In previous articles, we’ve provided an overview of the manufacturing landscape and how manufacturers and the organizations that support them are using grants to address the challenges they face. We’ve also detailed the manufacturing grant landscape and provided a 6-step process to help you prepare to research and write grants. Now, we’ll summarize the grant research and writing process – the actual work of finding and accessing grant funding.
Step 1: Pull Out the Company’s List of Project Plans
As discussed in our most recent article, the company’s project plans and the outcomes (what will change) will inform the grant research process. These plans will inform the creation of a list of keywords describing the desired outcomes of the projects (job creation, capital investment, landfill diversion, etc.).
Step 2: Use Keywords to Find the Grant Opportunities
The primary source of funding for manufacturing projects is the state(s) where the company is located. Grants can be easily identified on each state’s economic development website. Most websites include search functionality. A common search would be “grants, [keyword]”, with the keyword coming from the list developed based on the company’s project plans. Typically, there is a listing of state grants somewhere on the website, but many states have this information well-buried.
A manufacturer’s location will determine its eligibility for USDA funding. This information can be found on the USDA’s Eligibility website, and it’s based on the company’s address, which can be entered on the site. USDA’s Business Program website for renewable energy project opportunities is also a good source for determining grant eligibility.
Print out or save any information uncovered, including Requests for Proposals (RFPs) or Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) and Fact Sheets.
Step 3: Evaluate the Opportunities and Create the Funding Strategy
All research should be first presented to the cross functional team, as mentioned in the previous article, to evaluate and prioritize the grant opportunities. During this session, the team will identify which grant to pursue first. The highest priority would be the grant that best fits a project on the project list (along with its associated outcomes), and those with an upcoming deadline. Grants that are offered on an ongoing basis or those which are not a good fit for a project are a lower priority.
The team may have questions about whether specific grants are a good fit. In this case, certain questions may be answered on the website, or there will be contact information associated with the grant that manufacturers may call or email with questions regarding eligibility. These contacts are typically very knowledgeable and responsive.
Step 4: Write the Manufacturing Grant
First, read the RFP/NOFO or the application form at least twice to guarantee a complete understanding of what is required to be provided in the application. Never be afraid to ask that contact person for clarification. Create a checklist of items needed based on the application form and RFP/NOFO, and identify who is responsible for obtaining the information. Some items can be done by the person writing the grant, and others may require team involvement.
When filling out application documents, it’s critical to answer all questions completely and honestly, and enlist the support of a proofreader to ensure that the information provided is accurate, complete, and free from grammatical or spelling errors.
Step 5: Submit the Manufacturing Grant and Wait
There will submittal instructions in the application or the RFP/NOFO. Follow submission instructions exactly. For example, if the funder requires that the application be submitted in a PDF format, don’t submit it in a Word document. Many state applications are now online, but the information must be filled out completely. At this point, it’s a waiting game. It can take anywhere from a week to three months to learn if a state grant has been awarded. In most cases, the applicant is not allowed to do any of the work or purchase any items in the grant prior to grant award and the company’s acceptance of the grant.
Step 6: Now What?
If the grant has been awarded, the manufacturing company will receive a letter or email, often with an agreement that must be signed to accept the grant. This should be a great moment of celebration for the team.
The agreement should be signed as soon as possible so that work can begin on the project being funded by the grant. There will be reporting required, which will likely be outlined in the agreement or in the RFP/NOFO. Reporting forms are often supplied by the funder or on the website. All reporting should be submitted per the instructions and in a timely manner.
For manufacturers who are not awarded a grant, the reasons why may be included in the notification email or letter. If not, the contact person responsible for the program may or may not be able to provide feedback.
Step 7: On to the Next Manufacturing Grant
Once the first grant is awarded, the next ones are generally easier. Grants may be available for additional project outcomes, which may be searched using the keyword list developed above. Just as there are multiple outcomes for one project, there are also typically more than one grant available to fund a project.