COVID-19 has forced many schools, hospitals, and agencies to launch emergency operations that they did not previously offer or to expand upon services that were quickly found to be insufficient. Many limped into virtual operations without adequate technology infrastructure, software platforms, or sufficient bandwidth (both internet signal and staff capacity).
The USDA Rural Utilities Services Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant is not new, but it has certainly launched itself into celebrity status. This three-year grant provides eligible applicants the funding to purchase telecommunications equipment, computer networks, and related advanced technologies to be used by students, medical professionals, and rural residents for the purpose of expanding telemedicine and distance learning to rural communities.
As grant writers, we help secure much-needed funding so projects or programs can fulfill their objectives. As our society evolves, more and more funders are including cultural competency questions in their grant applications. Funders want to know that investing in your organization’s project or program helps a vast array of people and that your organization is cognizant of serving people in a way that is inclusive, respectful of diversity, and equitable. However, much like the for-profit world, the non-profit sector is not always diverse or culturally competent.
During my years as the staff grant writer/developer/manager at a small liberal arts university, I had the privilege of working with exceptionally talented faculty members who were passionate about developing their programs with grant funding. I also had the privilege of working with executive level administrators skilled at driving the strategic plan and maintaining the daily operations of the university. Neither stakeholder group had the time or inclination to wade through the minutia of funder requirements. That was my job. Described below are some of the strategies I found effective for educating key personnel and organization administrators about the “shall” and “shall not” of funder requirements.
There are many ways to think about budgeting in relation to grants. Essential to a well-run grants program is planning what discerns program or project creation needs from budget relieving needs.
Program/project creation - funds to help create a new program or project that aligns with the organization’s mission.
Budget relieving - funds that help ‘plug’ holes and relieve existing expenses.
I will never forget the day I took a grant approval form to the vice president of programs I worked with at the time. She took one look at it and said, “We are back to using this thing again?” The form required the team’s signatures on a statement of whether we decided to pursue a grant. At the time, I was fairly new to the position and while I thought what she said was cynical, a part of me agreed and questioned how a piece of paper could serve as full consensus and buy-in. I went with it and started using the form.
Part 1- Accessing existing information
The big question: What do you do when you identify a grant opportunity that requires discussion of how the project fits into the agency’s larger mission and/or existing needs assessments? This may initially cause concern and prevent an organization from pursuing the opportunity. The truth is there are likely existing documents within your organization and the community that may provide you with what you need.