Does This Grant Make My Head Look Big?
Apr 07, 2015
Answer this quick multiple-choice question:
“It’s April, so ‘tis the season for:
b.Easter egg hunting
c.USDA REAP grants for farmers
d.All of the above
If you answered, d., you’d be correct, but you also might not have any idea what I’m talking about. Unless, of course, your neighbor won one these grants last year and you’re mighty curious as to why….
Welcome to the Sustainability Strategies blog where I will be sharing stories, uncovering tips and presenting ideas about the positives and negatives of using alternative funding strategies like federal grants and vendor rebates to build and grow your operation. We’ll also view these federal incentives in light of how they can (and cannot!) be used for your projects in sustainability, conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and more. For today, let’s just start with a quick introduction to the topic. Nope, we’re not going to bore you with a short course in ‘what is a grant’ (although I may do that in a later post), rather, I’d like to ask you to think about whether you want a grant or not. Yes, while that might seem surprising, it’s worth thinking about, so read on!
Winning grant funding, such as through a popular program like USDA’s Rural Energy for American Program (REAP) begs the question:
“Just because I can, does it mean I should?”
Guys, I realize you might be thinking: “Why wouldn’t I want to win a grant?’ But, let me set this up for you in a different context:
You’ve been drug into the department store with your wife. Suddenly, you’re awkwardly sitting in one of those uncomfortable chairs outside the dressing room. Your wife emerges, of course, seeking your opinion. What does she ask… (you know the question.) Maybe you’re honestly thinking that the fit is a little questionable, but you’re in a no-win situation now. If you were really able to be honest (you’re not, don’t do it) you might simply say:
“Honey, just because you can, does it mean you should?”
Well, this is also a fair question when you’re looking at whether or not to go ahead with using grants as a funding source. Sure, they’re out there, they’re available, they are often funded by legislators you sent to D.C. and with your tax dollars. Yet, one thing we’ll uncover in this blog is a balanced view of both sides of the grant equation. I’ve had this conversation around fancy boardroom tables and I’ve discussed it over the bed of a pickup truck. I’ve even penciled out the pros and cons of accepting grant funding on a bar napkin in a questionably safe tavern. No applicant is immune to this issue. Before you have to sleep on the couch (for more on that, see Joe's story about grants and politics coming in a future blog…) or simply run a little damage control in the neighborhood, ask this question:
How does wining a grant affect my relationships?
I have received calls from unfunded applicants demanding to know why my office didn’t do as good a job on their application as we did for their neighbor’s application the year before. Oh boy, I don’t like the way a conversation like this begins. I remind the applicant that we didn’t guarantee funding since we don’t evaluate the grants once submitted. Now, I realize that is not what they called to hear, but I’ve had these talks enough times to know what is actually going on. In industries where everybody knows each other and the grant program is around year after year, word of ‘who’s gotten what and how much’ gets around. Nobody likes to feel like they’ve somehow been slighted, even though everyone’s situation is different.
But, you’re not the neighbor, you’re you, and you applied for a USDA REAP grant won! While Uncle Sam didn’t pull into the barn lot with a huge cardboard check like Publisher’s Clearinghouse ™, a few months after applying, $50,000 did appear in your account via direct deposit. Congrats! Yet, you might now need to be prepared for a few hints of jealousy about that award. Your professional peers (and yes, your neighbors, too) may grumble about the supposed ‘preferential treatment’ you received. Politics have an interesting way of coming up at this point, too, so watch out for that whammy rearing its ugly head at the baseball game. Now, do these concerns really matter? We’re talking about cash here! It’s completely fine if they don’t. But, grants present a different kind of cash flow tool compared with traditional financing like loans. So, again, I’m looking to share success stories and cautionary tales as well as general information in this blog.
Its all part of a days work. I’d love your comments; please email your ideas or questions.