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10 things you need to know to prepare a successful grant application

This step-by-step guide will help you plan, prepare and apply for grant funding to support your EMS organization


Sponsored by Pulsara

By EMS1 BrandFocus Staff

Many public safety organizations find themselves with tight budgets, asked to do more with less – especially with declining tax revenues and increased calls for service during the pandemic. Grant funding is a good way to supplement your annual budget, and there are plenty of resources, whether public (state, federal and local) or private (foundations, corporations, etc.).

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides aid via grant funding for first responders and healthcare professionals. Check out these 10 best practices for success when searching for and applying for grant funds.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides aid via grant funding for first responders and healthcare professionals. Check out these 10 best practices for success when searching for and applying for grant funds. (Getty)

The coronavirus pandemic significantly challenged and strained our nation’s healthcare system, including EMS agencies from coast to coast. Lawmakers have enacted legislation providing about $5.3 trillion to help mitigate the economic burden. In particular, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides aid to help first responders and healthcare professionals.

If you are just beginning your search for grant funding or are familiar with grants but unsure of how to prepare an application, here are 10 best practices for success when searching for and applying for grant funds:

1. GET STARTED NOW

Even if you don’t have a target grant in mind yet, start planning and preparing now. Do your research and establish who will be responsible for gathering information, preparing the application and reporting should you win the grant.

2. ASSEMBLE YOUR GRANT TEAM

To avoid potential delays, missed deadlines and misallocation of resources, identify key stakeholders early on. These individuals will play essential roles in researching grants, collecting data and completing and submitting your agency’s applications:

  • Project Manager: Identifies grant opportunities, maintains administrative and registration requirements, coordinates stakeholders, compiles memorandums of understanding and ensures timely submission of applications.
  • Grant Writer: Develops the application’s narratives, identifies and collects data to support the narratives and submits the application.
  • Post-Award Manager: Ensures that all reporting/purchasing requirements and project deliverables are met after the award is accepted.

3. FORMULATE A STRATEGIC PLAN

Planning is key to the success of any grant application. Start by identifying the need within your agency or the community you serve, then come up with measurable goals and steps to address it, as well as the products and services that will help you achieve those goals.

Your strategic plan can be a formal or informal process. A formal process includes multiple stakeholders closely examining data and constructing a formal document outlining the plan. Your city, county or agency may already have a formal strategic plan in place that you can draw on to draft this document. An informal process may consist of having stakeholders identify a list of needs for the upcoming year.

4. GATHER DATA

To support the goals and objectives outlined in your strategic plan, you’ll need quantitative and qualitative data that validates your organization’s need for funding. This information includes but is not limited to:

  • Organizational history (mission statement, background, etc.).
  • Demographics (population, average household income, etc.).
  • Financial information (operational budget or audits).

This information will help you focus your searches on grant opportunities that best address the needs of your community or organization.

Read More: American Rescue Plan: Guidance on state and local fiscal recovery funds

5. DESIGNATE YOUR AGENCY’S POINT PERSON (AOR)

Most grant programs require approval from the applying agency’s Authorized Official Representative in order to submit and receive awards. The AOR is the individual with legal authority to sign grant documents, enter into contracts and execute documents. This can be the city manager, the fire chief or EMS medical director, county judge or others.

If the grant cycle is already open, as in the case of the American Rescue Plan, seek approval immediately from your agency’s or organization’s leadership. If you have planned ahead and determined other potential grant programs to apply to for the year, plan to seek approval within one to two months of the application period’s start date.

6. MAKE SURE YOUR AGENCY HAS ALL REQUIRED REGISTRATIONS IN PLACE

Applying for grants comes with a lot of administrative requirements, such as an up-to-date System for Award Management (SAM.gov) registration or some other form of registration your agency will need before being applying.

Any entity receiving federal funding must have an active SAM registration. Many states will have their own registration requirements as well. If these requirements are not complete at the time of application, you will not be allowed to apply.

Below is a list of common registrations required to submit grant applications, including common federal application portals and administrative requirements with important links:

DUNS – Data Universal Numbering System

  • DUNS provides a unique nine-digit identifier for your organization.

SAM.gov – System for Award Management

  • Identify your point of contact/AOR.
  • Registration can take anywhere from three to five weeks.
  • Create a Grants.gov account and assign roles.
  • Requires yearly maintenance to ensure it stays active/renewed.

FEMA Portal (FEMA GO)

  • AOR should have permission to submit the application.
  • Login will be an email address and secure password.

Unique State Agency Portals

  • Check your state government’s website for specific grant programs managed by states (i.e. the state health department or federal HHS funding).

7. DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Once you have determined the needs of your agency, drafted your strategic plan and identified your AOR, the next step is to begin your search for potential grant programs. The project your organization establishes will help determine what grant programs are the most relevant. Here are a few resources to help you find the right grants opportunity for your needs:

  • Straight to the Source: Visit Grants.gov to search for every grant program available at the federal level.  Set up an account and subscribe to specific programs in order to be kept informed. The key document you’ll want to read is the Notice of Funding Opportunity or NOFO. It contains all of the pertinent information for each grant.
  • ARPA Fiscal Recovery Funds:  As mentioned earlier, the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provide aid to first responders and healthcare providers related to the impacts of the pandemic. Look at your state, county and city government websites to see how these funds can be accessed for your needs.
  • State Administering Agencies: For state-funded and federal pass-through grant programs, the State Administering Agency is responsible for creating the solicitation and application, as well as establishing the awards process. Each SAA decides how to apply and who is awarded. (Check your state government websites to find this information.)
  • Grants Databases: Both free and fee-based databases are available, such as EMSGrantsHelp. These typically include descriptions of each grant, plus category listings and a search function.
  • USASpending.gov: Do some keyword award searches on this official open data source of federal spending information to see what funding your organization (and collaborating partners) has received in the past. This can be helpful in identifying programs you already qualify for and where to direct your efforts.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when performing your search:

  • Break down your search to different levels/types of funding sources: federal, state, local or foundation/corporate programs.
  • Search with the specific project you would like to implement in mind. For instance, is the funding sought for equipment, personnel, training or a combination thereof?
  • Cultivate relationships with program managers.
  • Sign up for grant program newsletters and attend webinars that provide guidance on getting funded.

Once you find your target opportunities, be sure to sign up for email notifications, check the websites regularly and reach out to the programs’ points of contact if you need more information. Double-check the opening dates, deadlines, eligibility requirements and deliverables to avoid missed opportunities.

8. VERIFY YOUR ELIGIBILITY

When you find a grant program that aligns with your project’s scope, it is important to ensure that your organization is eligible to apply. Often, eligibility is restricted by type of organization or geographic location. For instance, are those entities eligible to apply only extended to nonprofit organizations? If so, partnering with a nonprofit will be beneficial.

Be sure to review reporting requirements for each grant you apply for. These reports are due after the award is accepted and intended to ensure that the award will cover the cost of the project. If the award won’t cover the whole amount, you should develop a plan to fund the remainder of your project’s cost.

9. DEVELOP YOUR INVESTMENT JUSTIFICATION STATEMENT

Using key information, such as data and financial summaries taken from your strategic plan, the investment justification should explain the extent of the problem you aim to address and how the project to be implemented will meet your needs. This is the heart of your application.

When developing your investment justification, it is important to consider whether you are applying to an equipment or programmatic grant program:

  • Equipment grants focus on providing funding for agencies/departments with equipment needs. For example, the ARP provides funds to support public health services and programs to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including but not limited to PPE purchases, vaccination programs, testing, public health surveillance (such as monitoring for variants) and more.
  • Programmatic grants focus on providing funding to develop or expand programs or services to a targeted population in order to solve an identified problem. As the applicant, you can identify what to include in the budget, with some restrictions, as long as the budget request is an allowable cost that is justified within the project narrative and shown to be an essential request that addresses solving the problem. This can include community paramedicine expenses, such as expanded telemedicine services or programs to address behavioral healthcare needs exacerbated by the pandemic, including mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment and services or outreach to promote access to health and social services.
Download a free funding guide from Pulsara to learn more about COVID-19 relief funding opportunities for EMS. 
Download a free funding guide from Pulsara to learn more about COVID-19 relief funding opportunities for EMS.  (Pulsara)

Navigating the labyrinth of resources and requirements in an effort to secure funding for your organization can be tricky. Vendors can provide helpful information on which of their products and services may be eligible for grant funding and how. For example, Pulsara provides a free funding guide with details about current funding opportunities and tips for success. They’ll also partner with you to help you write a compelling case for the funding you seek.

10. SUBMIT AND TRACK YOUR APPLICATION

The lion’s share of the work occurs before a grant cycle even opens. By planning ahead, you’ll be prepared to pounce as soon as the opportunity opens and quickly gather the required documents and signatures to assemble the application components.

Once you submit your application, be sure to check the application portal regularly for additional requests from the grant maker for information/documentation. Depending on the grantor, award notifications are typically made four to six months after the application is submitted.

Visit Pulsara for more information, to download a free guide to funding and connect with their team members who can help guide you through the application process.

Read Next: 10 things you need to know to optimize your EMS operations (eBook)

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