Periodically, we check in with Michael Paddock, CEO of the Grants Office, to talk about strategies and best practices to help state and local governmental agencies to maximize funding opportunities for IT projects from grants.  This month we asked Michael what distinguishes a successful grant application. He noted that while there are several factors that can bolster success, one attribute that’s becoming more important is the ability to demonstrate collaboration.

GovDataDownload (GDD): What are the benefits of collaboration?

Michael Paddock (MP):  There are many reasons why organizations would want to collaborate with other organizations within their community when applying for a grant.  Chief among them are that projects tend to be larger since there are more constituents and the project can be funded by several different organizations, rather than relying on just one.  Funding organizations are more likely to sign on to a robust project since there is a greater chance for project success, both overall and in the number of community members that will benefit from the funding.  Recently, in fact, I’ve seen proposals awarded extra points for demonstrating a high degree of collaboration.

GDD: How do agencies find other organizations with which they can collaborate?

MP: It might seem a little daunting, but it’s all about lateral thinking.  The best place to start is within the same community or population base and from there to think of key components of the project you want to fund.  A high school district could look to a community college, for example; or a workforce development program can collaborate with a public health organization.  However, organizations might also want to look to neighboring communities and municipalities as they’ll have common goals as well.  The most important element is to identify a shared need that enables the collaboration.  From there, it’s a matter of taking advantage of the economies of scale.   I’ve seen grants grow by three hundred percent because organizations with a common goal have worked together.

GDD: What are some strategies to make the collaborative process as smooth as possible?

MP:  This is a great question because nothing can undo a collaborative effort more quickly than stepping on each other’s toes.  By this I mean that from the outset of a program each stakeholder will need to know their role, responsibilities, and commitments.  A written plan will serve the team well even in the very early stages and it should be treated as a living document that gets revised at each stage of the grant application process to make sure all stakeholders stay engaged.  Then, once the grant has been awarded, the document becomes a roadmap to make sure funding and equipment are passed through, achievements and milestones are documented, and that reporting back to the funding agency is completed.  Funders are loath to take grants away, but there are requirements that have to be met and having a well laid out plan ensures success.

GDD: Do you have any other tips to share on driving success in a collaborative grant application?

MP: The basic rule still applies – ensure that you’re eligible and don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole when it comes to grant applications!  If the grant you find isn’t a strong fit for your organization, even if you are collaborating with others for whom it’s a better fit, but still not perfect, then don’t apply; keep looking. There’s more than likely a grant out there that’s relevant to your organization.  While this rule is primarily about eligibility for the grant, it also pertains to the dollar value of the grant you’re applying for.  In this sense you want to know how much funding you need and apply for an appropriately sized grant.  As tempting as it is to find the funding ‘by any means necessary’ applying for a grant that is too large or trying to cobble together funding from multiple small sources will not set your organization up for success in the funding competition.

Are you interested in learning more about grants to support IT investments for educational institutions and law enforcement agencies?  You can find recent webcasts for education here and a new webcast on federal funding for law enforcement technology here.