Winning Ways to be Unique

Recent examples of grant awards tell the tale: The competition for funding parks and recreation projects is at an all-time high.

Recently in Ohio, the Department of Natural Resources received 79 applications for the first round of the Clean Ohio Trails Fund, a program that provides funding for creating recreational trails in sync with the Statewide Trail Plan in Ohio.

The requests for funding totaled $24.5 million, when only $6.25 million was available, leaving applicants with roughly a 1 in 4 chance of being funded.

Authoring a winning application is mostly about focusing on what makes your project unique, and here is a list of techniques to help give you the winning edge:

1. Analyze the factors that make any project unique.

A few ways to strengthen any project and make it a stronger candidate include:

• Focus on turning your potential project weaknesses into project strengths. By discussing the local need for a project, like a lack of local funds, local demographics, unemployment, poverty and safety, you can create an awareness of the importance of the grant to making the project happen.

• Discuss how the project will function in all seasons and for all age groups.

• Discuss how your project has the ability to be self-sustaining, and think ahead about creative long-term care or maintenance.

• Promote education and learning within your project by taking advantage of indigenous plant and animal species, local history or the ability a project has to raise awareness about a particular environmental issue.

• Describe innovative design strategies, or use of sustainable practices as part of your overall project.

• Address potential public-private partnerships that can be created or maintained in support of project success.

2. Demonstrate public involvement by creating a committee or advisory panel.

Many successful organizations, projects, and applications include a coalition of enthusiasts drawn together to provide support, guide and advise, and be a spokesperson and liaison with the community to provide effective planning, design and implementation.

Successful committees include local and regional park agencies, local businesses, community organizations and enthusiasts, local developers and project shareholders, neighboring communities, not-for-profits, and educational facilities.

The group may act as a council for integrating the project and public desires, and building the advantages of public involvement into creative opportunities during the project's development.

An organized group can easily attract private, state and local financial support. Keep in mind the Goldilocks mindset when creating advisories; you don't want to create an entity that is too large or too small to get things accomplished effectively and sustain momentum to see the project through to completion.

3. Be a proactive marketer through effective communication techniques.

Be proactive and create a unique identity for your project. Many communities create an icon or graphic symbol that is easily recognized and can be used for local financial support venues such as a levy.

Another trick of the trade is to market the project by hosting a kick-off meeting in support of the project and invite local media.

Most successful park districts leverage marketing their financial needs with a savvy know-how for local politics. This works well when the focus is on inviting and educating local elected officials to milestone activities at each step of the project.

Often this policy is more successful when state-level agencies are also included, and many groups have found that inviting representatives from the historic preservation office, soil and water conservation district, parks and recreation association, local conservancies, and local and state elected officials can be effective.

After a kick-off meeting, creating a fact sheet about your project and distributing it to local officials from time to time with key milestones is also effective.

By keeping important decision-makers aware of your project needs, they can be called upon to create effective letters of support for grant applications and be available resources when bond referendums and local levies are planned.

4. Keep an eye on the big picture vision for recreation in your area.

Success can be about timing, and knowing how your project connects with other larger local, regional or statewide projects.

If you are new to a community, become and stay involved and educated about regional parks planning opportunities and workshops.

Often, you can mentor and network successfully to leverage and incorporate the strengths of other projects into your own, and collaborate on marketing and outreach.

Instead of being project specific, take a step back and look at the big-picture benefits and connections created by your project.

Focus on a multi-tasked analysis by asking some key questions. Does your project provide economic, green space, environmental or other benefits simultaneously? Does your project provide ecotourism potential that might contribute to the local economy? Is there an opportunity to include an educational component in your project that may be part of a bigger regional vision?

By looking at the spin-off potential of a project you can increase your project's chances by connecting with other conservation, watershed, economic or park planning initiatives.

A great example is how one Southwest Ohio community's grant application listed all of the recreational resources and entertainment connections that were located near the project in a list:

• Amusement Park (30 minutes away), Paramount's Kings Island, Beach Waterpark

• Beach (10 minutes) Caesar Creek Lake/Cowman Lake

• Bicycling/Jogging Trails (15 minutes), Little Miami Bike Trail

• Fine Dining (25 minutes), The Golden Lamb, Lebanon or Casual Dining at the Spillway Lodge

• Fishing (10 minutes), Caesar Creek Lake/Cowman Lake

• Golf Course (5 minutes), Majestic Springs Golf Course

• Theatre (5 minutes), Historic Murphy Theatre (circa 1918) downtown Wilmington, Ohio

The result was a creative and effective connection between the local project and the recreational entertainment resources of the entire area.

5. Answer the application criteria and create an executive summary based on the evaluation criteria.

Applications are always competitively ranked based on a broad range of criteria established by the grant source. Since these are listed in the application, it's not a guessing game, just a matter of making sure that all of your criteria are answered appropriately.

Once you have fulfilled the grant requirements, take a look at pulling out several key needs and tying them into an executive summary.

For instance, if the application requests a project timeline, project cost, and project narrative, create a checklist of benefits based on these criteria, and keep them in the order of the grant evaluation.

Begin with the question, "Why select this project for funding?" and then list a series of bullets on the strengths of the application in the different criteria.

For example, with regard to the timeline, you could have a bulleted statement that discusses the project's readiness to proceed, and illustrates the organization's ownership of the property, or potential funds outside of the grant that have already been leveraged.

By focusing on what makes your project unique, you can effectively differentiate your project amongst the competition and increase your ratio of success on future grant applications.

Betsy Bowe is grants and regulatory affairs manager for Environmental Design Group Inc., Akron, Ohio. For questions or comments, contact Betsy at (330) 375-1390 or e-mail