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Grants Office - setting one up

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Richard Newbern

Does anyone have advise for setting up a grants office for a small city? As a City staff person in Brunswick, Ga. , a coastal community of 15,600, I write occasional grant applications to the state and federal gov't. for specific infrastructural or economic development projects. I have been asked to "ramp-up" our grant-seeking and virtually set-up a grants office. Does anyone have any advise or suggest some critical resources to help us?

Thank you!


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Scott Frost

First, let me say the consultant article posted by Mr. Tiernan is an excellent overview and covers many of the key issues very well, so I would certainly encourage you to take the time to read through it. And that's coming from a competitor, so you can rest assured of my sincerity.

With that said, there are a few considerations I might add to the excellent advice in Ms. Fitzsimmons' article.

While all grant-active organizations share some common threads, the truth is that each is in fact unique, and the scope and structure of a grants office will vary accordingly. Just a few factors to consider include organizational structure, pre-award and post-award skill sets available within the grant active departments, leadership style (possibly the most critical), past history (such as prior negative audit findings), organizational objectives, local priorities, demographic data that may enhance or detract from the City's competitiveness with common grants, benchmarking against peer cities with geographic and demographic similarities, etc. etc.

Circling back to "leadership style", something Ms. Fitzsimmons touches on is "achieving buy in". In as far as that recommendation goes, I would wholeheartedly agree. However, over the years, we've seen many operations struggle in spite of support voiced early in the process. What they all had in common was a lack of underlying policies and procedures that served as a means of enforcing / exercising that support when it's needed most. With a strong grant coordinator and solid support from City Management and your Finance department, there are any number of ways you can go about setting up your grants office and have an excellent chance for success. Without those things in place, you're headed for a lot of frustration.

Finally, the volume and type of grants the City is pursuing / managing will also dictate resources needed... both human and software. After reviewing the City's audit history and grant activity in the Federal database, I do have some recommendations on that front as well. However, I don't think a forum like this is the appropriate venue for what could be interpreted as marketing, so I'll end my comments here and send you a private email with some additional information shortly.

The fact that Brunswick is having this conversation clearly indicates the City has the right mindset, as many take grants for granted and never make it this far. Best of luck in your efforts.

Scott Frost
CEO, American Funding Innovators, Inc.

 
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Timothy Tiernan

Hi Richard,

eCivis is running a series on the subject of establishing a grants office from scratch, written by one of our powerhouse contractors. Here's the first part of the series, which includes a helpful assessment within the article: http://blog.ecivis.c..

For future notifications of such articles, you can subscribe here: http://articles.eciv.. .

Best,
Tim

Brian Kelley

Brian Kelley

thanks, Tim! ecivis is an excellent resource!

 
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Tony Mazzucco

Richard,

Just to share something we did recently- We hired an intern for the summer in preperation for a new department head (library) coming on board in the fall. The project we have her working on is a database of grants available/grant makers/foundations along with contact info, deadlines, web sites, etc. She is also putting together a "pipeline" of projects from small to large that we'll keep updated so that as opportunities come up we have "shovel ready" possibilities. It originated as a way to prepare an under performing department for a new DH to come in and hit the ground running, but its something we are going to try to do city wide (rural community of 8,100) and try to keep going through a combination of interns and city staff. Its something that would need to be kept updated and require work, but an idea that may help short of hiring staff.

 
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James Ha
James Ha said

Hi Richard,

Tony brings up a great point about shovel ready projects. Ramping up typically comes with some short-term expectations so identifying shovel ready projects is a great first step. After that, you have two critical areas to address. The first is grant funding information. Access to information will be a critical component of setting up your virtual office. Identifying and researching grant funding is the biggest challenge in cities seeking to ‘ramp up’. It will take up the lion share of your time. Based on your city’s size you will find the most opportunities among private foundation and state grants.

Second, develop clear administrative policies- particularly, if your ‘ramp-up’ will lead to increased collaboration with others in your city. Increasing the number of grants you review and having to rely on others to determine if they can meet program requirements becomes challenging when you begin to reach the upper limits of your capacity. Clear policies (and training) will help alleviate growing pains.

Finally, I’ve attached a template for you to review, or use. It represents how another municipal org is managing the grant consideration phase, which in your situation should require at least a dept/agency manager and finance to review a grant before committing resources (and your time).

Good luck.
James

 
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John Zakian

Richard, before charging too far forward in creating a grants office or in pursuing the advice and guidance being offered, it would be best to check out two websites which are grants.gov and the Foundation Center. The former is used by all federal departments and agencies, and is the resource for federal grant opportunities. The Foundation Center has one of the most detailed and expansive data sets of private and corporate foundations that is available. The point is to get a solid feeling for the challenges and opportunities that present themselves for a city the size of Brunswick, and will it be truly economically feasible to sustain a full-time grant staffer. First and foremost, there are no grants to fund grant writers, and most federal grants and many foundation grants will not permit reimbursement of grant production or grant staff costs. Where this leads is that if the city sees value and opportunity then it is best to create such a staff position and/or office with funding coming from local sources such as tax levy. One other initial thought to ponder is whether it might be worthwhile for the city considering creating a partner 501 C3 non-profit organization. In checking out the Foundation Center and grants.gov, it will be readily seen that a preponderance of grant opportunities are open to non-profit 501 C3's and to a lesser extent C6's. Indeed, it is why cities throughout the nation are considering shifting economic development activities from city departments to partner non-profit EDOs. Good luck.

 
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Richard Newbern

Thanks for everyone's advice on getting a grants office started in a smaller city. The comments are very helpful. In response to the last post by John Zakian, I've noticed, too, that municipal grants do not automatically come with a 6% administrative fund like they used to. Is it indeed possible for a 501 (c) 3 or a C6 to serve as a vehicle for seeking grants from foundations and gov't. agencies to finance public purposes, such as economic development, law enforcement, and public infrastructure? This way, administrative fees can more readily be included in the grant funding package.

I realize that a foundation would more likely fund economic development than, say, a core local function like public safety or public infrastructure. Does anyone know of an example where a City has an established 501 (c) 3 with the exclusive task of obtaining funds for City-sponsored projects? It's a novel way to raise funds for City projects, and also cover a portion of staff costs. Any information is appreciated!

 
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Beverly Browning

Hi, Richard. Here are two communities that have created 501(c)3 organizations within their unit of municipal government. The nonprofit status enables them to apply for grant funding for all types of municipal projects:

Fund to Advance NYC
The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City was established in 1994 to serve as the umbrella not-for-profit corporation for the City of New York. The Mayor's Fund is a publicly supported, not-for-profit corporation, dedicated to working closely with the City of New York. As the City's 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, the Mayor's Fund works with the City of New York to leverage public sector initiatives with private sector support. The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City raises money to promote the general welfare of the City's residents and aid civic improvements. The Fund supports the work of many City Agencies including Education, Parks, Health, and Cultural Affairs, and raises funds for many quality of life initiatives.

Cities create nonprofits to add to their coffers
June 30, 2013|By Lisa J. Huriash, Sun Sentinel
Cities throughout South Florida are turning to another way to make money — asking for your charitable donations. Margate is joining the growing list of Broward cities that are creating — or re-starting — nonprofit "foundations" to raise money to supplement the city coffers.

In 2002, I worked with the City of Siloam Springs (Arkansas) to setup a 501(c)3 public improvement fund. Incoming contributions were used to improve public infrastructure.

I hope this helps you continue on your journey for information.

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