This grant blog addresses the following topics:
- Government 101
- The most important grant stakeholder: the Minister
- Who you should meet next: your MLA
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1. GOVERNMENT 101
Generally business owners and entrepreneurs are unbelievably passionate and knowledgeable about their businesses, but they know very little about how government works.
That lack of government knowledge works against them if they want to secure a grant. This blog is a government 101 primer. You can use this knowledge to help understand a government mindset.
I’m not pretending to be a government expert, but here are my brief credentials in understanding how government works.
- First-class honours degree in Canadian political science
- Master’s degree in political science, specializing in Canadian politics and electoral behaviour
- Studied in the Ph.D program at UBC in Canadian politics before leaving to start a business
- Four years work experience at the Legislature Assembly of Alberta
- Instructed political science students at UNB, WLU, UBC
- Taught three Introduction to Political Science courses at Grant MacEwan
Time to show you how to WIN A GRANT.
1. Citizens (or taxpayers) – elected politicians.
You need to understand that we have a “first-past-the-post” electoral system. That means the person with the most votes in a riding wins and all other candidates lose. Winner takes all.
You need to understand the electoral system because you either have a government or non-government elected representative. If you have a government Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), you are likely one step closer to the minister of your grant agency.
In contrast, if you have an opposition MLA, you need to be careful how you manage that relationship. You might be smarter to work at getting positive media coverage for your company (which is pretty easy). Those clippings can be used as leverage to build trust with the grant agency.
2. Government – once an election takes place, the party with the most seats is asked to form the government. The government includes a cabinet made up of MLAs who lead provincial portfolios – PORTFOLIOS THAT RUN THE GRANT AGENCIES! Here is the list of Alberta’s cabinet: https://www.alberta.ca/premier-cabinet.aspx
Understanding that the taxpayer is in charge is important because if your grant doesn’t “sell” to the taxpayer, your grant is likely to lose. Conversely if your grant has a significant impact on taxpayers’ lives, your grant is more likely to win.
You should always know that the core of a grant application is how it will be perceived by the taxpayer. The politician is accountable to the taxpayer, so make sure your grant delights the tax payer.This fundamental belief is on a politician’s mind, but not as much on the bureaucrat’s mind.
Note: bureaucrats are the staff employed at the grant agency. They are focused on policies and procedures; for example, they want to know that all the boxes are checked.
2. Your Minister
Now that you have a basic understanding for the grant hierarchy, you can understand the most important person in the grant world is the minister. The ministers have the final say on funding decisions and they can make exceptions. Almost every grant guide has a clause such as section “vi” from Alberta Innovates:
Here is another angle from the federal government’s export grant. Part of the evaluation criteria is based on your grant’s alignment with the politician’s goals. Check this clause out:
Your grant success is going to rise dramatically when the minister’s mandate is enhanced by approving your grant application.
Just watch the news. Just about every week we see a federal or provincial minister make a grant announcement in Alberta. Mostly the announcements are for organizations who receive funds, but some can be announcements for a new grant program. Here was a recent one: https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=4711293ABD65E-E775-BD75-FE131CB26AC10853
3. Ministerial Power
Grant agency staff have told several of my clients how significant grant decisions are made.
An organization submits an application for a grant. The bureaucracy reviews all the applications and creates two lists: one recommending winners and the other the losers.
The minister reviews the decisions and often chooses his or her own preference!
That information is exactly the answer I got on a webinar recently. I was asked by a grant organization to “help improve the quality of the grants applications.” At the end of the interview, I asked the person who makes the ultimate grant approval decision this question:
“Would you accept a bad application from someone you know over a great application from someone you didn’t know.” He paused with a grin and said, “Yes.” You need to know grant decision makers. Build relationships with bureaucrats and ministers!
4. VIP Tour
If you are an Alberta business in the agriculture, environment, or technology space (where the big grant money is), I strongly urge you to develop a “meeting preparation package.” We call it 15 steps to winning your grant meeting. Build a VIP tour package. Be intentional about winning business awards and develop a community strategy (see my blog on speaking governmentese – https://albertabusinessgrants.ca/be-perceived-as-low-risk-to-win-a-grant). Please don’t take what I’m about to write as bragging, but our client was told by a grant agency staffer that “his company stood out against the hundreds of applicants.” He has won $199,000 in grant funding since December 2016.
5. How you get to the minister: through your MLA (if gov’t)
Once you have your VIP tour established, you need to build relationships. You can start with your MLA, especially if you have a government MLA. Invite and give them a tour of your business. Invite the grant agency staff to your office. Let them see your products and meet your employees.
6. Focus on the long-term relationship
Grants are not a quick fix. If you want to only play short-term, you are in the wrong business. Build a long-term relationship, and watch how many grants you can win year after year.