Some see 13 as an unlucky number, and 2013 was certainly an unlucky year for the city of Detroit. Beset by myriad issues, it assumed the dubious distinction of becoming the largest city in American history to file for bankruptcy.
And yet, the Detroit of today is far cry from the city of seven years ago. Now, it is innovating, investing in its citizens and launching many impactful community programs.
How did this transformation occur – in the span of less than a decade?
Change happened in part thanks to the robust, ambitious and successful pursuit of grant funding. Detroit has targeted grants as a major source of revenue for its revitalization, and the results have been spectacular. Other governments can follow suit.
During GovLoop’s recent online training, Show Me the Money: Transforming Gov’s Budgeting Process With Grants Management, Detroit Director of Grants Katerli Bounds and eCivis President and CEO James Ha discussed what worked well for the city and how a modern grant management strategy can help any state or local government secure reliable, much-needed funding.
Finding and securing grants can be quite the process, and Bounds identified disorganization as a major impediment. If you’re keeping track of things on disparate spreadsheets or by hand, there’s a lot of potential for confusion.
Conversely, a seamless grant management process that manages priorities, tracks performance, and automatically reports not only makes it easier to keep track of funding, but also provides useful information that can be used in a pitch to potential funders.
Bounds praised Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan for recognizing the potential that grants held as a source of funding for the city and enacting the bold strategy that helped the city reverse its fortunes. As Ha put it, Detroit recognized grant funding as a primary pillar for bringing the city out of bankruptcy – foresight that proved correct.
Ha also identified three key characteristics of successful government budgeting organizations: established policies, transparency and central support.
Bounds echoed this, noting that if you have systems in place to manage priorities, track performance and report results, then you can use collected information to optimize processes year over year.
In Detroit, the Office of Development and Grants scheduled meetings with the heads of city departments to understand the scope of their needs, and accordingly prioritized funds. This approach meant the office was able to create compelling narratives to pitch to potential grant sources, with information on why programs were needed and what impact they would have on the community.
To streamline the process and improve efficiency, eCivis helped the city set up automated workflows for the approval process, dramatically reducing the time it took to apply for, receive and distribute grants.
While grants can be an excellent source of revenue for state and local governments, the public sector must recognize that it takes time and effort to secure them. Detroit was successful because it committed to the idea of a grant-based funding model, and it takes that sort of vision and tenacity to make this model work, Bounds said.
In Ha’s words, you need to commit to changing minds and mindsets. Then, the world of grants will open up to you.
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