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Doing Business With The Government

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(A primer for nonprofits seeking government grants)

Non profit organizations and educational institutions often seek grants from local, state or federal government. Here are some tips that might help if this is a new field for you.

1. Learn the rules. 

Government agencies are bureaucracies, so most of the rules are written. Just ask and you can usually get program descriptions, application procedures, how the applications will be rated and current priorities. Stay within the lines and you may prosper.

2. Different approaches are needed. 

Appeals that work well with individuals or foundations may be inappropriate, particularly emotional approaches. Reviewers will look for technical expertise, logic, clear theoretic bases for your program, and numbers.

3. Don't get political. 

We can't say it hasn't worked, but getting your legislator to push the agency to give you a grant is tacky. Proposal raters see their process as an objective and technical one, much like civil service, one that shouldn't be open to favoritism. A letter of support, however, is fine, particularly when you have many folks' letters saying you are a credible organization with a worthy idea.

4. Brevity is not rewarded. 

The Request for Proposal will say differently, but just write small. Be thorough and complete, and attach all the background and supportive information that is pertinent. Attachments can be creative: maps, GIS displays, even a videotape...if appropriate.

5. More homework, more success. 

Research your grant all that time allows. Learn the jargon, read agency plans, review grantee's reports. It pays off in more solid proposals.

6. Packages and Partners. 

Government staff are suckers for approaches that are jointly sponsored, use existing resources or creatively pair technologies or funding agencies. Its worth the extra effort.

7. Try, try again. 

Do a grant postmortem if you don't get funded. Agency officials are quite candid about your grants' strengths and weaknesses after the selection process.

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