Obtaining Grant Funding for Your Radio Communications Project
By Shannon Day
Tuesday, August 10, 2021 | Comments
One hears phrases like “communication is key” and “we need an open line of communication” so often in everyday life that it has become a cliché. But, when it comes to public safety and first responders, this cliché is a stark reality.

From the moment the call comes into the 9-1-1 center, a metaphorical, and literal, switch is flipped. Without reliable communications, that call can’t be dispatched, and those officers can’t respond. Fortunately, grant funders on both the federal and state level are aware of the necessity of reliable radio communications and have provided numerous resources for public-safety agencies.

Securing the funding required to purchase, upgrade and maintain public-safety equipment can be daunting. The landscape of public grant dollars is vast; it includes funding opportunities from more than two dozen federal grantmaking agencies and hundreds of state funding sources, each of which has its own criteria, application process and deadline. This article will help you focus your grant-seeking effort on more technology-friendly opportunities for first responders and provide some tips and strategies for becoming grant ready.

Understanding Grant Sources
Grant funding originates from one of three major sources: the US government, individual state governments and private entities. While your agency may be eligible to submit applications to each of these revenue sources, it is important to understand the characteristics of each of these grant types in order to select the appropriate funding tool for your project.

Federal funding. The federal government issues more than $500 billion in grant awards each year through its 26 grant-making agencies. Federal grant programs often support projects that act as testbeds for innovative solutions or strategies. These funders then use data from awarded projects as the basis for future criminal justice best practices or to influence future law enforcement policy. Given these programs are open to applicants from across the U.S., they tend to be some of the most competitive funding opportunities available. That said, federally funded grant programs usually have the largest funding pools and can make the biggest awards.

State funding. State governments distribute additional funding, using local tax proceeds or dollars “passed-through” from a federal agency. In general, grants from state agencies offer a much lower application burden than federal funders. Programs are designed to support local priorities and demand fewer action steps from applicants. State awards tend to be smaller than federal grants and may require a local funding match from the applicant.

Foundation/corporate giving. Private giving provides an additional $50 billion each year in funding. This support is great for those small projects that fall outside the parameters of large publicly sourced grant funds. Some foundations prefer to add value to an existing project, rather than grow a new initiative from nascency. To align with these efforts, public-safety agencies often pair private funding with an existing state or federal grant or use private grant funding to satisfy another grant’s requirement for a local match.

The funding mechanism used to distribute dollars will dictate how the award is delivered to your agency:
Competitive funding. Proposals are competitively scored based on a set of subjective criteria. Applications with the highest score receive funding.
Formula funding. Allocations are based on a specific formula, such as population, violent crime statistics, homeland security risk or the number of acute care hospital beds in a jurisdiction. This practice is common in the Homeland Security Grant Program. Once funding levels are determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), that money is specifically earmarked for each state, virtually assuring they will receive an award.

Considering the multitude of funding pathways available for your needs, it is important to qualify which types of grants are best for your organization to pursue. Each of these distinctions will have implications on the value of your program and the potential to raise new funding for your project.

Writing Communications into a Grant Proposal
It is important to note that very few grant opportunities fund technology for its own sake; we like to say, “Grants fund projects, not products.” Instead, funders offer programs focused on a topic of interest, such as improving the response to sexual violence incidents, reducing drug trafficking across county lines, or improving security on school campuses, and leave it up to the applicant to determine how they will accomplish this mission. In these instances, communications technology can become an essential project enabler but is still not the sole purpose of the grant itself.

Here is an imaginary grant project proposal to help illustrate this. The Rio Marron Sheriff’s Department is the third largest police agency in the state. Last year, its officers responded to 14,214 incidents and made 339 arrests. Additionally, an increase in the homeless population led to a surge in homeless-related calls for service, including assaults, drug overdoses and mental health emergencies. In a six-month period comparing 2018 to 2019, the department saw a 265% increase in calls for service related to homelessness issues.

Currently, the department has an aging radio communications system with poor coverage in the more remote areas of the county. This compromises the safety of its officers and members of our community. The department has a tremendous responsibility for ensuring the safety of approximately 57,471 community members. The requested funding will augment the department’s budget and allow for the purchase of additional communications equipment, including repeaters, so the department can maintain interoperable communications within its agency and with other area first responders.

As you can see, the equipment is the smaller means to a larger end: “We need X to achieve Y.”

Selecting the Best Grant(s) for your Project
To select the best grant for your project, start by jotting down two or three programs that catch your attention. Don’t forget to peruse your home state’s website for more grant opportunities.

As you review these opportunities, consider the following questions:
Project scale. What is the intended scope of this program? Can we satisfy all required project components? Will a grant award lock our agency into too many extra activities?
Collaboration requirements. Are partnerships required for this project? If yes, can we leverage any existing relationships? Do we have enough lead time to form new ones?
Total funding available. Will the award size be enough to fulfill our evidence management project goals, or will we need to find additional funding sources to roll the project out in phases?
Local match. How much will my agency have to contribute towards the total project cost?
Application burden. How many pages are required for the narrative? Who will write it? How many additional attachments will be required for the complete application package? Do we have enough time to fully develop and articulate this project?

Through this process, one or two programs will likely begin to shine as ideal funding sources. Note the anticipated timeline for application submissions and make plans to apply.

Remember, grant seeking is a journey, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll find that grants can provide a regular source of funding for new projects in your agency and that a seasoned grantseeker is a valuable resource in the community.


Shannon Day is a grants development consultant for Grants Office.



 
 
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