Grants are tricky and can be daunting. This is especially true for healthcare and education organizations that serve rural communities and tend to lack the staff and resources required to manage the grant application process. That’s why the Polycom Grant Assistance Program (PGAP) was created. The PGAP experts offer free support to Polycom customers and prospects with grants and alternative funding.

The PGAP team is currently hard at work preparing for the USDA Rural Utilities Service’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant (RUS-DLT), which is expected to open in March. In a recent webcast, Cheryl Henshaw, Director, PGAP, was joined by two recent RUS-DLT awardees and offered some experience and advice on how to successfully apply for a 2017 RUS-DLT grant. Here are five tips from the PGAP team experts and their extensive grant experience:

#1. Tell a compelling story, and be consistent!

The RUS-DLT grant is very broad in scope. It’s a capital expenditure grant meant to fund the purchase or lease of telecommunications equipment necessary to deliver telehealth or distance learning services and content to rural areas. The upside to the broad scope is that it allows for an innovative approach to implementing, broadening or enhancing education and healthcare in targeted rural communities. But to be successful, your application must tell a compelling story with specific and consistent use cases.

#2. Don’t sell yourself short.

The award amount for the RUS-DLT grant is $50,000 to $500,000 per applicant. Organizations are often tempted to ask for less money than they need with the hope of having a greater chance of receiving a grant. However, Henshaw warns organizations not to sell themselves short. Ask for what you need. The application process can be onerous, and it takes the same amount of work to apply for $50,000 as it does $500,000.

#3. Maximize your objective score to the greatest possible extent.

The grant application takes into account two scores – an objective score and a subjective score. The objective score is based on your organization’s rurality, poverty levels of the area you’re serving, special consideration and matching funds. The PGAP team uses a demographic calculator to determine your score for every site to help maximize your points and make recommendations on the amount of match you need to be competitive.

#4. Submit your application via Grants.Gov.

Last year marked a significant improvement in the grant submission process with the option of submitting your application online via Grants.Gov. Online submissions eliminated the costs of copying and binding, and delivery via commercial carrier. It also reduced the complexity of gathering signatures. However, SAM registration and Grants.Gov/eBiz can be confusing. Complete this process at the onset of your project, and don’t wait until the last minute to submit your application.

#5. Understand what’s covered—and what’s not.

Grant Guidelines tend to change from year to year, and as part of that change you’ll see items move from the eligible to ineligible column. To further complicate matters, budget line items are always provisionally eligible based on “use case”–who is benefiting from the equipment/service, where will it reside, and how it relates specifically to the proposed distance learning or telemedicine project. Ubiquitous items (such as computers,  handheld devices, internal wiring and network components) are especially difficult to justify; many applicants saw their quantities of these items reduced or removed entirely from their budget in the 2016 application round. The PGAP team can help you understand what’s required in order to justify your budget line items, and help you create a project that takes advantage of the technologies that are eligible for funding.

Ready to get the ball rolling on your RUS-DLT application? Or interested in another grant opportunity for your project? To learn more about applying for a 2017 RUS-DLT grant, watch the recorded webcast or reach out to our grants team with a grant assessment request.