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Lessons in creatively winning grants from the Denver Public Library

(Image credit: Josh Felise/Unsplash)

This post is sponsored by eCivis.

The Denver Public Library system is a shining example of how government agencies can better serve their public in creative ways while winning grant funding, as attendees learned at the 104th ICMA Annual Conference in a session presented by eCivis.

Elissa Hardy of the Denver Public Library is a licensed clinical social worker and one of the first social workers to be placed within a US public library. She was part of the effort to secure initial grant funding for three Peer Navigators — trained workers who could serve to meet the needs of the unhoused and other vulnerable community members at Denver’s libraries and meeting the library’s mission to offer “free and public access for all.”

These Peer Navigators have all been without housing or struggled with substance abuse at some point, which brings a perspective and empathy that can help them relate to the people they serve. Another benefit, Hardy noted, is that utilizing Peer Navigators is a more cost effective approach that allows more work to be accomplished by pairing them with social workers. The two roles function in a complimentary way — the social worker designs these programs while the Peer Navigators are on the ground implementing them.

People experiencing homelessness was a focal point of Denver’s Peer Navigators effort, Hardy said, because libraries are often the only public place that’s welcoming to them, whether it’s an easily accessible bathroom, free activities and educational programming, or simply books.

The initial grant for the program was $41,000 from the federal Justice Assistance Grant program, with the grant funds being administered by Denver Human Services and the Colorado Mental Wellness Network.

The library system has found additional funding in the past couple of years, and now there are six grant funded Peer Navigators, along with multiple social workers.

What have the results been?

The Denver library system has helped many people physically, emotionally and otherwise. Safety has improved. The library has fostered relationships with health providers and emergency services — not just for people experiencing homelessness, but also as the city battles the opioid crisis.

Notably, the library and its Peer Navigators program has helped foster wider efforts to reach, listen to and aid vulnerable community members.

This program also illustrates the importance of thoughtful, creative grant planning, said Ryan Baird, executive director of eCivis. He walked through key best practices for government leaders to remember, including:

  1. Pursue grants in alignment with your strategic plan. Don’t just chase the dollars, chase the right dollars
  2. Do you know the “true cost” of managing this program? How much will it cost to apply and management this grant program effectively? This is especially important, Baird noted, for federal grants.
  3. Identify grants in alignment with you program objectives, understand the grant requirements, and highlight how your program will achieve those grant objectives
  4. Make sure you show the methodology of how you’ll track and assess performance. What is the impact you’re trying to achieve, and how will you show whether you’ve succeeded?

Part of the prep work for seeking grant funding is having a clear problem statement, Hardy said.

  • What problem do you want to solve, and how might you creatively do so?
  • What resources will you need, and what will the cost be?
  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • What kinds of funding can you obtain, especially if local budgets aren’t available?

To learn more about maximizing your grant resources, go to eCivis’ website.