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Grant Writing 101 a prerequisite for Alabama cities looking to fund projects

With so many people in the room, you might have thought Grant Writing 101 was some crip course, an easy A offered at the University of Alabama.

But folks who filled the hall for this training session of the Alabama League of Municipalities (ALM) annual convention at Hotel Capstone know or learned that grant writing isn’t easy. They also know it is a prerequisite for cities and towns across the state to get projects done.

The panel discussion provided municipal leaders with the information, tools and resources they need to be successful in securing grants for their communities.

Lawrence “Tony” Haygood is the mayor of Tuskegee and president of the League of Municipalities. He and other administrators of cities and towns across the state said grants are absolutely essential in order for communities to grow and get what they need.

“I don’t care if it’s infrastructure, economic development, services for your community, a lot of it comes through grants,” Haygood said. “We generally don’t have enough in our operating budgets to do things. It’s critical to get grants from agencies or foundations or from the government for your specific area or your specific needs.”

Florala Mayor Terry Holley said the chance to learn is key.

“It’s a good opportunity for us,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to learn something. If you learn just one thing, it’s worth coming to these things that we have.”

Especially when it comes to grant funding.

“It is very critical for our cities that we have, our towns and everything else,” Holley said, “because we can’t produce that much revenue that comes in.”

Fairfield Mayor Eddie Penny said everybody’s seeking grants.

“You can get grants for the fire department, grants for the police department, infrastructure,” he said. “An infrastructure grant will help you pave roads and reduce floods and a lot of other items, economic development. There are a lot of grants out there, so the more you can get, the better you can help your citizens.”

Alabama Power’s Michelle McAndrews moderated the panel composed of Keya Kraft, the director of Grant Writing Opportunity Alabama; Tina Jones, vice president of the division of Economic and Workforce Development at the University of West Alabama; and Scott Farmer, executive director of the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission.

“Municipalities are the foundation of Alabama’s economy; therefore, it is our mission to deliver timely resources, tools and training to our membership,” said Greg Cochran, ALM executive director. “The Grant Writing 101 session held during the league’s annual convention provided attendees valuable information to aid their municipalities in maximizing their dollars as they pursue quality-of-life projects. We appreciate each panelist for collaborating with us to educate local officials from across the state to ensure that every Alabama community is a place where citizens can live, work, play and prosper and where businesses can thrive.”

Farmer highlighted the importance of municipalities communicating their story when seeking grant opportunities. He said a city needs to have a narrative, a story that states its vision that helps that city’s project stand out from others. But a city may not want to stand alone.

“Grantors love to see partnerships and collaboration,” Farmer said. “A lot of times, you get more points if you’re partnering with another community or with a nonprofit or some sort of agency within your community. That’s an important deal.”

Haygood brought a full understanding of the subject into the room as he has successfully written applications that have gotten grants. The Tuskegee mayor gave the panel a grade of A for its thorough explanation.

“They did a tremendous job,” he said. “For the average mayor/council person here, especially from smaller communities, this is a top session right here because it provided the information to tell them how to go about it, what to be aware of, how responsible to be when you get a grant. It was a powerful session.”

Jones warned the audience to look at the big picture, not just the short-term goal. A grantor will certainly consider how well a city can take what it has received and keep the improvement going.

For example, a grant application for needed equipment should consider how that equipment will be maintained in the future.

“A lot of times, we are so focused on what we need at that particular time, we haven’t thought about what’s going to happen once the grant cycle is over,” she said. “But our funders a lot of times want to see that you have a plan that keeps the project going, or how you’re going to maintain the equipment. They want to make sure that the dollars they gave you are going to continue to have an impact for years to come.

“That’s what we mean when we’re talking about sustainability,” Jones continued. “They really want to see that their dollars continue to provide quality-of-life investment or anything else that helps the community, but they want to make sure that they continue to have an impact.”

“Often, there’s strategic planning that happens before you even identify grant programs,” she said. “You’ve gone through some process in which a collection of people have said that a project is important. You get that buy-in and that agreement, then you find a funding source.”

It might take a city one month, two months or three months to develop their grant application, Kraft said. Once the application is submitted, the applicant likely won’t hear back for another six months.

“Even after you hear back, the money might not actually be released for another three months,” she said. “You started your project two years after you initially started thinking about doing it. That’s really what I think any organization going after grants has to keep in mind.”

McAndrews spoke to Alabama Power’s focus on community development through grant connections.

“Funding is often the main barrier to community initiatives coming to fruition,” McAndrews said. “We understand this challenge and want to support communities throughout the grant writing process. Helping communities identify the funding and resources available, how to prepare for and submit for that funding, and how to make the best use of it is vital to help communities meet their goals.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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