Funding for Transportation Service Providers: Grant and RFP 101

By August 26, 2019

If you’re starting up (or growing) an NEMT business or Paratransit company, you might already be familiar with the differences between the public and private funding landscapes. There are important choices you must make when it comes to deciding how your organization is going to cover its operating expenses. If you decide to go the public funding/nonprofit route, grants will be a very important part of whether or not your organization succeeds. 

Grants come with their own jargon⁠—RFP, AOR, PII⁠— and we’ll break down what those important terms mean alongside the basics of how the grant funding and writing process works. 

What is a Grant? 

A grant is a way for organizations or agencies to fund their operations via money provided by a grantor⁠—most often a government (local, state, or Federal), community organization, or foundation. Grants can range in size from a few hundred to millions of dollars.

What is an RFP? 

An RFP is a “request for proposal” document that is used in a variety of business settings to attract bids from agencies or contractors. When it comes to grants, the government agency or foundation funding the project will post an RFP when they are ready to begin accepting applications for a particular grant. 

It’s important to understand that RFPs are essentially the backbone of the grant application process. An RFP will provide a good description of all necessary information, including project type and scope, that will be needed for relevant entities to get the grant successfully. RFPs will also often offer clues as to what kind of bidders the grant provider is looking for. 

When you’re doing funding research for your paratransit or NEMT transit agency, look for RFPs posted by local and state governments first. Foundations or Federal government agencies that deal with transit (especially mobility issues and paratransit) are another source of grants, so look over any RFPs they have posted, too.  

How Do Grantors Decide Who Gets the Money?

When an agency decides they’d like to provide a grant⁠—for example, a city transit agency needs to provide a local community with ADA-standard transit options⁠—they will write an RFP (more on that below) and solicit applications. The grantor will then fund all or part of the project to a grant winner that is selected based on the strength of their application.

Writing Tips for Grants 

Just like a school or job application, the smallest details of your grant writing will be scrutinized by a powerful decision-maker(s), so make sure you’ve given yourself enough time to complete the application fully, including a revision to check for mistakes. 

While optimism is a great quality to have in a small business, be realistic about the area(s) that the potential grant is for and how well those overlap with your own business objectives. Read the RFP carefully and understand what the grantor is most interested in funding and why. Word your language in the application accordingly to make it seem as relevant as possible. There is no use wasting time applying for grants that your organization doesn’t qualify for.   

Hopefully, your transit organization already has a proven track record that you can point to in the grant application. If not, you need to be prepared to explain why your hypothetical service has the best chance of carrying out the grant’s mission in the most time- and cost-effective manner. Either way, it pays to have solid operational data (on-time performance rate, etc) as well as good processes in place to track performance and outcomes. 

Tracking performance and outcomes are good practices for any business to have in place regardless, but the way you run your organization also plays a huge factor in whether or not a grantor will take interest or not. Essentially, without being able to accurately track the success of a new initiative, you won’t be a very appealing target for funding. 

Grant Terminology 

RFP- Request for Proposal; similar to RFQ (request for quote) or RFI (request for information)

AOR- Authorized Organization Representative. In other words, the person in your organization serving as the point of contact for the grant

PII- Personally Identifiable Information. Generally in the form of a database of customer or rider information. In the case of paratransit, some of this information could be Protected Personally Identifiable Information (PPII) if it involves medical care.

Successful Grant Writing 

To help your transit organization win the grant funding it needs to succeed, pay attention to the details. Research as many RFPs as you can, and don’t forget to check private foundations that might offer money for pro-mobility work in particular. 

The better your organization is running internally, the better information you’ll be able to pull for the grant writing process. For modern transit agencies, this means ensuring that your company is running good, comprehensive software. Besides giving you a competitive advantage and better peace of mind, good software will also play a huge role in helping track changes and outcomes. These are critical factors for grantors when they’re reviewing your application. 

Finally, like much else in business, perseverance is key. Grant writing can be a complex and time-consuming process, but take heart that as long as you do your research correctly and provide good information, you can find the perfect match to fund the next steps for your transit agency.