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Positives far outweigh the negatives in funding programs with grant money
Those who can’t meet the requirements or obligations need not apply
There are many benefits to obtaining grant money. The most obvious is that grants provide additional resources for projects. "There is always room for more money to supplement the departmental budget whether it has to do with creating a program or expanding or enhancing an existing program," says Virginia Forbes, MSN, RNC, program director of patient and family education at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.
In addition, grant dollars provide an opportunity to be very focused on a particular intervention. For example, grants could provide the startup money for a learning center, educational materials for outreach, or multimedia materials, says Cathy Abeita, MA, an education program specialist at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, NM.
Grants also can provide an opportunity to apply research findings, she says. For example, current diabetes research showing the benefits of exercise could trigger a research-based exercise program for people with diabetes.
Forbes has found grant money very beneficial. A few years ago, she received $150,000 from a foundation for a grant she co-authored for a bone marrow transplant education and support program. The foundation was looking for programs that would facilitate patients’ convalescence.
With the grant money, New York-Presbyterian Hospital was able to provide more frequent support groups for transplant patients and laptop computers for each patient’s room, as well as an educational video and CD-ROM. "The patients are delighted to have access to the Internet and e-mail right in their rooms," says Forbes.
The main drawback to the use of grant money for project design and implementation is that patient education managers must figure a way to sustain or institutionalize a program once the grant money is gone.
"Make sure the important parts of the program can be sustained. It may not look exactly the same, but if patients and their families have become reliant on something, the grant dollar allows you to be sure that the same kinds of concepts and theories that are driving your program aren’t going to be lost," suggests Abeita.
Many funding sources require that grant recipients figure a way to sustain the program once grant funds are gone, says Forbes. When she used grant money to initiate an interpreters’ training program she knew that the $45,000 startup money wouldn’t last long, but she was able to obtain $35,000 in follow-up funding.
The grant was used to hire a program coordinator to train volunteers and to develop training materials. "The hospital picked up the program, and we now pay external interpreters, as well as trained volunteer interpreters, because we need to be able to reach them right away," says Forbes. However, the program was put in place by a grant.
There are a few drawbacks to grants. Some have restrictions on the use of the funds, says Forbes. For example, funds may be used to create patient education materials, but may not be used not for human resources.
The grant money often has been allocated for a specific purpose and goal, and if that changes over the course of the project, the changes must be presented to the funding source, says Forbes. Very often the source will agree to the new direction the project is taking, based on the information submitted, she says.
The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks of using grant money to implement ideas for patient education that the budget doesn’t cover. However, patient education managers who are grant-savvy say it is important to take the right steps.
Know whether your organization has a grant or development office and what the policy is on submitting grant proposals. Many funding sources only want to receive one proposal from an organization; so all grant solicitations should be submitted for approval before they are written, says Barbara Giloth, DrPH, director of program development for Advocate Charitable Foundation in Park Ridge, IL. This helps prevent the submission of grant proposals from several different departments within the organization.
Goals in alignment
Before applying for grant dollars, also make sure that the program or project for which funds are sought is aligned with the mission and goals of your health care institution and that the focus of the grant dollars is a match, says Abeita.
It is a good idea to talk to a program officer at the funding source to make sure that your idea matches the request for proposal before putting in the time to write the grant. Sometimes organizations will ask for a letter of intent or an outline of the idea to ensure that the proposals submitted will be aligned with their goal. Only those who have their outline approved can submit the proposal, she says.
Sometimes a request for proposal will be an exact match for a project or program in the planning stages. At other times a request for proposal will trigger an idea. When looking for funding sources, it helps to know which organizations are the best sources for your project.
For the most part, independent foundations are interested in funding new programs or pilot programs, says Giloth. Also, they often are interested in hard-to-reach or disadvantaged populations. However, family foundations are not as likely to have strict guidelines, she says. They are created as a way for families to make contributions, and the grants usually are associated with family interests. For example, if the family has experienced the death of a baby, they may be receptive to neonatal support or a bereavement program.
All funding sources want to know that their dollars are being used wisely and will require some sort of reporting. Some require their grant recipients to participate in an evaluation, she adds.
All requirements are identified in the request for proposal. For example, there may be geographical restrictions, or a health care organization may be asked to partner with another institution.
If your grant is rejected, try to get comments from reviewers and people who made the decision. Make a note of the mistakes you made because grant writing is a learning process, says Abeita.
Grant writing may be competitive, but if you never write a grant proposal, you never will get any funding. "You just have to give it a try. The more you do it, the better you get; and sometimes the first time out, you will be successful," she says.
For more information on obtaining grant money to fund patient education programs, contact: