How to Fund Technology Projects with Grants

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Fund Technology Projects with Grants

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June 7, 2023

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Grant Funding

Grant funding is at the crux of improving services for communities.

Across the grant-seeking landscape, there are varying levels of experience and sophistication in seeking and managing grant funding. The purpose of this blog is to stay at a high level and guide folks that want to know where to start.

It all starts with an idea

We’ve all been there. You walk into a meeting about improving services, processes, and efficiencies. “There has to be a better way,” says a colleague. Once the idea is hatched, it is your job to execute a plan around a solution. Nine times out of ten, you will need to purchase technology to support your improvement.

The search begins for the right solution. You do your research and find an application that will get the job done. Now comes the funding discussion. “Where are we going to get the money for that?”

The existing budget probably doesn’t provide for a new technology acquisition. Typically, you can attempt to justify it in next year’s budget, but that may still not close the gap. The search then begins, out of necessity, for additional funds. A grant may be the answer.

Identifying suitable grant vehicles

There are three considerations that will help you decipher what will most likely be the best fit to fund technology projects with grants.

  1. Grants are most often for specific purposes. For example, it may be some specific form of public health delivery, or the enablement of child learning environments via the use expansion of rural broadband.
  2. Technology may not be specifically called out in the grant Notification of Funding Availability (NOFA). Don’t be discouraged if there is no mention of technology. It can still be positioned as the vehicle for accomplishing the grant’s mission.
  3. There are typically prohibitions on the use of grant monies. Some grants are extremely specific about how the funds may be expended, so be sure to read the fine print.

In addition to federal grant funding, foundations are potential sources for grant awards. Just as with federal grants, the award opportunities with these organizations are often time-sensitive – so if you miss a program now, at least you have a connection to a potential future reference.

An easy way to explore the grants available to you is to use a grant aggregator tool. For example, services like grants.gov and instrumentl.com will send you updates as new grant opportunities are released and help you get started.

The identification process is a mix of art and science

Look at technology as an enabler. It is a vehicle that can help you get to your end goal. If technology is not specifically prohibited in a grant application, the art comes in your creativity – describing how the funds meet the criteria. You will want to make sure to emphasize how technology will enable your solution to work.

The science is in quantifying the benefits, both tangible and intangible, to the people the grant is intended to serve.

There is the potential that grant funding doesn’t exist for your idea. That’s unfortunate but not uncommon. If you comply with the grant requirements, you may still get funding with a creative approach to your grant proposal. However, you will want to avoid the trap of being overly creative.

It’s important to note that grantors may limit the amount of an individual award, and the number of awards they give out. They are working with a maximum available pool of money, so it is likely the total of the applications submitted exceeds the total available funds. This means not everyone that applies for a grant is awarded, so that’s why the merit of your application is critical in a competitive environment.

How to write for your grant

Once you’ve identified a promising grant, it’s time to apply. Read thoroughly through the grant application and understand the required elements.

The first required element in every grant is detailed information on the people who will be the grant’s stewards. Proof of identity, such as key project personnel, certification of non-profit status, and state business/tax registration, are standard requests. If you don’t provide this information in detail and with accuracy, you could be faced with disqualification.

Tip: To save time, keep detailed bios of key personnel in your organization and copies of critical organizational paperwork up-to-date and ready to submit.

Then there is the scope of work routinely required. This section of your grant proposal documents how, what, and when you will be the grantor’s funds. It may include timelines, phasing, expected outcomes, rate of expenditure, and specific deliverables. Spend time with your team developing this plan and provide as much detail as possible. The goal is to communicate to the grantor you have a thoughtful and deliberate plan to fulfill the requirements they set forth.

For the best possible outcome, follow these grant application best practices:

  • Avoid being overly creative. You will want to stay inside the grant compliance requirements.
  • Respond to every section of the application. All your hard work could go to waste if one piece of information is missing. This can disqualify your application in an instant.
  • Follow the formatting guidelines. Read the fine print. Fonts, justifications, and margins all matter.
  • Build in indirect costs. If the grant allows for indirect cost (IDC) funding, build in the cost when you submit your bid.

Variations on the theme of a grant

Grant funding opportunities sometimes appear, and you don’t have a currently identified project that meets its requirements. That does not mean that you shouldn’t consider it. The NOFA may identify multiple types of valid uses and may have extended performance periods. Review the NOFA carefully, as these factors may help you qualify for a grant you might not have thought was an option.

Be prepared for reporting and compliance

If you receive grant funding, the granting agency will require you to report details on how you are spending their money. The NOFA should clearly outline the specific timing of required reports to the granting agency/organization. It is critical that these reports are submitted accurately and in a timely fashion. If you have a problem meeting the timeline requirements, check with the grantor. They usually provide a process to justify an extension for a milestone or a deadline.

It is important to pay attention to the compliance requirements so that your organization can anticipate the tracking of the funds and the project. Be certain to familiarize yourself in advance. If you fail to comply with the grant reporting requirements, you risk being required to return the funds. It bears repeating that understanding and executing grant reporting correctly is critical for success.

Another aspect of compliance exists with your state and federal reporting. You’ll need to understand what, if other government agencies may impose any, requirements.

Here are common ways a grant will either not be awarded, or has a high risk of being rescinded due to non-compliance:

  1. Reporting failure. As mentioned earlier in this article, if your reporting is not correct, late, or incomplete, you run the risk of forfeiture.
  2. Lack of strategic planning. The strength of your story, combined with details of how you carefully spend the funds will dictate if your plan is convincing. Think of short-term execution that results in long-term outcomes.
  3. External dependency. Do you have the people on-staff to execute the program your grant will fund, or do you need to hire a whole team? Dedicate as many internal team members to the grant as you can who are qualified to manage the day-to-day activities.
  4. Lack of process. Make sure you have a data collection/management tool that helps you to easily provide data needed to monitor progress and success.

What to expect when you receive a grant award

OK, now for the fun part. You’ve been awarded your grant. Congratulations! Here is what you do next.

Since reporting has been a HUGE discussion point in this article, start right away on how you are going to respond to required reporting. Put that process in place as soon as you can. Then, put that process on a schedule that ensures reports are submitted accurately and on time. Follow the NOFA requirements, and if you have any questions, reach out to your grantor. They will appreciate your quest for clarity.

Tracking your grant is important for reporting, but it is also required from the human aspect. Is what we are trying to accomplish getting done?  Your project management team needs to ensure programs funded by the grant are operational and measured for outcomes.

If you run into problems…

In a perfect world, your grant gets funded, and all operational/reporting requirements run smoothly. However, sometimes that just doesn’t happen. So, in anticipation of any snafus, be sure to know exactly how to request an extension. Know how to do it but be very selective on making extension requests or exceptions. You have a duty to follow the rules to the best of your ability, and while an extension is an option, use it sparingly.

For more information

This information has been presented to tribal nations as a webinar in partnership with TribalHub. Check out the on-demand recording for additional resources and specific grant recommendations for tribal organizations.

If you are interested in learning more on how to leverage a grant to fund your next technology project, contact me today at [email protected].

 

By Bill Travitz, Director of Tribal Business at Arctic IT