Introduction to Community Network Grant Funding -- Government, Foundation, Corporate
| News From the Street
| Online Papers
| Live Agenda
| Travel & Accom.
| Other Things |
Judy Sparrow is a program officer with Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The NTIA advises the executive branch on telecommunications issues, manages the federal spectrum, and administers several grant programs. TIIAP started in 1994 with $27 million in grants, and has given out about 200 grants since then.
All grant proposals are reviewed by three people, and Larry Irving makes the final determination on the grants. TIIAP is looking for applicants with strong partnerships and cross-cutting across communities, Sparrow said.
Sparrow briefly described three grant programs TIIAP administers, information about which can be found at ntia.doc.gov, and at 202-482-2048.
One member of the audience pointed out that the benefit of a TIIAP grant doesn't stop with that grant -- further support from the community in the form of equipment or financial donations keeps rolling in after the initial award. Sparrow agreed, adding that the grant can spark a kind of synergy.
Janel Radke is executive director of the Center for Strategic Communications, a nonprofit organization that educates and informs nonprofit managers about how to advance program goals by taking advantage of today's communications environment and how to leverage resources through communications planning. One of her group's mandates is to go around to foundations and to explain to them the importance of communication, and to let them know how their participation will in turn help their own organization.
In summary, let the program take the lead whenever possible. Remember that networking is about people, and stress why the existing mechanisms don't work and why yours does work.
- Your first duty is to explain to the grant-makers your long and short-term goals very explicitly, and set deadlines for yourself, Radke said.
- Partnerships are emphasized, as well, especially those that involve financial support.
- Find the best person to take the lead in each particular foundation.
- Always buy into your successes.
- If you say you're a model program, tell the grant-makers how you're going to get the word out.
- Leverage your in-kind contributions, make sure they're in your budget.
- You have to develop a very clear message and articulate it to funders. Funders don't like to fund technology, so you have to be able to answer the question "What happens to your community if I don't give you the money?" You have to be able to say "Terrible things are going to happen."
- Always think of it as an investment. What are funders going to get back from their investment?
- Give funders some kind of experience, bring people involved with your network in to talk to the funders.
- Be specific yet create themes in your grant proposals. Prove what you're alleging.
- You have to be able to answer the question "Why is the network preferred by people as a way to enhance the community as opposed to other methods?" You have to make the case that this is as good or better to fund as opposed to other projects.
- Know who is using your network and why, and put it in an appendix in your grant proposals.
Richard Bryant is co-founder and Managing Director for Projects and Research and Development for La Plaza Telecommunity Foundation. He has also taught for the University of New Mexico-Taos Education Center Computer Technology Department.
Bryant started by giving a brief history of LaPlaza: At the end of May 1993, a few people decided Taos needed an Internet connection. They were lucky enough to get money from Apple Computer, and collaborated with the University of New Mexico - Taos. LaPlaza gave the school Internet access in return for space. Los Alamos then helped with its T1 line and other support. State Sen. Carlos Cisneros managed to create a bill to get LaPlaza some funding to set up a community network, funding that came through in the summer of 1994. In December 1994 LaPlaza went up for public access. As you can see, getting grant money is a lengthy process.
A few things to be aware of:
Why is the community network important to the region? In rural areas, the community network provides vast resources that are taken for granted in larger metropolitan areas. The network also provides publicly accessible online services.
- A critical thing to be aware of is that it takes a long time to get money. Grant-writing needs to go on continually.
- Get to know local people; they're a good source of seed money.
- You need a vision, to be able to tell people what you're trying to do.
- Local content is essential.
- Local training is extraordinarily important.
- Provide customer support.
- The tricky thing is to be able to sustain a community network over the long term.
Sources of grant funding:
- To get some seed money
- To obtain greater project-related funding
- To develop methods for long-term sustainability
This is the order in which you want to look for funding: if you start local, the larger groups are more likely to add to your existing funding.
- Local funders: businesses, local governments, other nonprofits
- State funding: state government, in-state large corporations, in-state foundations
- National funding: federal funding, national foundations, large corporations
- Partnerships with other organizations. Keep in mind that these partners must be people you can work with for a long time.
How to get the money?
- Develop a clear and simple vision
- Demonstrate your project to potential funders (if possible)
- Make as many personal contacts as possible -- funders should know your name and face
- Pay attention to RFP instructions
- Be concise and write well
- local businesses, foundations, partnerships
- Federal grants: TIIAP, DoEd, NEH, HUD, REA, etc.
- State grants: economic development, state information, health care
- Local governments: town information online
- Foundations: usually project-related, e.g., health care, education, underserved populations
Bryant reminded that fluff doesn't work in a grant proposal. It's sometimes difficult to know how much information to include in the proposal, and it will depend on what you're trying to say. You'll have to be clear about what you're trying to say, and say it in as few words as possible. An audience member quoted a statistic stating that 60 percent of grant proposals are thrown out before they're considered, due to missing or incorrect information. Don't leave something blank if you don't have the information -- put NA. It was stressed very highly by grant reviewers in the audience to follow the specific instructions to the letter. And don't use terminology that is not commonly known yet. Bryant said that in his proposals he avoided the words "computer" and "technology", for example.
- Don't believe people when they tell you "Don't do it"
- Develop a clear vision and project plan
- Write a concise vision and goals statement
- Get it in FedEx box on time!
Frank Odasz is director of Big Sky Telegraph, an online educational community network in Montana which supports self-directed lifelong Western Individualism.
A few things to keep in mind:
A few points:
- You've only got a few minutes with a funder, and you've got to put your hopes and dreams in your back pocket while you communicate with the funders -- don't get too excited, and try to keep some distance from the project.
- Phrases like "technology" and "community organization" turn funders off. Avoid them.
- Less is more in a grant, and try to keep the sentences flowing in a good order. Take out boring sentences! One good paragraph that's well-written can be more important than a ten-page grant.
- Partners are very important; you're going to have to live with them for years. Be conservative with your goals and make sure you can meet them on time.
Keep in mind it's a great challenge to write grants. Look to others for editing assistance, grab boilerplate proposal suggestions when they're available (Big Sky Telegraph has several online). And it gets easier each time you write another grant proposal.
- Make the grant fun, make sure you're going to enjoy working on it for a long time.
- If you don't get funded, it's good practice for other projects.
- Be tenaciously persistant, and don't be discouraged. There's more and more grant funding coming into the pipeline all the time, so keep at it.
- Cite other projects that are similar to what you want to do.
- Affiliate/partnership with established projects.
- Good writing is essential. Keep it simple, and avoid flowery language.
- Get to know individuals at the foundations.
- Less is more. Don't be afraid to be an evangelist, however.
Reported by Jennifer Stone