Helping Cities Get the Most Return on Investment: Making Informed Decisions about Grant Funding Opportunities

Dr. Beverly Browning will serve as a presenter for the interactive seminar, “Securing and Managing Federal Grants for Small and Mid-Sized Cities” at the Congressional City Conference on Saturday, March 8 in Washington, D.C.

As America's small- and mid-size cities struggle to recover from the recession and the sequestration gloom, doom, drama and trauma, now is a time for cities to start thinking about proactively researching competitive grant funding opportunities.  It’s important to make informed decisions when selecting a grant researching service and determining the various grant opportunities that your community qualifies for.

Identifying Grant Opportunities
When considering whether to allocate budgeted funds for a subscription-based grant research service or using a free service like, answering the following questions can help assess the best grant alert system for your community:

  • What types of grant funding announcements is my municipality looking for? If you are looking at government funding, is the focus on state, federal or both sources of funding?  Identifying a free or subscription-based service that announces the most funding opportunities that best fits your community’s long-term planning goals is essential for getting the most bang for your buck.
  • What is the frequency of funder profile updates? If the service you choose only provides updates once daily or once weekly, you are not going to receive breaking news about grant funding opportunities. Missing deadline-driven information for 24 hours or more means less time to develop a grant application.  Time is of the essence in the world of grant writing.
  • Are the services multi-faceted? Will your subscription be limited to federal only, state only, or just foundation funding? Allocating more to a service that announces a broad range of funding opportunities from different sources may save money in the long run.
  • How broad and encompassing are the keyword search capabilities? This means being able to select specific categories that align with annual grant funding competitions for community development, fire services, hazardous waste, law enforcement, parks and recreation, recycling and reuse, rural issues, senior citizens, solid waste, tourism, transportation, wastewater and water supply/quality, and public health and safety, for example.
  • What are the costs of the available subscription-based grant research services, and are the costs justified by the anticipated return on investment to your community? Doing research ahead of time will prepare you to answer this question from your city council or commission. 

Justifying the Cost
In order to justify the cost of a subscription service, you must allocate the time and personnel to monitor grant announcements. This means assigning staff  to read the incoming grant alert emails, click on web links and read full announcements (or funding profiles) to determine if alerts are a match for your community’s funding needs.

If an announcement is not a good fit for your department, be willing to quickly pass the announcement on to a colleague. If a grant funding opportunity requires matching funds, schedule a meeting with your business manager, treasurer or finance supervisor to determine if there are available matching funds and what your organization or department's procedure is for including them in a grant request.

Finally, be able to calculate your community's return on investment if you are going to allocate funds for a paid grant research subscription. If the cost of the subscription is three figures (up to $999), it’s a good idea to apply for grants that can bring in at least $25,000. With even one $25,000 grant award, your return is 25 times higher than your investment. If the cost of the subscription is four figures (ranging from $1,000 to $9,999), you can justify the expenditure by focusing on grant funding opportunities that will award $50,000 or more.
A solid funding plan will have you submitting four to six competitive grant applications a year that can each award four and five figure dollar amounts.

Qualifying for Potential Grant Funding Opportunities
I designed the following Go/No-Go Assessment for my grant-writing clients. It works very well to determine whether or not to apply for a funding opportunity. These questions are most relevant to government grant seeking. If your responses don't match the answers checked in the Yes/No columns in the table below, please DO NOT APPLY for the funding opportunity!

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Dr. Beverly Browning has been a trainer and grant writer for government agencies for four decades. She joined eCivis in 2010 and assumed the role of Vice President of Grants Professional Services in 2011. Dr. Browning has assisted her clients and workshop participants throughout the U.S. to receive grant awards totaling more than $400 million. She is the author of 41 grants-related publications and holds degrees from Spring Arbor College, University of Michigan and Bridgewater University.