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How to Win Federal Grants: The Ultimate Guide for Small Communities

Katie Dailinger, Project Director of the Local Infrastructure Hub at the National League of Cities, presents on the Spring/Summer 2024 Grant Application Bootcamp, open to small and medium-sized municipalities in the US.





Britni Eisenmann: We have Katie Dailinger! She's project director for the Local Infrastructure Hub at the National League of Cities. Katie leads NLC's national effort to connect city leaders with technical advice and resources to improve infrastructure in their cities. Katie's team has supported over 700 cities to navigate the federal grant writing process and today you'll learn how your city may be eligible to join that group.


Katie Dailinger: Before I get started, I wanted to pass along a message from a coworker, Brittney Koehler, who many of you may know. She leads NLC's legislative advocacy efforts around infrastructure. She and the rest of NLC are continuing to work on the Railway Safety Act that Tate [Linden] mentioned earlier. So, she continues to push for that and just wanted you all to know that.


Katie: But, I am here today to talk about helping cities win all that money that Maya [Acharya] I just told you about. That is the goal of the project that I lead at the Local Infrastructure Hub.


Katie: We are a free technical assistance program. A free training program for small and midsize cities. We define this as cities that have a population under 150,000. We have three main goals. We want to shift the trajectory of who is applying for federal infrastructure funding and who is winning infrastructure funding funding. We want to improve the applications that are being submitted. And then, hopefully if we accomplish those things, we will be helping improve infrastructure in every community around the country.


Katie: So, we do this through a program we call our Bootcamps. It's a three month program. It's free, it's all online, and you meet about once a week for one hour. The city employee joins the program for about once a week for an hour.


Katie: Some of the sessions they join our large webinars where we have subject matter experts who teach you different parts of the grant. Every class will focus on a different part. It may be, "Here's how you write up your budget," [or] "Here's a budget template," to slide into your application. You know, Maya was mentioning some of the matching needs that some of these grant programs have. Our experts have some really creative ideas [and] ways to make you think about existing funding or funding [that] you know is in the pipeline, that maybe can help with some of those matches. So we also teach how to do community engagement, how to tell a compelling narrative about your community, what the data is that's required for that application, how to find it, how to talk about it. And then, sort of, what are the things the federal government wants to read and see in your application.


Katie: So, we do it through these large webinars. We do it through smaller sessions, where you have a little bit more opportunity for conversation with peer cities. And then, anytime you want, you can sign up for a one-on-on 30-minute session with our subject matter expert. We've had people who go in and say, "I just want you to tell me if my project is eligible. Does this fit?" And then we have people who say, "I have finished my application. Will you read the entire thing for me and tell me what's wrong?" And our advisors have got their red pen out and have rewritten different parts of it. So, everything in between, to just asking simple questions, to really helping them dig in on a draft application, depending on where you are in the process, how ready you are.


Katie: And then also we have lots of tools and templates that we use. I mentioned the budget template, we have a community engagement workbook, [and] we have a data dashboard that we make for free that goes down to the census tract on every piece of information that you're required to include in your application. And all of these materials and coachings are free.


Katie: We've been doing this program for about 18 months. As Britni [Eisenmann] mentioned, we've had about 700 cities go through our program so far. About 1200 City staffers have participated. Sometimes [they're] mayors, sometimes [they're] elected officials, but I understand that it is hard for a lot of mayors to do, so it's a lot of city staff members. So far our cities have won over $200mm, in what I think of as a short time. Our cities, the average size of our winners, [have a population of] 42,000. We have a lot of winners that are under [a population of] 10,000, which I just think is just wonderful and amazing, because I know so many really small cities do not believe that going after federal dollars is really an option for them. These are just some examples, but we've had people participate in from every single state in the country. So these are just some of the examples of some of our communities that have won. But, as I mentioned, they're over 80 winners and talk back total of about $200mm.


Katie: So, just wanted to emphasize these points. These are some of the things that, when I talk to small cities about our program, that they view as obstacles to participate in our program or to going after grants. Our winners and our participants are telling us and showing us that small cities can be active participants. If you can find a staffer who can make out for one hour, one more hour a week, which I know is hard; I was in city government for a decade. So, another hour of your time is hard, but finding someone who can do that. And we've had people do it who are sometimes the mayor (very rarely), a public works director, a mayor's administrative assistant, a code enforcement officer. We have all different types of people who go through this process.


Katie: Most of our cities that win do not have someone go through this program who are a grant specialist or have a grants background. And I think that is really neat, because not only are we teaching them how to write an application for this grant, but hopefully we're now leaving behind new skills in that community, in that city team, to go after other grants, maybe other federal grants, other state grants, other philanthropic grants. Also [we're leaving behind in the city] someone who knows how to use data in any kind of project and find data and use it and tell a story about it. So, we think we're leaving behind a lot of great skills in these communities.


Katie: This is how you can get involved. We opened registration earlier this week for the next round of classes. They start the week of May 20th [2024]. These are the five grant programs that we will be teaching. As I said, any city can sign up for this program that under [a population of] 150,000. Maya went through the CRISI grant and the RCE grant programs. We teach those together. We do have a lot of cities that apply for both or aren't sure which to apply for, and our experts are able to help them figure out what's the right one for them. When they go through that program, we'll also be teaching a Brownfields grant program, the Reconnecting Communities Program, which Maya also mentioned. [Reconnecting Communities Program] is about, "Do you have infrastructure in your community that is cutting off some people in your community from opportunity?" Opportunity to get an education, to get to work, to get to health care... So, Reconnecting Communities is a really great program to look at as well. Bridge Investment Program [BIP], obviously if you have bridges in your community that need work, this is a good program. And then the Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling program. And I think I have a typo in 'recycling,' I apologize. So, those are the five programs that we're teaching. If you go to that link, you can read a one pager about each of those grant programs. You can see a lot, like an FAQ, you can see lots more information, and you can sign up. The registration takes maybe two minutes or so. You just have to work for the city government to be able to fill it out and to participate in the program.


Britni: Thank you, Katie! I really appreciate that.


Katie: Thank you!


Register your community for the Grant Application Bootcamp before May 15, 2024!



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