3 steps to explaining your needs in a grant application

As the grant writer for your agency, it’s up to you to explain the problem in the grant application in a way that gets you funded

If you’re going after grant money, it’s obvious your agency has a problem that needs solving. You know what it is. Your chain of command knows what it is. It’s the topic of many staff meetings and — most likely — something you have already spent untold time and money on trying to solve.

As the grant writer for your agency, it’s up to you to explain the problem in the grant application in a way that gets you funded. That means it has to be compelling and — this is important — something you can solve with the project you have planned.

What does a good problem statement look like? It can be broken down into three basic elements.

1. Available Data
When it comes to data, more is better. Start with what you have internally. This includes calls for service, incident reports, annual UCR numbers, and anything else you have available. Whether it’s violent crime, drugs, gangs, or traffic-related issues, you should have a wealth of data to show the extent of the problem.

Comparing this data across time is important to prove your case. A minimum of three years is typically needed, but it may be necessary to go back a few more years to better show the situation, particularly if your numbers are relatively low, such as those for a small jurisdiction. You can use percentages as a way to prove the increase.

Another source of data that can assist in the problem statement is census information. If your problem is gang-related, for instance, what is the high school graduation rate in the area? Select those numbers that can be shown to directly contribute to the problem, which may require a bit of research. Don’t just throw a few in for good measure, make sure they are relevant.

2. Anecdotal Information
Personal stories can come from the police officers patrolling the areas and the citizens affected by the crime.

A couple is all that’s needed, but it puts a personal touch to the problem that simple numbers can’t. There’s a fine line between boring and sappy, so get someone to review this section who isn’t involved with it to let you know where yours lands.

3. Prove That the Problem is Solvable
This is where your project comes in. After all, you are asking for funding to solve the problem, so it needs to be able to be solved by your project. It isn’t enough to say it, you have to prove it. That means some research into the problem and its solutions needs to be done and the outcomes cited in your problem statement.

You probably should also show what steps have been taken in the past — and how successful or unsuccessful they were. Prove that you’ve been using your own resources but have not been able to solve the problem.

One caution about problem statements: Beware the overstatement. While your description of the problem needs to be strong enough that it moves the funder to assist you in solving it, don’t go overboard and make it seem worse than it is.

A grant application is — in many cases — public record and subject to be seen by a lot of people. A few years ago a large city had a lot of its prosecution cases re-reviewed when a grant application made it appear that the evidence processing laboratory used was substandard and needed a major overhaul. 

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