EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – February 09, 2005

Grant Writing 101
Where to Ask and How to Get What You Want

Lisa Gibney
Emergency Preparedness Coordinator
Duane Arnold Energy Center

Avagene Moore
EIIP Moderator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Amy Sebring, my partner/associate, and I are pleased you could join us today! Today's topic is "Grant Writing 101 - Where to Ask and How to Get What You Want." Amy and I were fortunate to hear our speaker at last fall's IAEM Conference and asked her to share this topic with you. It is my pleasure to introduce her to you.

Lisa Gibney is the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Duane Arnold Energy Center, Iowa's only nuclear power station. She specializes is building partnerships with local emergency response agencies; assisting them with developing plans and procedures as well as offering radiological response training to nearly 2000 emergency workers every year. She also serves as a Volunteer Liaison Officer and Assistant Operations Officer for the Linn County Emergency Management Agency.

In 2004, Lisa was approached by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the policy organization of the nuclear energy and technologies industry, to draft a "how to" handbook of the basics of grant writing to assist State and Local emergency management partners in securing grant funds to further their mission of protecting the health and safety of the public. Using her experience in local Emergency Management and more than 12 years of service on the Grant Allocation committee of a local Children's charity that has allocated more than $4 million dollars, Lisa outlined ideas and suggestions for navigating the grant writing process. The result was the "Grant Application Handbook: A Guide to the Application Process for Competitive and Non-Competitive Grants," published by NEI. There is a link to the guide on the background page as well as other information related to our speaker and topic today.

Lisa, we welcome you to the EIIP Virtual Forum to discuss this timely topic with our audience.


Lisa Gibney: Thank you very much for this invitation. This is a new adventure for me. I was very flattered to be invited to share with you my ideas on how to approach grant writing.

My comments today are just some ideas and suggestions of things that I have learned during my tenure as both someone who seeks grant and someone who allocates funding for grant requests. What I suggest today are just things that have worked for me. You will want to tailor the ideas to fit your specific needs.

Many of you are no doubt familiar with the Homeland Security Grant programs and the various other governmental grant programs that have been designed to help improve our nation’s ability to respond to emergencies, especially the threat of terrorism. If you need specific assistance on a Homeland Security grant issue, I suggest you contact your State or local point of contact for Homeland Security.

However, the Homeland Security Grants are not the only funding source available. I encourage you to explore other potential sources of grants as well. For example, check out sites such as www.grants.gov; the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CDFA) at www.cfda.gov; or www.nonprofit.gov for the Non-profit Gateway. You might also try subscription sites for grant source such as: philanthropy.com/grants or grantgate.com, or just do a GOOGLE search to find local sources such as community foundations or corporate foundations. Today I want to share with you some ideas and suggestions to help you be successful in seeking grants from those non-traditional sources.

As was mentioned in my introduction, I was honored to help design the NEI Grant Application Handbook as a tool to assist those seeking grants, especially competitive grants. The Handbook grew from a desire by the nuclear power industry to assist our partners in State and local emergency management as they struggled to find the resources to fund needed programming, training and equipment to protect our communities. The nuclear power industry is committed to protecting the health and safety of the public, and as such, we’ve cultivated a rich and rewarding partnership with our State and local county emergency management agencies. The support we give to emergency management makes for stronger programs for not only radiological emergency preparedness, but for preparedness for any type of emergency!

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the policy organization of the nuclear energy and technologies industry, decided to compile a "how to" handbook of the basics of grant writing to help them seek other sources of funding. I was chosen to create the Handbook because I have an active role as a volunteer with our local emergency management agency and I also have a rich history of volunteerism, including nearly 15 years on the Board of Variety, the Children’s Charity of Iowa. Through Variety I’ve helped to raise and give more than $4 million dollars to local charitable organizations throughout Iowa that serve the needs of children.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to observe first hand what works and what doesn’t. I tried to share those observations in the handbook and will try to summarize the basics here today. I’m not sure I have tremendous words of wisdom to impart today. Most of what I’ll discuss today is just plain old common sense.

Being successful in obtaining a grant is 80% researching and crafting the application and 20% luck and timing. Submitting a successful grant application is hard work! It takes research and many hours of writing and re-writing to be succinct and persuasive. Yet despite all your hard work and preparation, there are some intangibles that you can’t control.

Each year the grant applications are different, but the one thing that is always constant is that there are ALWAYS many more worthy projects and programs than we as a Board had the money to fund! I have been on both sides of the grant application process and I can assure you that it is as hard to have to say the words, "I’m sorry we couldn’t fund your project" as it is to hear them.

As a reviewer for a Grant Funding Organization, when I study a funding request, I am looking for a creative approach to problem solving. I like to see a project that has wide spread support from several sources, which won’t duplicate existing programs. I also like to see a plan to sustain this program after my grant runs out.

Another positive, in my opinion, is if the program serves either the needs of many or serves the needs of the chronically underserved. I look for indications that the organization will be good stewards of "my" money. And, I do think of it as "my money." I worked hard to raise it with a Telethon, Wine Tasting events, Golf Outings, etc. I am VERY particular where it gets spent!

Today, I want to talk about some things you can do to make sure that your next grant submittal is successful. If I had to choose just one piece of advice for those seeking grants it would be simply: read and follow all the directions!

I know that sounds ridiculous, but you would be amazed at the number of people who don’t! That’s the fastest way to get bounced from consideration. If the directions say "submit an original and 6 complete copies", then do it! If it asks for a copy of your 501C(3) paperwork with your submittal, then provide it! Even my small children’s charity in Iowa gets more than 150 applications each year to review! We don’t have time to call for missing data or make additional copies. Following the directions is just common courtesy for those who spend their time reviewing the applications. Bottom line, if you don’t want to follow the directions there are plenty of others who will!

There are two basic types of grants -- non-competitive and competitive:

In non-competitive grants, nobody is turned away who meets the basic criteria, files the paperwork correctly and meets the deadlines. Essentially, if you ask properly, then you’re in. The amount of your award is dependent on the numbers who fulfill the basic requirements. Other than being timely and accurate on your application, there isn’t much that you can do to improve your award, that’s why today I wanted to focus on the "competitive" grants.

Competitive grants judge all those who apply against each other. Each grant funding organization (GFO) will have differing requirements, goals and missions. The key to success is to find a way to demonstrate that your project is deserving of the funding. Funding is awarded based on how the applications are "rated" by the reviewer(s). Even though there are usually pre-set criteria and a checklist of some sort to encourage uniform review, it is still a subjective process where overall presentation does factor into the selection process. Presentation (no typing errors, good grammar and thoughtful use of color and graphics) counts greatly, but other considerations factor in also. How critical is the need your project addresses? How innovative is your idea? How many people are being served?

Consider having an independent review of the application. Besides detecting glaring omissions and grammatical errors, consider a review by someone unfamiliar with your project. They can provide valuable insight about whether you were clear and compelling in your presentation.

So if you’ve got a great idea or project, how do you get started? Writing a successful application takes lots of time energy and research. It’s not a task that you can do in one evening. It’s sort of like eating an elephant -- you need to take one bite at a time!

First, Get Organized. There are a few things to ask yourself as you decide to pursue grant funding: What’s the vision for your project? Is it REALISTIC???? What’s the scope? (Long term? Fixed Length? ) Who shares your vision? What support do you already have? (Volunteers already on board? Matching funds commitment by other businesses or agencies?) What, if any "Match" funds do you have secured from your community? How can you sustain the project after the grant ends? What kind of grant should you seek? ("Bricks and Mortar"? "Programming"? "Operations"?) Identify sources of funding available.

Next, Do your Homework. Learn about the organization: Again, ask questions: What is their philosophy, history and mission? Seek out Board Members for insight if possible. What kind of projects have they funded before? Seek out former award winners for suggestions on what the organization seeks when looking to award their dollars. Do they offer assistance w/ applications? What are the "expectations" for award winners? (Are you expected to assist in fundraising in the future? Submit periodic "progress reports? Participate in publicity for the organization? ) If you’re denied, will they provide feedback on improvements or suggestions for future consideration?

Now you’re ready to begin to craft your application. Major components of an application typically include: the Proposal, the Budget, the Executive Summary.

The Proposal: The Proposal is the "game plan" for the project. This is where you outline what you want to change and how you "propose" to go about making the change. Paint a picture of the need -- how can you make it REAL to the reviewer? Use statistics (well quoted of course!) to reinforce your words and reasoning. Set the stage for WHY your project should be funded—there is SO much competition for an ever-shrinking market of grant dollars. Why should yours be chosen? Are you innovative, will you serve large numbers of an underserved or extremely needed population? Highlight what makes this project different or likely to make a difference -- why will this project succeed where others have failed to make a difference? It needs to "Hook" the reader and keep them wanting to read on.

Again, this is a competitive process. This is where you begin to set your project apart as something unique, or explain why you should get the dollars. Would you invest your OWN money in this cause? That’s what you’re asking the funding organization to do. The reviewer(s) are charged with distributing the funds entrusted to them just as if it was their own personal money (and in some cases it may be their personal money!)

The Budget: Budgets have many different "looks" but the same basic elements are needed. Confirm with the GFO what is "allowed" under the rules. Can you pay for personnel? What about printing & reproduction? Can you use funds for travel? Read the guidance to see what (if any) travel costs can be charged back to the grant funds. DON’T ASSUME! Be sure to see if there are distinctions between "Mileage" (such as daily travel) and "Travel" (such as airfare or mileage to attend conferences, training, etc.). What the rules are about In-Kind or "Soft" matches determine whether the community match must be cash or if it can be goods/services/labor. All goods and services have "value". Volunteer hours are some of the easiest "Soft" matches to obtain.

Once you have your budget finished take the time and "Do the Math". Is it accurate? Is your budget practical/logical for what you want to do? Is it realistic? (Did you rely too heavily on volunteers?) Did you allow any margin for adjustment/overrun on labor or supplies? This is an opportunity for you to show that you are "detail oriented" and will be cautious and prudent with the funding organizations money!!

The Executive Summary: Once the Proposal and the Budget are completed then you have the basis for the Executive Summary. Typically, it’s the first page of an application packet, but it’s generally most effective when written LAST. It’s designed to give a quick "snap shot" of your idea and gives a "first impression" of the project. It needs to "grab" the reader. Make the reviewer want to turn the page and find out more. When finished it can function as the basis for a marketing tool, since "the basics" of the project are featured there.

The Executive Summary is also a chance to start to "Stand Out Among the Stack.". Refine and re-state until your Executive Summary will capture in just a few paragraphs the soul of your Project and WHY it deserves the funding. There is much competition and nearly ALL the projects are good ideas. You have to capture why your project is the one that will succeed and give the most "bang for the buck" in this summary or the reviewer(s) will move on to a presentation that will.

Let me also take moment to share some common reasons why a proposal is denied:

• Didn’t meet the requirements ("Sorry, but this agency doesn’t fund "bricks & mortar" projects")

• Too ambitious! (Even Miss America contestants don’t claim they can foster World Peace any more!)

• Poorly written and hard to follow

• Typos or overall "messy" appearance

• Unclear need (who will benefit?)

• No demonstration that key players are on board. Don’t imply that the Mayor is behind this if he isn’t! If he is, find a way to get that in writing. Put him/her on your Board or include a letter of support from the Mayor in your package if allowed, especially if you can outline "match monies" or other community support at the same time!

• Duplicates an already existing project. (If you do duplicate existing services you need to be clear and compelling about what you will do differently.)

• Asking for more funds than available in the total funding pool. (Shows you didn’t do your homework about the agency.)

• Not following the details. ("Send us 3 copies plus the original" means just that!)

And one more time:


So even if you follow all the suggestions, there are still going to be more great ideas than funding. If your project isn’t funded:

• Send a short "thank you" note to the funding agency thanking them for their consideration. (Your Mother was right, it will make a difference, especially if your group applies again next year! )

• Ask for feedback on the application. Was there a specific reason why your project wasn’t funded? What was the strong point(s) of your idea and/or the application?

• Realize the process is SUBJECTIVE and don’t give up! You may get full or partial funding from another source off essentially the same application.

Obtaining grant funding, especially for competitive grants is difficult. It is such a challenge to do it well that Grant Writing is becoming a career for those who have the talent to organize and be detail oriented.

Remember, to improve your chance for success:

  • Read the requirements!
  • Follow the directions!
  • Draft a clear, concise Proposal, Budget & Executive Summary!
  • Create a professional looking package!
  • Meet all deadlines!

Thanks for this opportunity to visit with you today!

Avagene Moore: Thank you very much Elizabeth.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Gerald Isaacson: What are the differences between government funding and private?

Lisa Gibney: The biggest difference is that the private sources typically have more options available and slightly less restrictive criteria. There is usually more room for creativity in a private funding source. overnment sources tend to be pretty strict, such as -- must use money for training and only training: or use for equipment and only equipment -- that sort of thing.

Isabel McCurdy: Lisa, where can one obtain a copy of the NEI Grant Applications Book?

Lisa Gibney: Thanks for asking. There is a weblink available at www.nei.org/documents/Emergency_Planning_Grant_Handbook.pdf

George Glessner: I am with a Private for Profit Ambulance Service (second largest in the area) that currently responds to about 40% of the 911 calls for a mixed rural/urban area with a population of about 800,000. How do I find GFOs that will consider funding a for profit company’s projects?

Lisa Gibney: Hi George. I am an EMT myself. My suggestion would be to contact some of the private sources near you and see how they would suggest that you could focus on the service you provide, as opposed to the "for profit" part. George, you might check with the hospitals you serve or public health sources too.

Kathleen O'Connor: Where would I look for information on grant funds for homeland security projects?

Lisa Gibney: Kathleen, I'd try Grants.gov. They are a one-stop shop for government grants. Also check with your State or local point of contact for Homeland Security. If you aren’t sure who that is, those POCs (points of contact) are listed also in the NEI Grants Handbook.

Isabel McCurdy: Lisa, when one is denied funding, what is the best way to find out why an application was not successful?

Lisa Gibney: I suggest at the very least a "thank you for considering us" note to the organization. If they have an administrative person, they can often provide answers, as might members of the Board. It is very helpful to get that feedback on what was lacking. Sometimes it is just too many good candidates. I have a very dear friend who is a professional grant writer and she says it’s not "fund raising but rather FRIEND raising". She emphasizes the need to build rapport with those organizations that grant monies.

Jocelyn Perry: Are there grants out there that help cover building costs or equipment costs? We are a not-for-profit and would like to eliminate some of our operation costs so we may focus on running the many programs and services we provide?

Lisa Gibney: Yes there are, but quite honestly they are few and far between. Often referred to as "bricks and mortar" funding they are an important tool. This is yet another reason to read carefully the grant details because many do NOT cover building costs.

Amy Sebring: Lisa, would you agree that if you ARE awarded a grant, that your after-award actions, such as timely reporting, etc., improves your chances next time around? That is, having a good reputation can make a difference?

Lisa Gibney: Absolutely! Your Mother was right--your reputation is a huge factor. Another thing that was a very big plus for our small Charity is those who were willing to volunteer to help us raise funds, such as answering phones for our Telethon!

Greg Brownderville: Where would I look for funding for publishing literature written about an impoverished, under-represented culture like that of the Arkansas Delta?

Lisa Gibney: Hmmm, I think I'd try one of the larger data bases like maybe the Federal Register at http://www.archives.gov/federal_register/index.html. Perhaps a University might have some information also? I'll have to think about that one. Let me move on and I'll keep thinking in the meantime.

Jocelyn Perry: How would you approach (or would you?) a local corporation with a funding request that has not been solicited by them? Is this frowned upon?

Lisa Gibney: That's a great question Jocelyn. You can't be shy about asking. HOWEVER, you do need to contact them to see if they have a foundation or other department to handle requests. Large companies are asked often, so you won’t be the first, just be sure you follow any rules they have.


David King: It's basic salesmanship isn't it? What's in it for them? Then, put that first in your presentation. How are you going to help them if they give you the funding?

Lisa Gibney: You are right on the money (no pun intended) David. Competitive grants are all about salesmanship and showing that your project will do the "best" work with their dollars.

As I said earlier I work hard to raise this money that we allocate. I absolutely want to be sure that the organizations I fund are using it wisely! One thing that we do as a Board that is different is that we pay a visit to every group who applies. That gives me a first hand look at how they will use MY money! And there have been times when what I saw was more persuasive than what they wrote!


Isabel McCurdy: Lisa, is there a quota of number of grants you can obtain from an organization? Wondered if there were limitations set?

Lisa Gibney: Not usually, although, each funding organization is different so be sure to ask. The only usual limit I see is a calendar year. (We only give money once a year).

Kathleen O'Connor: Where would I look for funding a publication for gifted students? I found in the past that many of these funds were only available to intermediate school districts, not to individual teachers (although there was ~$30mil out there) and that other organizations supporting the arts would not assist the publication if they funded art, but the publication contained science articles and vise versa. I mean that, if they assist art, they would not fund science in the same publication, and vice versa.

Lisa Gibney: Hi Kathleen. I'd search the Department of Education website. Also another good source of grants is the Foundation Center, www.fdncenter.org. They have amazing stuff there. Some is free and some parts have a subscription fee, but it’s a great starting point! Don't be discouraged though! You are seeing what we've faced in emergency management for years -- grants to fund equipment but couldn’t use the money to pay for training!

Amy Sebring: Here is another link to a DHS piece entitled "Working with DHS" that includes some grant resources. http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/editorial/editorial_0355.xml

Lisa Gibney: Thanks. Try this too, Federal Business Opportunities at http://www.fedbizopps.gov

Jocelyn Perry: Some grants, I have noticed, do not provide $ for staff to implement a program. How can I in good faith write a program and state its implementation and evaluation, but not have people, or at least one person, funded through the grant $ to help out? I'm more familiar with the evaluation side of grants, and it is VERY time consuming to evaluate correctly. What is the justification for not always providing funding for this?

Lisa Gibney: You've hit on a great point Jocelyn. The simple, somewhat callous answer is the organizations expect the money to go to programming and not administration! Now, having said that, this is an opportunity to leverage several grants into serving one program, and then be sure to use the staff time to count as part of your Match.

Susan Cleverley: Any suggestions for performance based reporting? I often run across program managers who want to report stats instead of how the agency has improved in capability.

Lisa Gibney: Be as honest as you possibly can. We have a saying at my plant. "Under-commit and over-produce." Perhaps it may take a little education by you to help them see that it’s more than just numbers that you need?

Amy Sebring: I think at least one professional grant writer for a City, e.g., can easily pay for their own salary, and yet I find that this seems to go unrecognized in some places. In that case, is it possibly worth it to have an independent grant writer work on a contract basis? Cannot those costs sometimes be covered if the grant application is successful?

Lisa Gibney: I absolutely agree. Those costs can often be covered in the grant process, just be sure to confirm ahead of time as sometimes there are restrictions in administrative costs. Some grants allow a straight percentage that can be used for any administrative purpose.


Lisa Gibney: Just let me know if I can help! My email contact is [email protected]

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Lisa. We greatly appreciate your effort and time on our behalf. I am sure our audience will benefit from the experiences you shared with us today.

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We have one new EIIP Partner to announce and welcome today - Civil Broadcast Technologies LLC http://www.civilbroadcast.com. Charles Ferguson, President of CBT, is the Point of Contact to the EIIP.

If you are interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the "Partnership for You" link on the EIIP Virtual Forum homepage http://www.emforum.org.

Again, the transcript of today's session will be posted later today and you will be able to access it from our home page. An announcement will also be sent to our Mail Lists when the transcript is available.

Our next Virtual Forum session is Wednesday, February 23, 12:00 Noon Eastern. William Nicholson, Adjunct Professor of Terrorism and Emergency Law, Widener University of Law, will address legal issues in emergency management - a very timely topic.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. We appreciate you, the audience! Before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Lisa Gibney for a fine job. The EIIP Virtual Forum is adjourned! Thank you, Lisa!