Lessons Learned From the Field

Grant writing best practices all look great on paper, and application requests for proposals look like exciting new ways to support your organizations goals and strategic plan.

Grant writing best practices all look great on paper, and application requests for proposals look like exciting new ways to support your organizations goals and strategic plan. However, when you go to start applying, how do those best practices hold up against the timeline constraints that you have? When you go to start applying, what capacity does your organization have for completing an application, or for completing multiple applications at one time?

A sergeant from a large county sheriff’s department recently had the experience of applying for six federal applications within a two month window. Yes, six.

When I heard the final story of how many applications the department submitted in such a short period of time I had a number of questions running through my head.

How did the sergeant and their team fare?

Would they consider such an ambitious undertaking again?

What would they change about their process, if anything at all?

What were the biggest lessons learned?

In debriefing with the sergeant, the lessons learned are noteworthy for all potential grant applicants to consider whether a law enforcement agency, government agency, or other grant seeking organization.

First and foremost, how did the sergeant and the team fare? The answer was that the sergeant quickly learned more about the detailed needs and rationale behind the needs for each of the departments involved in the application than they had previously understood. The level of understanding needed in order to understand what was being put into each of the applications was a deeper level than what was required for day to day management within the department. In the long-term, that deeper understanding is to the benefit of the sergeant and department.

The other “secret” to the team’s survival in such an intense process during such a short period of time was having external grant writing support to craft each of the narratives, finalize each of the attachments, and submit each of the applications. The team, while they had the capacity to provide the detail for each of the applications, explain how it fit into the department’s strategic plan, provide staff resumes, quotes for equipment, and other key information, recognized prior to embarking on this large application cycle, that they did not have the capacity to handle the work on their own.

It was because of the external support that they received that the sergeant indicated that they might as a department take on such a large number of simultaneous applications again. The other answer, and qualifier that the sergeant shared was that an additional factor in future decisions will be about what percent of the current six applications are funded, how well the implementation and management is going, and what the capacity would potentially be for the department to consider managing additional funds if awarded.

Reflecting back on a large application to look for process improvements is always important. Reflecting back on a large scale application effort such as six simultaneous applications is critical.

As the sergeant reflected on lessons learned, the need for planning and the important of documentation were two of the strongest themes in our conversation. Planning in the sense of connecting each application to the larger department strategic plan and goals to ensure that the work being proposed helped to move those goals forward if funded. Documentation in the sense of detailed plans for equipment purchases, staff training needs and key activities to be undertaken.

Whether all of the six proposals are funded or not, the lessons learned have certainly strengthened the county’s sheriff department and made them more grant ready for any future grant applications they consider.


What lessons have you learned through your own organization’s grant seeking processes? How have they influenced your future grant application processes or decisions, if at all?

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