Joining Forces: A Guide to Building Strong Partnerships for Focus Grants
Here in the ENVSC office, we are gearing up for a brand-new season of Focus Grants. We’re excited to learn about your meaningful and creative plans for serving veterans facing homelessness. Are you ready? We sure are!
Focus Grants fund active, large-scale projects that assist veterans who are homeless, transitioning into housing, or at risk of homelessness. Lodges in 12 cities* across the U.S. can apply for a Focus Grant to serve veterans in their own communities. Project examples include hosting monthly meals and social events for veterans, stocking and managing a food pantry, helping veterans search for jobs and buy work clothes, and so much more.
Above all, a successful Focus Grant project requires collaboration and community connections. Working with staff who serve veterans full-time can help your Lodge connect you with veterans and understand their needs.
Check out our tips for building strong, lasting relationships with community partners, such as HUD-VASH departments at the VA, Community Resource and Referral Centers, national and local nonprofits, and veterans’ shelters.
- Come prepared. Before meeting with staff for the first time, take some time to polish your metaphorical resume. Think about ways to showcase the services your Lodge can provide for veterans. Have you planned other veterans projects in the past? Be ready to talk about those experiences, which can demonstrate your follow-through and commitment. You can also describe what you’ve learned from service projects for other groups, such as children and families in the community.
- Build up to it. When beginning a new relationship, it takes time and effort to a build trust between staff members and volunteers. That’s okay! Remember, this is an investment in a partnership your Lodge will ideally maintain for years to come. Focus Grants are large-scale projects that take a lot of planning and communication. If this is a new partnership, consider starting with some smaller collaborations. For example, you could team up on Welcome Home Kits, or get involved in the organization’s existing volunteer programs. This approach can help you get your foot in the door and show the staff that your Lodge can be relied upon. These connections can blossom into Focus Grant partnerships in the future.
Photo: Volunteers from Banning-Beaumont, Calif., Lodge No. 1839 used a Focus Grant to meet the immediate needs of homeless veterans. They distributed backpacks containing sleeping bags, warm clothing, hygiene supplies, and food.
- Be responsive to community needs. It shows a lot of initiative to arrive with ideas of how you can help veterans—just be sure you also take time to listen! Social workers and other staff at community partners have a lot of insight into the needs of homeless veterans in your area. Be open-minded to suggestions from community partners. They might have some ideas for serving veterans that you haven’t thought of yet.
- Be upfront about your needs and limitations. Focus Grants come with important guidelines that must be followed. For example, Focus Grant projects need to be volunteer-led and include direct service to veterans. They also can’t be used for monetary or material donations or for infrastructure at a partner organization, among other requirements.
When talking about project ideas with a potential community partner, communicate what you can and can’t do with a Focus Grant. This will help keep you and your partners on the same page and minimize feelings of disappointment. Click here to read the full Focus Grant guidelines.
Together, we can achieve more and make a difference in veterans’ lives. We can’t wait to see who you’ll be joining forces with this year! If you have questions about the Focus Grant guidelines or want to discuss project ideas, please contact our office and we will be happy to help. Call (773) 755-4736 or email us at Vets@elks.org.
*Focus Grants are available to Elks Lodges in and around Chicago, New York, Seattle, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Los Angeles, Loma Linda, San Francisco, Miami, Tampa-Orlando, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Back to top