Learning how to ask for a fair share for rural
Training provides skills needed to write proposals for federal grants
When it comes to securing their share of federal grant dollars, rural communities are lagging far behind their urban counterparts.
Consider this: In the most recent federal fiscal year, the federal government awarded $3.2 billion in competitive grant awards within Oregon. Of those funds, just 3.7% were to recipients in Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes nearly all communities east of the Cascades as well as some rural towns in southern Oregon. While that was a slight improvement from the 2.4% awarded in fiscal year 2010, the actual dollar value decreased by $6.5 million or 5 percent.
“Rural Oregon is still lagging far behind urban Oregon in securing its fair share, on a per capita basis, of competitive federal grant dollars,” says Kathy Ingram, a nationally certified grant professional and coach based in the Coos Bay area.
Federal grant proposals are notoriously difficult to successfully complete, and rural areas often do not have access to qualified grant writing professionals. In an effort to level the playing field, the Ford Institute sponsored a federal grant writers training program from 2011 to 2014. Under Ingram’s direction, two rural cohorts received comprehensive training in federal grant development. Six of the nine participants went through a rigorous process that certified them as Grant Professionals by the Grant Professional Certification Institute.
“By building the capacity of persons in rural communities to craft federal funding proposals, more dollars can be brought into these communities,” says Timothy Hoone, a member of the second cohort and a graduate of the Ford Institute Leadership Program.
Since he finished training in 2014, Hoone, a resident of Crescent City, California, has helped develop more than a dozen successful grant applications totaling more than $5 million in funding. Grants ranged from a $400,000, four-year, USDA-funded project to expand community gardens and improve local food access in Del Norte County, California, to a $350,000, two-year program providing transitional housing in Del Norte County and Curry County, Oregon. The program provides transitional housing for people affected by domestic violence.
Hoone has joined fellow student Lyn Craig of Joseph to offer grant-related services through consulting group NorthxNorthwest.
“I learned immediately that federal grant applications are completely different than those of foundations and require a singular skill set,” Craig says. “I also learned it’s much more exciting to bring in $500,000 than $50,000.”
Training program participant Elaine Eisenbraun of Long Creek, Oregon, says, “The joy of this work flows from helping people to create a project design that is effective and functional, including a clearly understood budget to assure a project that hits a home run for the mission of the organization.”
Not ‘federal dependency’
Ingram says there is a sufficient knowledge base and available technical assistance to assist rural communities in securing competitive federal grant resources. But in order to win those dollars, she says Oregon’s rural communities need to be willing to risk scarce resources in the costs of grant development, knowing that not all grant proposals will be successful.
Rural communities also, she says, “need to come to terms with the fact that, in accepting federal grant assistance, one is not substituting fierce rural independence for federal dependency.”
Finally, she says communities need to become much more savvy about the wide diversity of federal grant programs and the availability of federal grant resources.
Much work still needs to be done in rural communities. “The greatest remaining barrier is not the lack of federal grant development acumen,” Ingram says, “but the unwillingness of rural communities to allocate scarce resources to federal grant development, take risk, and/or participate in federalism.”