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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Grant funding can make a significant difference to the ability of law enforcement and other agencies to maintain the safety and wellbeing of officers and the communities they serve. And today, millions of dollars in grant money are available for training, hiring, equipment, and programs of many kinds.
However, applying for a grant is very competitive process that requires careful preparation. Below are some guidelines for making your grant application or proposal stand out.
Crafting a winning application begins with research and strategizing. There must be a clearly defined goal that solves a specific and important need. The budget must be reasonable and the projected outcomes achievable. Search the internet for similar projects that succeeded—as well as those that failed. Knowing what doesn’t work or fit your needs is important.
Start the process early, and consider the application deadline when deciding which or how many grants to apply for. This process takes time, and may require the dedication of an important member of your staff or the hiring of outside personnel. Limit the number of grants you seek to those that best suit your needs and that you are most likely to win.
If applying for a federal grant, get a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number, and register with the System for Award Management (SAM) database, or ensure that the credentials you already have are still current. For COPS Office Grants, see the Preparing to Apply list for other administrative requirements.
Get input, ideas, and support from everybody who would be affected by your proposal. You may want to collaborate with other first responders, other law enforcement agencies, or health, education, or social service agencies to get their insights and form grant-seeking partnerships.
Thoroughly read the grant application carefully and follow instructions. Create a checklist for all requirements before applying, and review your proposal to ensure that it closely adheres to them—if it doesn’t, you won’t get the funding. If, for example, the award is for a program that must be national in scope, a program designed just for the applicant’s own agency or region won’t win. Moreover, even a proposal for a national program needs a detailed description of how the program can be replicated across the country.
If applying for a COPS Office grant, see our Preparing to Apply checklist.
If you don’t have internal capabilities, hire a grant writer—or find one in the community who might provide services on a pro bono basis. Also, reach out to potential partners who could handle parts of the application that you don’t have the expertise or time for.
There are several resources for this, including PoliceGrantsHelp, which offers grant application services, some of which are free of charge. The International Association of Chiefs of Police offers a Best Practices guide for grant writing as well as a guide for Accessing Free Resources for Smaller Law Enforcement Agencies. The COPS Office offers User Guides for each of its funding programs.
Find experts in your grant topic—for instance, a mental health professional for an addiction prevention program or a digital forensics expert for equipment you want to purchase. You may need these people onboard to fulfill the requirements of the grant, or to advise you on how to make a good case for it in your proposal.
Get a signed non-disclosure agreement from them to ensure confidentiality, and ask that they review the proposal before submission to determine relevance and practicality.
Explain exactly how your hiring, training, program, or equipment need is critical to public safety or officer safety and wellness. Provide as much detail as possible so the peer reviewer can get a clear understanding of what you plan to do with the funding. Be specific about its potential impact, and, if called for, how it differs from other programs, training, or equipment that already exist.
Many funding solicitations are topic-specific and have question-and-answer–based applications. Others, such as some program proposals for the COPS Office, require narratives that explain not only how a program applies community policing principles, but how it is innovative.
Said one reviewer, “These projects need not be entirely new or unique, but must at least be an advancement or enhancement of what is already out there, and applicants need to explain how they are really going to make a difference.”
Make a strong case for the funding you want by providing the most up-to-date statistics and data, as well as any research that supports the proposal and demonstrates how your project can achieve its goals. In doing so, make sure to follow the solicitation’s rules for citations (e.g., footnotes, endnotes, bibliography).
According to program analysts, it is not unusual for applicants to forget to attach their narratives or other documents. One reviewer, in stressing the importance of providing all data requested, said that her component requires data for the previous three years, including the most recent one, and that this is sometimes missing.
A common mistake is providing a budget that is not reasonable for the project goals—too high, too low, or just not cost effective. Also, ensure that all requested costs are explained in the budget narrative, and do not exceed the amount allowed by the grant.
Don’t solicit funds for separate efforts in other agencies. And, if applicable, demonstrate the monetary value of your program by describing its impact and how it can be replicable.
Provide financial information in the program narrative or abstract, in a budget worksheet or in a separate budget narrative. If the budget is adjusted during the process of developing your application, make sure that all financial data is in alignment in all sections of your proposal.
Provide resumes of three key staff responsible for the project and describe in detail how they are well qualified to handle the project. Also designate stakeholders who are familiar with your program as points of contact for grant application reviewers who may reach out for verification of data or other information.
If the proposal is limited to 20 pages, don’t submit 21, either in the narrative or by adding additional documentation. Follow the guidelines for page limits, font size, line spacing, graphics, or any other requirement.
Says one reviewer, “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of following the specific guidelines for each application. Just because we want some things in our proposal doesn’t mean that other grantors do. Some want the budget in the narrative, for instance.”
Also, clearly identify which area of the application or question you are addressing, labeling each part of your narrative to correspond to the headers in the application.
Clear, concise writing is essential. Make it easy to read and understand, avoiding jargon and unnecessary acronyms and defining those that you must use. Don’t submit a wall of text—keep your paragraphs and sentences short and to the point. Try using the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action taken, and Results anticipated.
If it’s called for and the rules allow it, include colors, graphs, or images to back up your statements and make your solicitation attractive.
Experts from PoliceGrantsHelp strongly advise asking two or three individuals, including at least one who has not been involved in the process, to double-check your proposal for writing quality, accuracy, consistency, adherence to guidelines, and ease of comprehension. If there are questions about any requirement, ask the granting organization so that it can be addressed before submission.
Crafting a winning grant application or proposal takes time and commitment, but if the officer wellness or public safety goal of your project is worth it, don’t hesitate to take it on. And be sure not to miss the deadline.
Sr. Technical Writer
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