The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will make billions of dollars in competitive funding available to cities, towns, and municipalities. For many communities, this will be their first time applying for federal funds. As you would expect, applying for a federal grant can be time-consuming and technical. While most applicants find the process confusing and overwhelming, it can be particularly challenging for first-time applicants and for communities that have limited resources, staffing, and expertise to allocate to the grant writing process. With so many of our local community leaders finding themselves in this position, we asked our funding specialist to share her top five tips for preparing an effective grant proposal.
1. Read the Guidelines
The Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) will be your guide as you prepare your proposal. It is important to read it carefully—multiple times—so you can understand all of the requirements and instructions. You will need to follow the instructions precisely. This includes the application format and length requirements. Review the eligibility requirements and confirm your organization is an eligible applicant and that your project is an eligible project. Make note of the project funding limits, as well as any cost-sharing requirements, and confirm they align with your budget and funding needs. Next, make sure you can realistically gather the required information and complete your proposal a few days before the due date in case you encounter problems during the submission process. Lastly, review the evaluation criteria in detail and consider how well your project aligns with these funding objectives and priorities.
2. Get Organized
Use the questions listed in the NOFO to create an outline for your proposal. It is important to answer every question, in the order they are listed, and to use the same headings and terminology. Next, make a list of the forms and documentation required. This will help you identify the type of support you will need to complete your proposal. Federal grants typically require applicants to include project maps and photos, a detailed budget and schedule, a funding plan and letters of commitment, and letters of partnership or support as well as copies of any planning documents that identify the need for your project. Depending on the scope of the project, you may also need to include documentation of environmental and cultural resources along with plans for obtaining any required permits or approvals.
3. Tell a Compelling Story
It is important to write with the reviewer in mind. Assume the people scoring your grant have never heard of your community and don't understand the need for your project. Make it easy for them to understand why the project is a priority for your community—not just your organization. Talk about the people in your community and why the project is important to them. Discuss how the problem has been addressed in the past and why those solutions are not currently working—while clearly stating how this project will solve the problem. Remember to create a sense of urgency for the project by sharing how it will affect the people in your community if you don't receive this funding.
It is important to support your narrative with data. Provide evidence to demonstrate that the need for your project has been thoroughly researched. Include data from reputable local, state, and national organizations, like the U.S. Census Bureau, to paint a complete picture of the people who live in your community. And remember, a picture is worth a thousand words so be sure to include photos.
4. Review and Proofread Your Proposal
Enlist coworkers and project partners help review your proposal. Make sure to start early in the process so you have time to strengthen any weak areas. At first, simply have them focus on making sure the narrative follows a logical flow and is easily understood by people who are not familiar with your community or the project. When your application is close to being finalized, have your reviewers use the evaluation criteria to score your application and make sure it meets the grant guidelines. Lastly, once your proposal is complete, have it reviewed again to check for grammar, sentence structure, and typographical errors. It may seem excessive to have multiple reviews, but even the best writers need strong editors. It's always surprising to find out how many error mistakes are caught during the review process.
5. Submit Your Application Early
Plan to submit your application several days prior to the application deadline. Applicants have experienced significant delays when attempting to submit applications electronically. By submitting your application early, you'll have time to resolve any errors you might encounter during the submission process—or even overnight your proposal if needed. Of course, first-time applicants need to know that you must have a Unique Entity Identifier and be registered in the System for Award Management (SAM) before submitting an application. It can take at least 7–10 business days to complete this process so we suggest completing this as soon as you decide to apply for a grant. For organizations that already have a registered account, don't forget to complete the annual renewal process. If you plan to submit your application electronically, you'll also need to have a registered Grants.gov account.
Put Our Expertise to Work for You
We work with community leaders throughout Idaho, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming to develop funding strategies and prepare state and federal grant proposals. Our funding specialist is supported by our Municipal Services team because integrating our planning and engineering services with our grant writing services helps us put our clients in the best position possible. It allows us to move quickly from project planning and design to developing the grant proposal and securing funding. In addition to being able to expedite your project, it also allows us to ensure your project is compliant with all funding requirements.
Our goal is to help your community secure the funding you need. To put our expertise to work for you, please contact our funding specialist. Annalisa Noble. Annalisa has seven years of experience helping municipal clients secure funding for their infrastructure projects.
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