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Look for grants that fit your mission
You’ve got a great idea for a new program, but you don’t have the cash to cover the start-up expenses or maintain the program while you build it. There may be grant money with your name on it — you just have to use the right approach.
"We are not a big agency with a fundraising staff or grant-writers on the payroll, but when I heard about a National Family Caregiver Grant that was available through our local Area Agency on Aging [AAA], I decided to apply for the funds for a program I wanted to start," says Jeff Crowley, MSPA, executive director of Serve Link Home Care in Trenton, MO. "I started by making inquiries to see how much money was available and if we were entering the process too late," he says. "When I discovered that there was a reasonable amount of money and that there was plenty of time, I decided to apply," he adds.
Opportunities for partnering explored
Serve Link was awarded $40,000 for the first year to fund a caregiver support program that includes an emergency personal response system for patients in the agency’s rural nine-county area. In addition to the 36 families with a personal emergency response system, 12 other families are receiving respite care, with home health aides visiting once per week for three hours at a time, says Crowley.
Part of Crowley’s initial conversations with other community organizations was also to explore opportunities for partnering on the program. "Not only did I want other organizations to make referrals to our programs, but I wanted to work with the local retired senior volunteer program to recruit volunteer installers," he says.
Before actually writing the grant application, Crowley also did some internal marketing to make sure his staff were supportive of the program and to see what ideas they had. "Most staff members, especially the clinical staff, were excited because a personal response system, as well caregiver support, would be a great benefit for our patients," he says. The only concern came from the financial people, who realized that a different system for tracking costs and income for the program would be needed to meet the accounting requirements for the grant, he adds.
The Caregiver Support Network designed by Crowley and funded by the grant includes five components:
Focus application on products, services
Your grant application needs to contain a full description of your program that clearly shows how your program meets the objectives of the grant program, Crowley says. "Focus on products and services," he suggests. "It is much easier to explain personal response systems and respite care than the web site services," he says. "Outreach education is also important in the first year of a program to find customers and develop a referral base," he adds.
You also need to include a realistic budget. "My program required the hiring of a part-time coordinator to conduct the outreach education seminars and to oversee the Lifeline and respite care programs," says Crowley. Other expenses included cost of the personal response systems; reimbursement of mileage and meals for the volunteer installers; and salaries of the home health aides who provide respite care.
"This particular grant does not require a co-pay from the patient or caregiver, but we are asked to send letters soliciting contributions to the program," says Crowley.
Whatever funds are contributed are included in the income for the caregiver program and reported to the AAA.
You will have reporting requirements with your grant, Crowley points out. In addition to whatever monthly or quarterly budget reports you may have, be sure to develop an ongoing relationship with the agency overseeing the grant, he suggests. "Once you are out of the competitive bid process, you become partners with the organization," he says. "We will talk with our AAA representative at least once a week to make sure we are proactive in verifying a caregiver’s eligibility for the program or addressing any questions the organization may have," he adds.
A benefit to regular communication for Serve Link was a call from AAA to let Crowley know that additional funds were available halfway through his first program year. Because the grant organization was comfortable with the way Serve Link’s program was run and knew how valuable the service was, the extra funds were granted to support the Lifeline program, says Crowley.
Make realistic funding requests
One way to improve your grant application’s chances for success is to be realistic and reasonable in your requests, says Crowley. "Our AAA serves 18 counties, of which I serve only nine, which includes only a third of the population in the entire 18-county area," he points out. For this reason, Crowley asked for a proportionate amount of money for his program. "I believe that my application was attractive because I didn’t come in and ask for 80% or more of the funds for a small part of their service area," he says.
A big question to ask yourself as you design a program for which you are submitting a grant application is, "Can I sustain the program in its second year?" Be honest as you evaluate the chance of a grant funding extension, Crowley says. Be prepared to work with a smaller budget for the second year, he adds. "In conversations with AAA, we’ve already been told that the emergency personal response systems and respite care are likely to be funded, but not the web site," he says.
One way to stretch grant dollars is to refrain from allocating a lot of expenses to the program, says Crowley. "We purchased the computer used by the caregiver program outright with agency funds rather than allocating the cost to the grant monies," he says. Not only does this make bookkeeping simpler; it also demonstrates the home health agency’s willingness to target grant expenditures toward services provided to clients, he adds.
Finding grant opportunities is fairly simple, says Crowley. "I don’t spend my time on the Internet searching for grants, but state agencies as well as health and educational foundations regularly send out public notices," he says. Also, networking with others on community foundation boards and in health care associations and home health agencies will alert you to grant opportunities, he adds. The key to finding a good fit is to make sure you know the mission of the organization providing the grant and make sure that mission is congruent with your agency’s mission, he says.
Crowley’s positive experience with his first grant application means this won’t be his last. "I will pursue other grants to fund new programs, but we are a small agency, so we can only handle one start-up program at a time," he says.