Local municipalities face shrinking budgets and are being forced to diversify their funding sources, in some cases turning to grants.
Most municipality funds go toward the maintenance of day-to-day city services, such as waste removal, seasonal leaf collection and street repairs. These expenses leave little money leftover for the wish lists of mayors hoping to propel their city toward expanded services and higher standards of living.
Doing More With Less
For cities struggling to win public approval of local property tax increases, the ability to invest in infrastructure, technology, green energy initiatives, sports, arts and cultural programs, and safety improvements is often not possible without the assistance of federal and state grants.
For those that haven’t yet managed a grant throughout its lifecycle, swift and efficient adoption of these new processes is essential to the proper management of funds and likelihood of securing future grant monies.
Manage Grant Programs for Success
Part of developing a winning grant management strategy is to customize processes to the strengths and weaknesses of the municipality structure. Here are some tips for managing your municipality grants that will ensure increased efficiency, better program effectiveness, and greater funding security.
Set a realistic timetable. Distribution of grant funds in a municipality requires passing through greater bureaucracy (and more paperwork) than nonprofit grantee counterparts. As a result, set all deadlines earlier to build in additional time for slow processes and holdups.
Diversify funding sources. In addition to seeking both tax and grant dollars in support of anticipated municipality expenses, it’s also important to build a diverse grant portfolio. In doing so, the loss of one grant will not cripple a program or result in the inability to deliver on constituent services.
Develop strong partnerships. With the increased competitiveness for federal awards and stricter, evidence-based reporting requirements, public-private partnerships are becoming more commonplace. Demonstrating a community commitment to solving a local problem increases the likelihood of winning grant funds. Furthermore, teaming up with a nonprofit, which are often more agile, can result in more efficient and effective grant program execution.
However, these same cultural differences can create frustration between both parties, and have the potential for major problems when grant programs are audited. Help nonprofits navigate the bureaucracy inherent in municipalities by communicating municipality processes, and forecasting expected turnaround time for responses. Maintaining a shared log of responsible parties and tasks will help maintain grant compliance and improve program effectiveness.
Look into shared services programs. Another trend in municipality funding is cost-sharing through shared service programs. Some regions are even incentivizing such partnerships, like the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs SHARE Program that offers an implementation grant of up to $200,000 for shared services:
“Traffic doesn’t stop at a town’s border. Neither do things like weather, crime, public safety or emergency services. When problems cross local boundaries, so too should the solutions. Partnerships work. Sharing services reduces costs and duplication without affecting the quality of the work and, thereby, increases government efficiency.” (New Jersey Department of Community Affairs)
As with public-private partnerships, it is important to clearly define expectations, deadlines and necessary documentation, and hold all involved parties accountable.
Objectives, tasks, due dates and grant requirements should be documented and accessible. This can be managed either through a combination of spreadsheets, emails and shared documents, a project management system, or a grant management system.
We’ve found that the latter is the most effective at reporting on grant spending and performance at both the recipient and sub-recipient level. This gives you a full 360-degree view of how money is being spent across the project—a necessity to maintain compliance and ensure the effective use of funds.
Through diversification of sources, strategic partnerships and greater efficiency, municipalities can invest in the future well-being of their communities.
What budgetary challenges does your municipality face? Have you found success through winning and managing federal grants? Share your experiences in the comments below.
To learn more about the impact of federal award requirements on muncipalities, download our free whitepaper, The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting.