If you have come to this section looking for some free money for your business you might find yourself disappointed. Grant funding is great when you can get it but should not be relied upon to cover operating costs of your business. What do I mean by this? It usually takes a significant effort to apply for a grant, and if you are fortunate enough to get one, to do the required paperwork and follow up reporting. Also, the timing of the actual receipt of the grant money is often months or even a year in the future, meaning whatever expenses or costs you were hoping it would cover cannot be time sensitive. Many grants are also funded on a reimbursement basis, meaning you will still have to find a source of money to pay for the expense or cost up front. Grants are best utilized for funding projects outside the normal course of business (i.e. developing or marketing a new value added product, building a greenhouse/shadehouse, developing a source of renewable energy, etc.). Still interested? If so, the following section should give you and idea of the effort and process involved in applying for a grant.
A “grant” is a gift of resources, typically money. The idea that there are government, for-profit, and non-profit groups that will actually give you money for your business is an amazing concept. Federal, state, county, businesses, and non-profit entities often have resources to grant to businesses (or non-profits) that can illustrate that they can use grant funds wisely and create impact. But, these grants require work to locate, apply for, and report on, so they do not come without cost. Common reasons for grant application failure include missing deadlines, submitting poorly written or incomplete applications, having a poor business track record (bad reputation in the community) and insufficient talent to implement the proposal.
The trick with grants is that you need to have an idea, product or business that the grant reviewer feels is a worthwhile “investment.” The word investment is used here just like it is with a loan because even grant givers have to show their organizations that good and impactful things will result if they give you financial support. More and more today we have another aspect to consider in a tight economy, which is that granters are getting more “precise” with the types of activities they are willing to fund. In the past, grant requests typically were a little broader. Thus, like a good marriage, you need to have compatible interests with the grant givers or you won’t even reach the proposal review stage. For example, if an organization is willing to support water saving devices for growers, and you want a new tractor to be more efficient in the field, it is clearly a mismatch of intentions.
Here is a list of steps that you can follow to increase your chances of “winning” a grant.
- Keep searching for good grant matches. See the resources at the end of this section.
- Acquire the most recent grant application and guidelines and with a highlighter pen, highlight the critical features, such as:
- What types of projects they are funding?
- What types of costs they are covering.
- What, if any, are the “matching” requirements and do you need to put your money out first and request reimbursement? (This could be a big deal as some grants will only give you 25% of what you need, and you need to come up with the other 75%; though, 25% is better than nothing!)
- Application deadline.
- Application format (font size, number of pages, number of appendices, support letters).
- What reporting and final documentation will be required of you?
- Number of copies of the application required.
- Think and speak positively about your project.
- Set-up a clean place in your business where you can write your grant.
- If you plan to seek partners or professional writers for your grant, be clear with them about your expectations and what you can offer in return, and ask them what they specifically expect from you in exchange for their time and talent. Never assume people will help for free, ask them.
- Know how long it will take for the grant application to physically arrive at its destination so that you can meet application deadlines.
- If the grant application form does not come with a checklist for completing the grant, make one and use it.
There are other things to consider, but the above are the major ones. Still interested in getting someone else’s “free” money? Yes?! Good, here’s what to do next.
- Take out a calendar and mark-off enough days and hours for you to write your grant proposal. This has to be distraction-free time.
- Start writing your grant response. Just start writing down your ideas as fast as you can get them out of your head and onto the paper or your keyboard.
- Go back to your “brainstorming” and begin to craft a readable, engaging, and methodical story about what you want to achieve and how that meets the desires of the funders. Be sure to put the final version in the requested format or outline and answer each question in the application form. If no format is provided, divide your application into the following generally accepted categories: (1) What you want to do and Why it is important? (2) How you will do it (including when and where)? (3) Any additional information on why you are the right person for the job.
- Use as much data as you have to support your claims of the magnitude of the issues to be addressed, the potential impact of the successful implementation of your project, and your ability to carry out the project.
- Now, get a trusted friend to give you some constructive feedback. Hearing feedback can be hard especially if you don’t write often, so prepare yourself to hear the truth (or a version of the truth). One way of managing the feedback is to ask, “Can you please give me three things you like about my proposal and then give me details of where and how I can make it even better?” This simple request can help the person giving you feedback stay focused on what kind of feedback you want.
- While that review is taking place, get all the other required documents in order. These could include cash flow statements, profit and loss statements, business and marketing plans, copies of federal, state and excise tax forms, by-laws of your organization, etc.
- Get the review back and make those changes that seem reasonable, even if your ego is fighting it. Thank your reviewers for their time.
- If you have time, have someone else read your revised grant proposal to get one final set of comments. Revise your proposal accordingly.
- Use your checklist to make sure you have all the pieces in place. Leaving even one little item out can cause the person screening the applications to reject it or return it to you un-reviewed. Grant writing is a serious business and one mistake can take you out of the competition.
- Make copies, sign the forms, and get that application in the mail or sent via the web!
- When you’ve completed the above, think positive thoughts and go celebrate your hard work.
What are they looking for?
The review process typically works like this:
- Applications are opened if they arrive by the due date and time. If not received on time, they may be disqualified and returned.
- Documents are checked for completeness, and if not complete, might be rejected.
- Applications are reviewed by a committee that has been given guidelines for scoring the quality and impact of proposals, often relative to their cost.
- Proposals are ranked on points and then offers are made to the highest-ranked grant proposals. Those not selected are often provided helpful feedback on what was wrong with the proposal. This is of great value to you even if you were not selected. Take that feedback and make your proposal even better next time.
- If you are selected, more forms need to be signed by you or your organization, and performance contracts are developed and signed.
Consider collaborating with a researcher such as a university professor or grad student or extension agent, etc. Often grants have a research focus but the academic needs a practical partner, like a farmer, in order to test their theories and provide results for analysis. These collaborations can increase your chances of getting the grant and the researcher will often take much of the grant writing responsibility. Keep in mind that it is not always easy to find a research project that is in line with your projected use of the funds so finding the right partner could take time and delay the implementation of your project.
Now, finally, you start your work. This is one of the most dangerous times in the process to keep and build your reputation as often months have passed and you now have the responsibility of implementing what you asked for money to do. (Be careful what you wish for!)
- Again, take out your calendar and put in some reporting dates.
- Keep track of all your expenses – save all receipts and put them in a safe place.
- Report progress as required.
Well, that is about it for writing, winning and performing under a grant program. It should now be obvious that grant money is not really “free.” But, if you received a $10,000 grant to install a new greenhouse sprinkler system and it took you only 30 hours to craft and deliver your grant proposal, you just made more than $300 per hour.
Examples of Available Opportunities
Reimbursement Transportation Cost Payment (RTCP)
Basically, helps offset transportation costs of eligible expenses directly related to the production of the commodities produced by reimbursing a portion during a fiscal year.
Costs are eligible for reimbursement if there were transportation costs associated with the input expense. Including but not limited to the following: chemicals and fertilizer, equipment and parts, feed, supplies, plants, seeds, etc. NOTE: You did not have to pay directly for the cost of transportation for the expense to be eligible.
The RTCP sign up typically begins in the summer (i.e July). With a deadline to apply around September. You can find more information on the Farm Services Agency website here: https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/price-support/RTCP-Program/index. Be sure to contact your local FSA representative if you are interested. https://www.fsa.usda.gov/state-offices/Hawaii/service-centers/index
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
NRCS works one-on-one with producers to develop a conservation plan that outlines conservation practices and activities to help solve on-farm resource issues. Producers implement practices and activities in their conservation plan that can lead to cleaner water and air, healthier soil and better wildlife habitat, all while improving their agricultural operations. EQIP helps producers make conservation work for them. Financial assistance for practices may be available through EQIP. Some producers may also qualify for advance payment.
You can find more information on the NRCS website here: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs-initiatives/eqip-environmental-quality-incentives. Be sure to contact your local NRCS representative if you are interested. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/contact/find-a-service-center
Hawai`i Department of Agriculture
For the last several years, the Hawai`i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) has offered a number of grant opportunities to support local agriculture. Including the following:
The Micro-Grants for Food Security Program (MGFSP) – provides support for small-scale gardening, herding and livestock operations to help produce food in areas that are food insecure.
The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) – enhances the competitiveness of specialty crops. Specialty crops are defined as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).”
The Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) – provides cost share assistance to producers and handlers of agricultural products who are obtaining or renewing their certification under the National Organic Program (NOP).
You can monitor the HDOA Market Development Branch website https://hdoa.hawaii.gov/add/md/ for future availability of these programs.
The Hawaiʻi Community Foundation: https://www.hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/ is a great resource for local grants.
The Kohala Center: http://kohalacenter.org/business – Helps farms, ranches, agricultural businesses, and farmers’ associations with capitalization strategies and has consultants available to help you secure low-cost loans or apply for grants to grow your rural business.
The USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education program: https://www.sare.org/Grants – Since 1988, SARE has funded more than 6,700 projects with grants for farmers, ranchers, extension agents and educators, researchers, nonprofits, students, communities and others.
The USDA National Agriculture Library: https://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/grants-and-loans-farmers