Ten Tips for Finding Grants to Make Your Business Greener
Wading through the morass of information on green business grant programs can be challenging, particularly for small businesses that don’t have the expertise or staff to manage grant writing. [See our companion piece, "Show Me the Money: Uncovering the Rebates and Grants to Help Boost Business Efficiency."]
To ease the burden, our industry experts offered this advice on how to find the best programs for your needs and how to increase your odds of winning their approval.
1. Call your utility company and ask about the grants and rebates they offer.
The variety of programs vary, but almost all utilities offer some incentives to offset the cost of energy reduction projects, says PG&E's Katie Romans. “Larger customers may have a rep they deal with directly who will walk them through the process, while smaller customers may have to call the utility directly and ask for assistance.”
Utilities also offer energy audits to help customers identify areas for improvement, which can help focus your grant writing and get you on the utility company’s radar when future programs open up.
2. Scour the web for grants, rebates and other incentive programs related to your project goals.
Along with visiting federal and state websites, including the DOE, EPA, and departments of energy and commerce, check out DSIRE, a database of information on state, local, utility, and federal incentives that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency; Energy Star’s Rebate Finder, which breaks out incentives for purchasing Energy Star energy-efficient technology based on type and region; and www.grants.gov, a database of federal government grants.
“Every state is different, and they all offer incentive programs through different departments,” says John Harding director of the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology. “So plan to invest some time into your research.”
3. Sign up for listservs and email alerts for sites from which you want updates on new programs and deadlines.
This will ensure you don’t miss out on valuable grant opportunities, suggests Tommy Evans, president of Evans Environmental Energies, a small biodiesel manufacturer in North Carolina. His company received a $75,000 grant in 2008 from the North Carolina Green Business Fund.
“I get daily emails about deadlines and new grant programs from a lot of federal and state sites,” he says. “It keeps me informed about new programs that might fit our needs.”
4. Make sure your idea or project closely matches what the grant is trying to accomplish.
“It’s a waste of your time and their time if you apply for grants that don’t align with your goals,” says Evans.
5. Have a management team in place to run the project.
“We get proposals with great ideas, but they don’t have the expertise to carry them out,” says Harding. Unfortunately, those projects get eliminated from consideration.
6. Learn how to write a compelling and relevant grant proposal.
It should describe in a small amount of space your idea, why it’s important, your qualifications, and what you expect to accomplish, says Harding. “We see applications from a lot of companies that have great ideas and a strong management team, but if you can’t sell your idea in a well-written grant you are probably not going to get the funding.”
He advises working with a professional grant writer or researching grant writing skills before submitting your proposal.
7. Read the entire grant application before you start and do exactly what it says.
“The No. 1 mistake people make with grant writing is not following directions,” says Martha Ozonoff, executive director of California’s Releaf program, a nonprofit that awards grants for urban and community forest projects. “Even if it’s a good project, if it’s not done correctly you’ll get a lower rating, and that can mean the difference between getting funded or not.”
She advises having someone read your proposal before submitting it to double-check for mistakes and to make sure it makes sense. “You can’t assume the grantor will know your project the way you do,” says Ozonoff. “A fresh set of eyes can identify gaps in your story.”
8. Adjust your budget to take advantage of grant opportunities.
Companies should compare short- and long-term budget planning against grant opportunities to see if purchasing decisions can be swapped out, suggests Rachel Beckhardt, project manager for the Environmental Defense Fund.
“For example, if a fleet plans to purchase a cherry picker this year and a bucket truck next year, but a grant for hybrid trucks comes up, they might consider switching the purchases around,” she says. “With a little flexibility you can leverage these grants to make your budget go further.”
9. Be prepared to show your results.
“There is no such thing as free money,” says Beckhardt. “When the government gives you money they expect you to be accountable for what you did with it,” she says. “Companies must be prepared to produce reports on how the money was spent and what was accomplished.”
10. Don’t give up.
You may need to apply to 10 grants before you win one, warns Evans, who applied for several grants before receiving the North Carolina Green Business grant last year. “There is a lot of competition out there, but if your project is aligned with the program’s goals and you write a good grant, you can get lucky,” he says. “It’s definitely worth it to keep trying.”