Lexipol’s grant experts weigh in on the biggest grant trends, the most common mistakes applicants make and how 2021 changed the grant world
How do we possibly summarize a year that delivered a whirlwind of grants—including billions in funding to public safety and local government—all under a new federal administration? We turn to the experts! Here are the lessons learned from police, fire, EMS, local government and education grant writers at Lexipol.
The availability and flexibility of funding, due in large part to the extension of CARES funding and the introduction of American Rescue Plan funding, created the year’s biggest trend. Government entities relied heavily on resources from the previous CARES Act to address COVID-related issues, while trying to navigate how decisions would be made on the use of funds from the American Rescue Plan. Several grantors relaxed restrictions on grants and increased the number of awards or amounts of funding available.
Volunteer organizations continued to experience trouble fundraising due to restrictions on in-person events and the fact that residents had less disposable cash than they have had in recent years. This meant many more organizations needed funding help. But the actual volume of submitted applications went down. Restrictions made planning and piloting in-person, direct-service programs difficult.
On the bright side, 2021 saw much more support of public safety initiatives from community and corporate foundations. There was also flexibility in existing grant programs that allowed for budget modification to focus on emerging needs.
2021 saw three firsts for fire service grants:
On the law enforcement side, the Department of Justice ushered in a new online grants portal to streamline funding at the federal level. The conversion of existing systems did not go as smoothly as end-users would have expected. Technical issues caused delays in both application submission and award announcements. Heading into FY22, applications will continue to be submitted to the Department of Justice in a two-step process: Applicants will submit a SF-424 and a SF-LLL in Grants.gov and will then be invited to submit the full application including attachments in JustGrants.
Mental health continues to be receive a lot of focus—both the mental wellness of first responders as well as how law enforcement can improve response to citizens dealing with mental health issues or emotional crises. We are beginning to see creative methods from all first responders (police, fire service, and EMS) in how to integrate mental health into different aspects of their jobs. This is a critical area to watch for grant funding, as it could start to involve medical and healthcare grants instead of just criminal justice grants.
Toward the end of the year, we saw local and regional foundations start to move away from COVID-only funding and back toward their “normal” funding priorities. However, we expect a continued strong emphasis on COVID-related funding. These same funders are also moving away from only funding existing grantees and back to open solicitations—which is great news for new applicants.
The biggest mistake we saw was a focus on wants vs. needs. This isn’t a new trend, but it was exacerbated as agencies flocked to request funding in the wake of COVID. Many applicants regard grants as an opportunity to get everything that they want: “Why not ask big and see if they give us anything?” This is not at all the right mantra. Grantors want to see there is a need and that the applicant is not looking to get money for just anything. An applicant should never build a project around a grant—there should be an immediate need or project and then funds found for that need.
Another common mistake was not having federal grant registrations in place. Applicants were not prepared with their federal portals like FEMA GO, Grants.gov and JustGrants, and common preregistrations like SAM.GOV, DUNS and EIN information. Pre-registration requirements for federal grants include:
Three other mistakes stand out:
The list is long, but our team narrowed it down to three: 1) For departments to become proactive in their grant seeking, 2) for more funding to help volunteer and rural organizations, and 3) for the bugs to be worked out on the federal grant portals (JustGrants and FEMA GO), resulting in better communication from funding agencies.
Most importantly, all of us with Lexipol’s Grant Services team wish public safety agencies and local government organizations successful funding all around!
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