How to Turn Funders into Your Project Stakeholders

There is a relationship between funding agencies and their grantees. The most successful grantees nurture those relationships. There are many reasons that this is a worthwhile effort.

  • Establish Credibility – Managing a successful grant early in the design and construction process establishes credibility of your organization for later (and larger) grants. This credibility applies both to the original funding entity and to others that may fund later phases of the project.

 

  • Cultivate Project Champions – Funders that have been involved in successful early phases of the project are more inclined to support later phases in the process. Being involved in multiple phases of a project will naturally turn a funder into a stakeholder and, hopefully, a champion for your project within the larger funding community.

Understanding where your project is in the design and construction process is important to understanding its potential for outside capital grant funding. If you wait until your project is in the construction phase, not only have you missed other opportunities for funding, it’s likely too late to even secure construction funding. Therefore, it’s never too early to nurture your relationship with funders.

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The Importance of Incorporating Advanced Technologies in Your Project

Utilization of advanced technologies can often be considered an industry-accepted best management practice (BMP) for capital and infrastructure projects. Therefore, government funders are more likely to support projects that successfully incorporate BMPs into a project’s design since it will help advance industry knowledge. By incorporating advanced and emerging technologies in your project, project funding becomes more accessible. For example:

  • Green Technologies – Green technology refers to technology that is environmentally friendly and is developed and used in a way that conserves natural resources, reduces the influence of human involvement, and has a much lower environmental impact than conventional technologies. By incorporating green technologies into your project, you make it more sustainable and therefore more appealing to potential funders.
  • Emerging Technologies – Capital infrastructure projects have historically underinvested in emerging technology. In some cases, there is current focus on finding new ways to increase efficiency and performance of new capital infrastructure by leveraging emerging technologies and digital capability.
  • Involves Research or Demonstration Scenarios – Best practices and informed by research and evaluation. Some funders – generally educational and scientific institutions and government entities – are interested in supporting the research or demonstration components of projects to help advance best practices. Incorporating research or demonstration activities into your project can open additional sources of funding for capital projects.

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How to Utilize a Funding Opportunity List

Are you looking to hire us to help you with searching for the grants you’re most competitive? Curious about how we do it? As a client of Dig Deep, you will receive a list of funding opportunities applicable to your proposed project. This list of potential funders is a huge asset as you begin the process of seeking grant funding. The carefully curated list will save you a significant amount of time by eliminating the need for you to locate potential funding opportunities on your own. The work required to find relevant grant opportunities is often very time intensive and difficult for individuals and organizations that are unfamiliar with the process.

The Dig Deep Funding Opportunity List is a spreadsheet that provides a list of potential funding opportunities with some basic information about each opportunity. The following information is included:

  • Funding Agency – the name of the funding agency.
  • Program Name – the name of the funding opportunity.
  • Program Summary – a brief description of the funding opportunity’s objectives.
  • Eligible Applicants – basic list of the types of organizations that are eligible to apply.
  • Max Award – the maximum amount of funding possible as part of the opportunity.
  • Match Requirement – the minimum amount that your organization will need to contribute to the project, usually expressed as a percentage of the request.
  • Deadline – application deadline(s). May be estimated based on previous grant cycles.
  • Funder Type – funding sources are categorized into three general types: federal, state/local, and private, which includes corporate and foundation grants.
  • Website – a link to the website where you can go to find more information and read the entire funding guidelines. 

This funding opportunity list provides a comprehensive of funding opportunities specific to your type of capital project. The list provides all the information necessary to determine your eligibility for each grant program and allows you to begin taking the advanced steps to assess your likelihood of funding much sooner. But you don’t have to hire a consultant to prepare this list. You can take the sheet attached here and fill out the information on your own through your research. We wish you luck in securing funding!

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Active vs. Passive Grant Research

There are two ways to approach grant research: an active approach or a passive approach. We’re not here to say one is right and one is wrong. Both are acceptable depending on your overall funding goals and your timeline. What we aim to do is differentiate between the two and provide insight on what method would work best for you.

Active grant research has a purpose of funding something specific. If you have a project in mind, you have a more narrowed focus for your research purpose. Methods for conducting active grant research include canvassing websites, checking targeted sources, paying for subscription services, conducting trend analysis, and monitoring policies that pertain to your project. In other words, this approach is very hands-on and requires a lot of your time and focus. We recommend this approach for organizations with a “fundable project”, in other words, a project that needs funding and there are grants out there that can help it come to fruition. Although this involves a lot of work and financial investment, this is a smart approach for those with a project of focus who want to be efficient with their search, choose grants for which they are most competitive, and have a set timeline in mind for project completion.

Passive grant research has a purpose of funding something in general, not with a specific project in mind. The methods for this approach include if someone passes a grant opportunity along to you, you stumble upon a funding opportunity, you have notification services turned on for funders, RSS feeds, email distribution lists, and grants.gov notices. This approach has a low cost or no cost associated with it, so it’s economical for those who do not have the budget to have a more active research approach. This approach is recommended for organizations who have grant development staff whose job it is to have a finger on the pulse of the funding landscape in general in case something comes up that would be of interest to their organization or for future projects. If you don’t have a project that needs funding specifically, or have a relaxed timeline, this could be the approach for you.

Assess which grant research approach makes the most sense for your organization’s needs and please note that there is nothing wrong with either approach, or even switching from one approach to the other. Another option within the active research category is hiring a consultant to research grant opportunities for you. If you have a larger budget, this option would allow an expert to conduct the research process for you, leaving you worry-free.

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Public/Private Partnerships and Why They’re Important

Want to make your water infrastructure project more fundable? Funders are interested in supporting projects that are broadly supported by the community. One way to demonstrate that support is by highlighting project partners and their role in the project’s success.

Partnerships between a public entity and a private organization are of specific interest to many funders. There are many reasons for this interest, including: supplementing limited public-sector capabilities; diversification of funding sources; and ultimately providing better public service through improved operational efficiency. Even indicating willingness to be open to a public/private partnership can often boost the fundability of a project.

Don’t limit yourself to just one partner – established partnerships with multiple entities in your community demonstrates a stable base of support for your proposed project. This support can be financial, technical, or simply public approval. Any support your project might have outside your own organization is important to highlight.

The more fundable features your project has, and the better you are at communicating those aspects of your project, the more likelihood your project has for funding success.

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Four Steps to Take Advantage of New Funding Opportunities

Want to know exactly how to take advantage of these new federal funds? Tia Cavender, CEO of Dig Deep, outlined four steps to do this on the Ripple Effect podcast.

Step one is to figure out which funding agency funds the projects you have. For example, if your project deals with water reclamation, you should be looking at the USBR.

Step two is to sign up for that funding agency’s notifications and get on their email distribution list. That way, you can be notified if any news of interest is blasted out or in case you need deadline reminders.

Step three is to pay attention to your project’s eligibility and determine which grants are worth your time to invest in preparing an application. Your project needs to be in the top 2-10% of all applicants to be competitive for federal funding. If you’re less competitive than that, it’s not worth your time or resources to pursue. The FEMA BRIC program, for example, is the most competitive program. The top 2% of applicants move forward for consideration but are not guaranteed funds. This competition is due to more people coming to the table and costs having risen, reflecting larger asks and less money to go around.

Step four is to ensure you have enough time to plan. Infrastructure funds take years to make an impact. If you’re used to thinking that it’s best to throw your hat in the ring now to take advantage of a grant opportunity before the deadline, even if your application isn’t perfect, you need to change your approach. In this funding climate, you’re better off waiting another year if your project isn’t fully developed and/or competitive enough. Quality over quantity.

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Breaking Down All This New Funding

Have you been hearing about all this new funding but don’t know what it means? The federal government has passed acts to support infrastructure funding including The Infrastructure and Jobs Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the Inflation Reduction Act. What do these acts aim to do? How can you take advantage of these funds?

All of these are intended to fund existing grant programs or start new grant programs that push money out for infrastructure projects like those for drinking water or wastewater. These acts can also create new loan programs.

The other goal is to make funding more accessible. SRF (state revolving fund) programs in every state are loan programs, sometimes associated with principal forgiveness. With Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) funds, states have been supplementing principal forgiveness which helps disadvantaged communities. This evens out the playing field and makes the funding landscape less competitive for rural and disadvantaged communities, which is an administration aim through the Justice40 Initiative.

Now that you know more about these funding opportunities, you are able to make educated decisions as to what types of funding to pursue. Just because more money has been allocated, it doesn’t mean you should apply to any and everything expecting results. Assess the options and only apply to programs you are highly competitive for. Don’t waste your resources on grants that won’t be fruitful.

The Standard Components of a Grant Application Explained

Once you have defined your project and identified potential funders, it’s finally time to start preparing your application. Every application is different, depending on the requirements of the funding agency; but there are some fairly standard components of capital funding applications.

The budget is the single most important element of any application. The budget is the financial expression of your project and shows funders exactly where their money will go. The budget usually consists of two components: budget form and budget narrative. The budget form must define every cost associated with the project. The budget narrative provides an explanation for items included on the budget form.

The narrative is the written description of your proposed project. The component parts often request the following information, though the headings may vary: project summary, project goals or objectives, project description, and performance measures. These sections are fairly self-explanatory, but be sure to remember that there is usually a word count associated with the narrative. Multiple rounds of editing are needed to ensure you include all the necessary information in the most concise manner possible.

Additional documentation in the form of organizational attachments will be required including mandatory federal forms, letters of support, and resolution. These documents are important to provide evidence of compliance and support. Technical attachments are required as well, which include documents such as a map of the project area, land use compatibility statement, permits, and environmental crosscutting requirements.

It is important to familiarize yourself with every requirement of a specific application before you get started so nothing is missed. While it may seem daunting, identifying and understanding each element early will help you make a plan that allows the application to be completed by the application deadline.

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You Never Know Until You Ask

Having trouble finding grant opportunities? Not sure if an application is worth the time and resources to complete? Confused about where to begin in general? We get it. The world of grants is overwhelming. Even experienced grant-writers struggle sometimes.

So how do you navigate this world? Put your questions to use and ask them. Whether you consult a program officer or a grant-writing consultant, there are people who have the skills and knowledge to assist you in the process.

Program officers can be particularly useful since every funding agency has a contact person, or program officer, that is responsible for managing the application process for a given opportunity. Create a list of questions, asking for their perspective on how well your project aligns with their priorities. In addition, ask them to give you suggestions, both general and specific, about things to include that will make your proposal stronger.

If you want to invest in a consultant, you then open the door to additional grant-seeking resources like paid subscription services and therefore be able to more efficiently and effectively identify funding opportunities. In addition to their resources, consultants can answer many if not all of the questions you have regarding the entire process. Make full use of this optional investment by engaging them as much as you can.

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Match Requirements: An Important Aspect of Evaluating Funders

Evaluating funding opportunities can seem daunting, even for experienced grant-writers. Federal grant guidelines often include 75 or more pages of information and instructions! Not every funding opportunity will be a good fit for your organization or your project. By breaking down the evaluation process into stages, you can avoid spending too much time assessing programs that are an obvious mismatch to your water infrastructure project.

The first step is to eliminate programs for which you don’t meet the basic eligibility requirements. The second step – before you really dig into the guidance to assess competitiveness – is to do a more thorough assessment of the nexus between your project and funding program.

One of the most important aspects to focus on is a grant’s matching requirements. Funding agencies almost always expect your organization to bear some of the financial responsibility for the proposed project. This responsibility is known as the match and is usually expressed as a percentage of the request amount. It’s not always necessary to meet match requirements with cash, depending on the funding agency. Some will allow staff time, in-direct costs and volunteer contributions as “in-kind match”. If you can’t meet the required match percentage, consider whether it’s reasonable to lower your request amount so that the match is feasible.

Evaluating a funding opportunity can seem overwhelming. However, by focusing on a few important considerations like match requirements, you will be able to better determine if a funding opportunity is worth pursuing.

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