During the last year, our community at River Creek in Leesburg has won grants and matching funds for projects. Here are some tips if you are considering applying for grants and matching funds.
In an HOA, the staff is usually too busy to search out and follow up on possible grants, but if a framework is developed and an understanding of the given goal for the grant is understood, it can be rewarding to apply for and, more important, win a grant or special funding.
The first question is where do you start?
The key to this effort by our community has been a team approach. The team consisted of community committee members, the board of directors and the HOA staff. In each case, the applicant in our community, myself, had no background in applying for a grant, but when I questioned others in our community, they had helpful input. “Check out this, Check out that” led to other ideas, applications and then grants and matching funds.
How did this process come about? There were three keys- Delegation, Follow-up, and Support
A significant element of pursuing grants for our community is to use untapped resources, i.e., non- HOA staff. Most communities have a wealth of individuals with skills, many of whom are retired. The HOA staff have to focus on running the day-to-day operations and do not have the time to do the leg-work to obtain grants. But volunteers who have a vested interest in a given project, if given the latitude to contact outside agencies, can be a real asset. These individuals can pursue options using their contacts in the outside community.
In our case, several members of our park committee realized that there was no real budget for key park projects and decided to see if outside funding was available. We contacted the county and pursued several ideas. We also contacted other HOAs and talked to their management and volunteers. We visited some of their successful projects. In our case, we focused on erosion issues and natural plantings. After pursuing several funding sources that ultimately did not match our requirements, we focused on some combined state and county initiatives. We found the statewide Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP) and the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District who created an urban cost-share program that provides financial incentives and technical assistance to county homeowners, business owners, and HOAs. Their goal is to create more watershed-friendly landscapes. Similar programs exist in other Virginia counties. Our community also applied for the Chesapeake Bay License fund which uses funds from vanity license plates for special projects. This grant is much more competitive.
In all cases, we believe follow-up is the key when it comes to the applications. For most cases, just going online for information is not enough! Our pursuit consisted of face-to-face meetings with the key individuals or if they were not local, telephone conversations to see if we would qualify. It also helps to contact local elected officials who are interested in their constituents. We also asked for examples of previous awards and used these awards as a guideline. We found the individuals who handle the grants are most helpful, actually assisting us in our application.
During the process, it is important to understand deadlines. Here the HOA staff are helpful! It is better to draft and submit early because of the approval process—meeting legal requirements and obtaining approval from the board of directors can take time. In our case, both the HOA staff and board of directors aided with encouragement and support.
We won two VCAP matching funds and a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund in 2017 for projects. We plan to submit applications for state and federal funding for additional more complex projects in the future. We recognize that they are longshots, but you can’t win if you don’t apply!
Don’t be afraid to lose!! Just keep looking.
Although the examples are from Virginia, the same process applies in Maryland, D.C. and other jurisdictions. You can search for options on the Internet including the site grants.gov (www.grants.gov/web/grants/search-grants.html).
By Jack McNamee
Jack McNamee is a resident of River Creek since 2002. He served in the US Navy for twenty-five years culminating his career as Program Manager for Attack Submarines responsible for submarine construction and maintenance. Later, after retirement from the Navy, he started a second career focusing on project management and advanced engineering technologies ending his work career working for the FAA. He is a professional engineer (PE) and certified project manager professional (PMP).