Grant Applications: Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid

In public safety, where the demand for resources often outpaces budgets, public- and private-sector grants have become an important way of funding a variety of initiatives. Police departments, sheriffs’ offices, fire departments, emergency medical services (EMS) and corrections agencies all face the daunting challenge of maintaining operational efficiency with static or even shrinking budgets. Grants — whether federal, state or private — provide essential financial support to enhance capabilities, improve services and implement innovative solutions for our nation’s first responders.

However, navigating the complex landscape of grant applications can be as challenging as patrolling our cities or fighting fires. The process is fraught with potential pitfalls that can derail even the most deserving of proposals. Learning to avoid these traps is crucial for any agency wanting to leverage grant funding to boost its capabilities.

We asked Lexipol’s expert-level grant professionals to identify the top grant application mistakes public safety agencies are prone to making. They identified five critical errors.

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#1: Not Planning Ahead

Every grant has a unique set of requirements applicants must fulfill to be considered for an award. The most important requirement, of course, is the application deadline. If you fail to get your request in on time — no matter how great the need or how deserving the initiative — your request will not be given consideration. For this reason, it’s critical to start drafting your application early.

#2: Not Demonstrating Financial Need

In public safety, as in much of government service, budget constraints are a constant reality. However, you can’t simply assume grant application evaluators know about your fiscal challenges. It’s more than just a formality to articulate your financial needs explicitly in your grant application. It’s a requirement. Remember: The agencies you’re competing with for grant monies are also trying to do more with less.

#3: Putting Wants over Needs

Voltaire is famous for having said “the best is the enemy of the good.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting the absolute best for your agency, but when you’re applying for grant funding, it’s preferable to focus on what you need rather than what you want. The best rule of thumb to help justify your grant application is to focus on essential community services rather than pie-in-the-sky wishes. Successful applications show evaluators how the requested resources are essential (and not just “good to have”).

#4: Ignoring the Directions

Deadlines aren’t the only “nitpicky” requirement to be considered for a grant. Every program has its own special set of requirements, and ignoring even one of them can mean the difference between your application being considered or disqualified. Carefully review all program instructions, paying close attention to specifics like word limits and formatting requirements, and have multiple people review the application materials to help catch any oversights.

#5: Not Defining the Problem

Before you focus on a solution — resources, equipment and so on — it’s important first to explain the problem it solves. What’s wrong with how things are right now, and how will the requested funding help mitigate these challenges? Focusing on the problem in advance of the solution makes your submission more compelling and personal than generic, template-based applications.

From misunderstanding the grant requirements to underestimating the importance of a well-articulated needs statement, common grant application errors can prevent public safety agencies from securing the funds they need.

Grant Application Best Practices

It’s not enough just to avoid the most common grant application mistakes. To maximize your chances of getting a grant awarded to your agency, you’ll want to pay close attention to what you should do in addition to what you shouldn’t.

Plan ahead: Effective grant application planning begins with finding out about grant opportunities early, taking the time to draft a well-crafted application, and submitting all the required materials on time and in total. Lexipol regularly features public safety grant announcements on its blog, so you’ll want to visit regularly. Once you know about a potential grant, set calendar reminders so you won’t miss an important milestone or deadline.

Show financial need: Grant requirements vary, but you’ll probably be asked to show actual numbers from your department’s finances to demonstrate how your current budget doesn’t provide for the need you’re trying to satisfy. Don’t be afraid to talk about numbers — public agency budgets are, after all, public.

Follow directions: According to, “The number one reason why grant applications are denied is failure to follow directions.” So read the instructions carefully. Jump through all the hoops. Yes, you’re competing for grant monies, but you’re also competing in a “read the directions derby.” There’s no excuse for your application being rejected because you didn’t use the right font size or exceeded the word count. Details matter!

Tell your story: Humans are hard-wired to respond to narratives. Effective storytelling allows you to convey the significance and impact of your project in a compelling, memorable way — making a strong case for why your cause deserves support. Storytelling can also humanize the application process, prompting an emotional connection between your application and the person evaluating it.

Celebrate successes! First, when you’re fortunate enough to receive a grant award, tell others about it! This includes members of the community as well as those up and down the chain of command. Second, when you purchase the equipment or implement the program paid for by a grant award, be vocal about the source of the funding. Mention the grant source in your public announcements and on social media.

From misunderstanding the requirements to underestimating the importance of a well-written needs statement, common grant application mistakes can prevent public safety agencies from securing the funds they need. But by being meticulous in your approach and painstakingly adhering to program guidelines, you can increase your agency’s chances of securing grant awards, ensuring they have the resources necessary to keep our communities safe and secure.

Not sure where to start? Lexipol’s team of expert grant writers, researchers and project managers can help your agency through custom grant solutions geared toward getting your department the funds it needs to meet its safety and wellness mandates.

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