In the New York State tourism industry, July signals that application deadlines for tourism grants -marketing grant funding- are quickly approaching. This year marks the seventh round of the Consolidated Funding Application (also known as CFA grants). The CFA provides a streamlined mechanism for organizations to apply for and receive grants from a multitude of state programs. The tourism industry has several New York State tourism grants available to organizations willing to put in the time, planning and execution required to apply, manage and administer a grant funded program.
Over the past five years, Break the Ice Media worked on 11 projects funded in part by CFA grants. We also wrote several grant applications, some of which were awarded funding and some that were not. Through the experience of writing both funded and non-funded grant applications, we have gained valuable knowledge of the process. I distilled this knowledge down into 5 tips for writing successful applications for tourism grants. While these tips focus on the nuances of the New York State grant program specifically for tourism marketing funds, you will find these tips helpful no matter what type of grant you are seeking.
Tip #1: Research the options for tourism grants
New York State provides a lot of information online that can be overwhelming. If you are considering applying under the Consolidated Funding Application there are several resources available to help you understand and decide which grant program would be best for your project or program. Start with the New York State Regional Economic Development Councils website where you will find a CFA Resource Manual. Information applicable to tourism related projects will be found under Empire State Development, Market NY and New York State Council on the Arts. Thoroughly reading these sections in the resource manual will help you identify which grant programs are a best fit for your organization and project. In addition, when you start your online application, a program wizard will help narrow the grants available to you based on your program. Read more about the application process in the CFA Application Manual.
Tip #2: Understand scoring criteria
To write successful applications for tourism grants, you must know how you are being scored. Pay close attention to the categories for each scoring area and what the scoring entities are looking for. Alignment with broader goals and targets for the State or region that your project will take place within are very important. You must get to know the priorities of your Regional Economic Development Council (REDC). You can find the strategic plans and progress reports for all 10 New York State REDCs on the Regional Economic Development Councils website.
If you are applying for a tourism related project and your region’s strategic plan does not call out tourism specifically as a priority or economic driver, you will still find many ways to align with their plans. Look for:
- References to job growth and tie your project to jobs in the tourism industry.
- References to agriculture, food producers or craft beverage producers and tie your tourism project to that industry.
- Goals around exports and connect tourism to the export business.
Tip # 3: Plan for M/WBE requirements in advance
All NYS tourism grants require spending a percentage of the project with a NYS certified minority or woman-owned business. There are many fantastic M/WBE businesses throughout the State (Break The Ice Media is a certified woman-owned business). Consult the New York Contract System online directory to help you find an certified business in the service area or industry you are looking for. The biggest mistake I see grantees make is not planning for the M/WBE requirement in advance of the application.
Market NY grants require you to spend 30% of the grant with an M/WBE. That doesn’t limit your spend to 30% – many grantees consider the 30% as a minimum. If you find an experienced, qualified M/WBE that can provide the services needed to execute your program, why not place your entire budget with that firm?
In some cases, grants are funding a turn-key program or a specific media buy. These programs are still required to spend 30% with a M/WBE. Look for ways that an M/WBE agency or consultant can add value to the turn-key program. Perhaps you can bolt on a related project executed through an M/WBE firm that will enhance the media program that you are planning to buy. For example, an investment in a social influencer program (check out what Beautiful Destinations did for the Catskills) can be enhanced by expanding to a broader content program. Consider adding photo or video assets that a NYS M/WBE can implement for your program.
Tip #4: Find your partners in advance
Seeking support from partners in advance of a grant award is crucial.Your partners can provide letters of support to strengthen your application, and also position your program for success. Having partners in advance means your program will be ready to go once the award announcement and grant contract is in place. Partners are also a good resource for bouncing ideas around and offering additional financial or in-kind resources.
Tip #5: Get in front of the decision makers
The decision makers for a grant are the people who review and score, at all levels. Start by understanding the local scoring. Your local Regional Economic Development Council can give up to 20 points (out of 100) to a project. A higher score at the local level indicates that your project aligns with regional goals. At the state level, high scoring projects are taken into higher consideration for this reason. It is almost impossible to get a strong score if the first time someone hears about your project is when they are reading your application. Getting in front of decision makers can be done by attending workshops and meetings as well as personal outreach:
- CFA workshops are a great place to learn about the local scoring process. You’ll also meet people at the regional level who are involved in the application process.
- Regional Economic Development Council meetings sometimes give opportunities to say a few words about your project.
- Most regions have a tourism and arts committee, or seek out another committee specific to your industry. Attending these meetings can give you insight into projects they are considering and provide opportunity to talk about your project.
- Seek out members of the scoring committee or reach out to the Regional Empire State Development Staff. Request a meeting to introduce yourself and to ask for their input on your project.
Bonus tip: Grantee match & cash flow
Every grant has specific match requirements. Market New York grants require a 25% match for example. All tourism grants are reimbursable. Therefore you must spend the money and hit milestones in your project before you can request reimbursement. Planning for the match and cash needed to fund your project before reimbursement will make your project more successful. A few things that will help:
- Partner Match: Partners identified in advance may be able to share in the cash match for the grant project.
- Lines of credit: A line of credit ensures you have enough cash on hand to get your project to the first milestone and the first reimbursement. Interest expenses for a LOC can be expenses against the grant in most cases.
- Partner equity investments: I have seen successful projects where the partners in a program put up 100% of cash to cover the grant. Upon project completion and reimbursement, the partners reinvested the equity into a second, third and fourth grant opportunity. Turning over their investment each time to reinvest into another project or program.
The bottom line – there are several grant programs available to help fund tourism related projects. Research, homework and planning will strengthen your grant application and give you a better chance for success. Understanding the grant requirements and cash flow will guarantee a successful program once you win the grant award.