Compose a master project list that addresses immediate as well as long-term funding needs. “Projects that aren't high-priority are well-suited for grants because the high-priority projects usually have dedicated capital funds,” says John Mills Pierre, director of professional services for eCivis, a Web service that offers research and consulting services to cities and counties seeking grant and loan assistance for public projects.
Then, build a 12-month calendar of grant due dates and follow legislative trends to anticipate the likelihood of funding. For example, environmentally friendly and sustainable energy projects are the current hot trends, so they're likely to be funded.
Align your project to the socioeconomic needs of your community. “Think about how to make the proposal interesting and enticing,” says Pierre.
For example, sidewalk projects are funded through the federal Safe Routes to School program, created in 2005 to improve air quality, increase pedestrian safety, and reduce childhood obesity. More than $610 million has been allocated for the program through 2009. So far about 1,800 projects have been funded, and about $183 million is expected to be allocated in 2009.
To increase the chances of being awarded funding through the program, “think about what the benefit is of having those sidewalks,” says Omie Ismael, co-founder and CEO of eCivis. In other words, don't present it as an “infrastructure” project but rather a “health and safety” project.
Collaborate with other stakeholders. In the case of Safe Routes to School, gather safety statistics from the police department, solicit stories from parents and teachers about the lack of safety on local sidewalks, and collect information from the school district about how many students walk or use the bus.
Don't expect immediate results. “It takes about 12 months to get through the system, so longer-term projects are more realistic,” Pierre says. “Even if you win one in 10 grants that you pursue, it puts you in great shape.” Bostic says patience was key to funding his massive wastewater treatment plant project, which tripled the capacity of the old clarifiers, replaced the in-flow pump station, replaced an old coarse-bubble diffuser with a more efficient fine-bubble diffuser, installed a SCADA system, installed three new lift stations, and routed a new forced main under the Rogue River—all on an annual waste-water budget of less than $800,000.
“Whether it's baby steps or giant strides, funding agencies will work with you through the grant writing process,” he says.