Looking for an Edge in Your Next Grant Application? Think Like Your Grantor

By Larry Mattson, Executive Director Yakima Valley Conference of Governments

With the support of CSI and the US Economic Development Administration (EDA), the City of Granger, WA recently underwent a ‘fiscal infrastructure x-ray’ with consultant Steve Gorcester. Mr. Gorcester, former director of the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB), provided Granger mayor Jose Trevino and Public Works Director Jodie Luke with detailed guidance on improving their grant competitiveness. Alan Rainey with Spinks Engineering joined the meeting as Granger’s engineer of record.

Granger officials with consultant Steve Gorcester (left)

Granger City officials with consultant Steve Gorcester (left)

When packaging grant applications, do your best to think like the grantor. Understanding the business needs of grant programs like TIB will give you a competitive advantage. For small cities, TIB wants to see good street surface conditions over the long term, on top of utilities that are in good condition. TIB wants to see blue and green pavement condition ratings all over your town. The TIB posts color street condition maps of all small cities on the TIB Performance Dashboard at www.tib.wa.gov/dashboard.

Check lists of prior awards on grant websites. These lists give you important clues into the funding focus of each program. Note what types of projects are funded and the dollar value of the awards. Then look at your project and consider how close you are to that ‘sweet spot.’ Demonstrate you are minimizing costs and don’t have a bloated project. The funding program wants to pick winners that will reach construction and be successfully built.

As you prepare your grant submittal, keep these ideas in mind:

Downtown Granger

Why should the grantor ‘buy’ my project? That’s right; think of your city as the producer of a product that grantor is purchasing. The TIB wants to know how you’ve optimized the project and made it as efficient as possible? Know your underground utility condition. Ideally, you want your TIB engineer to be able to report that, “The timing is perfect on this project. The condition, continuity, and cost all line up to make this a project worth


Are you optimizing material costs? What TIB is looking for here is high production efficiencies. Unfortunately, this is where small cities are in a pickle; the norm is to haul small quantities of asphalt long distances at high costs per ton. Does your financial plan (see below) clearly demonstrate that you’ve price-optimized your materials (base course, asphalt)? Have you lined up your project with county or state pavers and chip seals to optimize your material costs?

Find out when WSDOT engineers are planning to pave nearby. TIB has a task-order agreement with WSDOT’s maintenance program. Many county road departments will seal coat town streets under a TIB direct reimbursement program. Looking for paving opportunities tells TIB staff, “this is how we’re making the project efficient, and a smart purchase.” If you know of other paving projects nearby, in any quantity, apply to TIB. That proximity to other projects demonstrates you’ve optimized your raw material costs.

If a grant will buy it, don’t do (fund) it yourself. The ‘color of money’ matters. Overcome the natural tendency to see all funding sources as the same. Funds from your MPO/RTPO (Metro Planning Org./Regional Transpo. Planning Org.) may have federal strings attached. It is great money to get but use it strategically. The more of your products (projects) that grants buy, the more you can use flexible general fund revenues to pursue quality of life projects or other priority needs.

What’s your financial plan? The grantor wants to know you have a plan to attain full funding. Partially-funded projects can’t proceed to construction. If you’re going to meet with TIB staff, lead with a written financial plan that shows the project is set up for success.