7 Tips to Successful Grant Applications

In addition to government-provided incentives to procure alt-fuel and reduced-emissions vehicles, federal, state, local, and agency grants can help provide funding resources for special projects and vehicle or equipment acquisition, particularly for clean energy and fuel-efficiency initiatives.

Allen Mitchell, CPFP, fleet manager for Snohomish County Department of Public Works, successfully secured two American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants in 2009. Although he doesn't profess to be a grant expert, Mitchell offers the following tips based on his experience:

1. Strategic Partnerships. Form strategic partnerships to leverage expertise, resources, and proposal benefits when applying for grants. Summarize those collaborative partnerships in the grant summary and describe the project areas covered by the proposal.

2. Project Objectives. Outline and define specific and quantifiable project objectives. For example:

  • "To reduce traditional petroleum consumption by at least 3 million gallons per year by expanding the use of alternative-fueled and advanced-technology vehicles, and the fueling infrastructure necessary to support them."
  • "To create a regional sustainable market for renewable alternative fuels with the lowest lifecycle emissions, such as biogas made from waste products and solar energy to power electric vehicles."
  • "To preserve and create at least 350 jobs nationwide and enhance the local economy by accelerating the implementation of shovel-ready projects."

3. Grant Criteria. Respond directly to the grant proposal criteria. Every grant details specific criteria that will be used to grade the proposal. Demonstrate how your proposal clearly meets each criterion.4. Metrics Detail. Describe methods used to derive project metrics and how the expertise applied enhances the chance of project success.

4. Metrics Detail. Describe methods used to derive project metrics and how the expertise applied enhances the chance of project success.

5. Project Plan. Include in the project outline a scope of work description and detailed project plan with milestones to track progress.

6. Proofread. Enlist the help of at least one colleague or staff member (two are better) to proof the proposal draft before submitting. Ask their assistance in confirming grant criteria responses were complete and accurate and submitted according to the requested format.

7. Deadlines. Scrupulously observe all deadlines.

Rebuilding & Restructuring Rental Programs

Seeking to enhance flexibility in its fleet operations during tight budgetary times, Citrus County, Fla., fleet management rebid its heavy equipment rental contract, allowing short-term equipment rentals rather than purchasing.

"This gives us flexibility in expanding our options without the large investment," said Michael Webster, director.

Webster's team also began utilizing second-life rebuild programs. According to Webster, one heavy equipment rebuild this fiscal year saved more than $350,000 versus purchasing a new unit. Webster also plans to utilize rebuild programs on fire rescue engines.

In addition, Citrus County is implementing a heavy equipment pool and now manages transport of all heavy equipment among its user departments.

Devising a Standardization Strategy

Dave Schiller, CAFM, fleet, safety and material manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, subscribes to the approach that "new solutions are necessary to move beyond long-standing problems, which necessitates developing and seizing opportunities."

The department operates a fleet of 2,300 vehicles and pieces of equipment with 33 staff members and four maintenance facilities. One long-standing "problem" for the Minnesota agency has been standardization, according to Schiller.

"We all like to think that we are different," he noted.

His department approached traditionally reluctant customers with the "opportunity" to "save money while simultaneously getting better quality." Schiller's team "engaged" customers in developing a "selector list of standard items intended to meet 95 percent of all needs." Variances required specific approval, obtained with appropriate justification.

According to Schiller, this customer-engagement approach resulted in vehicle and equipment standardization that enabled volume purchases "where we could leverage the market for better prices as well as improved options. Customers and management liked both."