As we act to enjoy the Year of Living less Dangerously from Wildfire, many Firewise Communities utilize grant funds to accomplish community projects. In a previous blog we explored grant funding options and opportunities. It is important to weigh in on how much time you are willing to spend to write, manage and make financial reports about the funding that you want to obtain.
In yet another blog we described how to get your "ducks in a row", with information about your community. Many grant funders including Federal funders want to see that the community is already successfully engaged in wildfire mitigation projects on their own. There is a lot that any community can accomplished without funding such as clean up days, hazard assessments, and educational days such as inviting agency partners to speak. You need to keep a list of your accomplishments and have a written needs assessment that your community has had buy in on. It is also important to prioritize projects that need to be accomplished together.
When you apply for the grant follow all directions carefully and include all required attachments. Some grants require that you use a specific type of paper or font. They want to make sure that you will follow guidelines/directions when you do get funding. Often they will require a copy of your 501(c) 3 designation and perhaps a financial audit. This is where it is important that you have tracked successes, such as copies of newspaper articles, links to television stories etc. about your community. These awards and acknowledgements of your successes can make your community shine and stand above other grant applicants.
Once you get grant funding there are steps that need to be taken to maintain fiscal responsibility. Remember a grant is not a gift but a trust. You are entrusted with money that should be wisely spent to benefit the community as a whole. Some steps to manage the money properly are:
1. Make sure that your organization has set up a banking account with a reputable bank. Many grants require separate accounts for the grant money so there is no comingling of grant funds with other money from the organization.
2. Have a requirement of at least two signatures for checks over a certain amount. Make sure there is also a requirement for board approval for purchases over a certain amount.
3. Send out a press release or newsletter to inform residents about the work being done to garner support.
4. Develop a request for proposal (RFP) following federal or local standards depending upon the funding that you have received so that you get bids from reputable contractors for work to be completed. Make sure you have a professionally written RFP.
5. Make sure that you solicit at least three bids for work to be completed.
6. Check the contractor's license for the type of work they will be doing. Often you can check the license on line.
7. Make sure the contractor has valid insurance and if required in your state a bond. It is a good idea to have a designated member of the community check on the contractor during work to make sure they are following guidelines or hire a project manager to oversee work.
8. If buying large equipment remember that you cannot sell it if its value is over a certain amount. It must be donated to another non profit if purchased with grant funding.
9. If buying large equipment check at least three vendors for the best deal, sometimes they will give you a better price if they know that you are shopping around.
10. If purchasing equipment make sure that you understand and strictly follow the maintenance schedule. Some equipment requires that you change oil and hydraulic fluid within a few hours after the first use. You want to make sure that you do not void your warranty.
11. If doing work on private property make sure owners sign a right of entry form and that they have homeowner's insurance.
12. Carry at least an insurance policy to protect members of the board during project work.
13. Save receipts and keep a running ledger with the date and type of purchase.
This is not an all inclusive list but some suggested guidelines. When managing large grants check to see if professional services such as an accountant/CPA and project manager costs can be added to the grant application for ease of implementing the grant and insuring that the work completed meets the required guidelines. Grants can enable communities to accomplish great things. It is good to start small and then grow with your community's experience and knowledge. Following guidelines when implementing grant funded work can insure that your actions are safe and successful.