[CARES Act FAQ] 4 Steps to Secure Grants for Your Digital Transformation
During the coronavirus pandemic, more citizens and residents were engaging with local government than ever. Along with doctors, scientists, and health officials, local governments are among the most trusted sources of information. Citizens are relying on government to provide direct communication and resources through digital channels such as government emails, texts, and websites. Governments are responding by offering a variety of processes, like public meetings and services, online.
At the same time, though, U.S. governments are experiencing major losses in revenue from the economic impacts of COVID-19 as well as unplanned expenses responding to the pandemic. The CARES Act and other grants can provide funding for your agency’s digital transformation that resulted from COVID-19. But where do you start? Chrisopher Barnes, Grants Development Consultant at the Grants Office, provides these four steps securing a grant for your virtual project.
Want more information on the CARES Act? Read “What Govs Need to Know About the CARES Act”>>
Identify Grant Source and Type of Competition
Identifying your grant source, and the type of competition that comes along with it, can help you determine how to write your proposal. There are two types of competition you can expect:
- External competition, defined as one department applying for one competitive grant opportunity.
- Internal competition, defined as multiple departments and multiple projects seeking funding from the same grant opportunities.
Normally, external competition is the most common type of competition when applying for grants. However, the CARES Act has made funding an internal competition, where a city or county may have been allocated a certain amount of money that they are tasked with distributing.
With internal competition, you will need to develop a proposal that makes a case for your project over projects other departments in your agency hope to fund.
Pro Tip: Summarize your project on one page, including what you need, why you need it, and the cost. The goal of this exercise should enable a decision maker to quickly understand your project and why it’s important.
Gather Components of a Winning Proposal
Whether your competition is external or internal, strong grant proposals contain these key components:
1. Basic Organization Description
This component explains what your organization or department does. What role does your organization play in the community?
2. Statement of Need
The statement of need lays out what you need to fund and why.
3. Project Description
The project description highlights how the project will be implemented, what will be accomplished, and the desired outcome.
This section should prioritize the funder’s interests and goals; consider your audience as you frame the project
4. Plan for Hardware/Software Deployment
Use this section to show the funder you have a plan in place from start to completion. It reassures the funder that you’ll be able to hit the ground running should you be offered funding and have thought through the implementation and change management plan.
5. Anticipated Project Benefits
Brainstorm how you can align your goals for digital transformation with the funder’s values. Answer the following questions:
- Who in our agency needs grant funding?
- What citizen engagement platforms does that group need?
- Why do they need these platforms?
- How much money do they need?
- When do they need it?
Remember — grants fund projects, not products. How does the technology allow you to accomplish your organization’s goals?
For example, if your goal is to reach more citizens with information concerning local COVID-19 developments, you may wish to purchase communications software. Frame the benefits around the outcomes by saying:
“Email and text messaging campaigns will:
- Increase how quickly local governments reach the public with crucial information.
- Reach groups missed by other forms of communication.
- Increase communication and coordination between state and local governments.”
6. Plan for Future Funding/Sustainability
Use this section to explain how you will fund this project in the future, after you’ve spent the grant funding. It demonstrates to the funder that you’re serious about this project’s success.
10 Tips for Crafting a Strong Grant Proposal
Develop your winning proposal following these tips:
- Learn as much as possible about each program that you’re applying to. Make sure you thoroughly understand what the funder requires. If you have further questions, contact the program coordinator. You want to make sure that the grant you’re applying to is the best fit for your project.
- Involve others in your project. However, be judicious. Have a purpose for their involvement. Ask team members to act as subject matter experts, working on sections of the proposal that align with their job duties and involvement in the project post award.
- Customize each proposal to the requirements of the funder. Don’t copy and paste content you’ve used for a previous proposal. Consider how your project matches the grant’s solicitation.
- Get reviewers’ comments for non-winning proposals. Use the Freedom of Information Act to access previous proposals. Use their feedback to avoid common mistakes and build a stronger proposal. (This advice applies to yearly or recurring grants, not the CARES Act.)
- Include only support letters that demonstrate a real commitment on the sender’s part. Include letters from those involved in the project and have an impact on its success. A letter from a local congressperson may look impressive, but that person likely doesn’t have a direct impact on the outcome of your project.
- Make grant seeking part of your agency’s strategy. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Proposals can be rejected, and there is no guarantee you will win funding just because you submitted a proposal.
- Be specific in your budget. Budgets tell a story. What story do you want your budget to tell? Spend time explaining your budget. Does each line item tie to the project’s goal? Check for errors. An error can concern funders about your agency’s ability to manage money. Most funders have generous allowances for budget length. Pro Tip: If you’re working with a third-party salesperson for your project, ask them to help you develop a good explanation of project costs.
- Have an outsider edit your proposal before you submit it. Have someone outside of your field review your proposal to see if it makes sense to them. Unnecessary or unexplained jargon can alienate your proposal’s reviewer. An editor can also catch any spelling or grammar errors and make sure your proposal is drawing the right connections between project and funder goals.
- Follow directions. A reviewer can easily deny your application if you don’t follow the directions. For example, you may need to submit your proposal using 1” margins and 12-point font.
- Save time for review. Give yourself and internal stakeholders enough time to review your proposal and to allow for someone to edit it before submitting it.
Bringing It All Together
Citizens are relying on governments for information and access to services — in a way that’s not only convenient, but safe — online. The CARES Act can fund technology investments necessary for addressing the immediate needs of citizens brought on by COVID-19, during a time when governments are facing shrinking budgets. Using the steps above, you can develop a winning proposal for your digital transformation.
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