Opinion: Considering a grant writer? Do your homework

My record is perfect.

For those who have followed this column, that’s hard to imagine. Years ago, a manufacturer paid me to help write customers’ applications for the UMA Vision Awards. They picked innovative operators, and hoped my infusion of “literary skill” would help them win.

My record was unblemished by success, and eventually, they stopped asking for my “help.”

Hope on the horizon

A glimmer of hope for our industry is visible on the horizon in the form of the CERTS Act. If it becomes law, bus companies may be eligible for grants and low-interest loans. 

Two things to consider. 

First, it’ll probably be simple to apply on your own, If you do, hang on for a couple of paragraphs for some ideas stolen from actual smart people. 

If CERTS passes, grants will probably be need-based. UMA, ABA, and state associations will provide application particulars when available. 

“Writers” can be helpful with “competitive” grants, but CERTS will likely be the easier “proof of need.”

Do your homework

This is the government, and the process will take time. Do homework now, while CERTS is
being hashed out, and figure out how to survive until it comes through.

“Homework” includes working with your Accountant to make sure all taxes and filings are
current. Have current “financials”, so you know how much to ask for in future.

Grant writingIf you think DUNS, SAM and CAGE is a law firm, you aren’t ready to go grant hunting. Check
out what they mean… and make sure you are up to snuff, because all are important in this

Massage documentation as if you were applying for a loan (HOPING it’s a grant). Once applications open, act quickly, because the queue will become long.

Have everything you might need handy, because if the Grantor asks for something you don’t
have, they move on to the next applicant while you rummage. By doing it yourself, you control
your destiny.

Choose carefully

Second, if you engage a good consultant/“grant writer,” chances of success may improve… choose poorly and you could spend tons on an application AND still be rejected or wait for months. Even the best ones may be swamped this time.

If the “needs” nature of THIS program doesn’t require help, sometime in the future you may compete for a grant, so here are a few things to look for.

No reputable grant application writer will promise success. Heck, I could call myself a “grant writer,” but refer back to paragraph three. 

Yesterday, I couldn’t spell “consultant” and today, I are one.

“Consultant/grant writer” is not a regulated discipline … anyone can hang out a shingle, regardless of skills or qualifications. The industry’s current plight may attract a range of quality. Some will have enviable records; others may be blowing smoke or promoting products. 

Check references

Minimize risk by getting references, and WORK them. A shiny website claiming to have acquired bazillions in grants is an advertisement, not actionable information. You’ll want specifics from several confirmed clients. Google is your friend.

When talking with references, ask how responsive the consultant/grant writer was. Did they return phone calls and emails promptly? Did they give regular updates on the application’s status? How long did the process take?

Are they knowledgeable about BUS transportation? It’s significant if they have actual operating experience.

Above all, are they consistently successful? The great Lithuanian/American philosopher Johnny Unitas once said, “Talk’s cheap … let’s play.” 

Although the practice is no longer allowed, take care that language isn’t written into the application that commits you to using their services or proprietary software.

Ideas for applicants

If you decide to apply on your own, now or in another program, here are some ideas stolen from a “wicked smaht” guy.

“If a company goes for a grant, they need to know what the grant’s requirements are. For example, if the company says they are going to use the grant for ‘bus purchase for scheduled service,’ that’s what the funds must be used for.”

“Don’t over-request grant funds, assuming if money’s left over you can use it for other things. Uncle Sam insists that the grant be used for precisely what the application states. Plan on audits after the money has been drawn down.”

“Most grantors want to know what level of Disadvantaged Business Enterprises you utilize. The more the better.

“Many grants like letters from community leaders, such as local, state and national government representatives, That’s why it’s important now (actually, before now) to be involved in your community. When you ask the mayor, or the Chamber of Commerce director for a letter of support, remind them of the toy or food drive that you’ve assisted in with your buses and employees.”

If you’ve worked at marketing and being active in your community, this is when personal relationships pay off. 

Grab low-interest loans

In previous rants, I’ve suggested that “interweb” stuff alone is not enough, so let me indulge in a brief aside? 

When low-interest loans are available, GRAB those suckers. If you don’t need them now, bank the money. It’ll be there if you need it, and you can pay it back if you don’t.

It’s critical to understand the terms of the program being offered. The highly touted “airline bailout” had a number of aspects many carriers found so odious that they limited their involvement, or didn’t participate at all. 

We need to understand what is offered, and under what conditions. 

Carefully examine what you ask for … you may get it. 

Again, this process most likely will take months; betting on it alone for survival is dangerous.

When someone asks who is buried in Grant’s Tomb, we don’t want it to be us.

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