your proposal:
- Succinctly summarize your proposal in one paragraph or less—it is your headline!
- Provide information on how you will manage the grant. Show them that you have managed similar grants before and that their money will be in good hands.
- Tailor how you describe your need/project/activity in a way that matches the scoring criteria and the funding program’s objectives.
- Outline your work plan and project cost. The more detail you have, the better.
- Identify your source(s) of “matching” money. You need “skin in the game” for most grants.
- Outline your plan to maintain any physical assets once the funding is gone.
- Explain future project phases, if applicable.
- Get your grant before you write the proposal!
Item #8 bears some explanation. Before you write any funding proposal, engage the funding organization in a discussion about your project/proposal. Invite them to meet with you. Get their advice and feedback. Moreover, since developing a funding application is time-consuming and expensive, ask them if your project is a good candidate for funding before you begin the application process.
4. Improve your chances for success!
I am convinced that preparation begets luck. I have found when my clients focus on these four things it greatly enhances their chances for funding success:
- Shovel-readiness: The better defined your project is by the time you apply for funding, the greater your chances for success. You at least should have a well-developed cost estimate and work plan. Preliminary studies, plans or sketches are nice, but completed design plans are better. Better still—have all your regulatory permits in-hand.
- “Skin”: If you are not willing to bet your own money on a project, why would anyone else? The more you can come up with, the better you will do. Some communities even have “matching funds” as a line item in their annual budgets, so they can take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
- Collaboration: Many funders like to see multi-party partnerships. It helps them leverage their own good will, and it shows them you have gathered strong support. If you do not have project partners, at least get support letters from other groups and communities.
- Political Support: You should gather support letters from elected representatives and ask them to promote your project to funding agencies. Be careful, however, not to overstep an agency’s funding process.
You can find more resources in Prein&Newhof’s Grants and Loans Guide.