One Chamber Shares Their Formula for Grant-Funding Success

Grants have enabled the Jay Peak Area Chamber of Commerce (JPACC) in northern Vermont to fulfill many important destination marketing initiatives they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. The formula for JPACC’s grant awards combines resourcefulness, collaboration, creativity – and good old-fashioned hard work and TLC.

Expand to New Digital and Print Marketing Frontiers with Grant Funds

With a tourism-heavy economy and membership of approximately 125 businesses spread across three rural counties, this DMO has long relied on a visitor map as its signature destination marketing piece. Stocked in nine Vermont Area Welcome Centers, the map plays a critical role in serving the chamber’s #1 tourism marketing priority: helping visitors locate and connect with area businesses.

But JPACC’s members and visitors were craving other information and tools to help orient them to the best of the region. That’s where grants have been a wonder drug to help them fund and expand their destination marketing – both in digital and print – through the following primary tactics: A revamped website and online directory, electronic touch-screen kiosks in local businesses (especially crucial given the area’s spotty high-speed internet), a high-touch video showing off the area, and a print guide and directory many vacationers had requested.

6 Grant-Winning Tips for DMOs

JPACC’s approach to identifying and applying for grants has resulted in grant-funded destination marketing programs that have made a significant impact on the chamber’s key measures of success. Karen O’Donnell, the chamber’s executive director for the past nine years, reflects upon her chamber’s experience and offers the following guidelines to others:

1. Get Buy-In from Stakeholders at the Outset
Sitting down with the chamber’s board of directors to prioritize the “wants and goals we want to pursue,” O’Donnell explains, is the first critical step to fleshing out the chamber’s main destination marketing initiatives and identifying which will require grant funding. While JPACC does this every January, there’s no norm or season for grants and funding providers have different sets of criteria. The important thing is to get everyone in the same room to decide which initiatives are most important so that the team has the direction and focus it needs to find and apply for the appropriate grants.

2. Involve the Experts
Partnering with the right people makes all the difference in knowing where to look and how to go about getting DMO grant funding. In JPACC’s case, going local has paid off, with experts at New England–based Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) and Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) being instrumental in helping the chamber identify grant opportunities. O’Donnell urges others to find and tap into the experts in their circles.

3. Do Your Research and Network
There are all types of grant opportunities out there – and the more you look, the more you uncover. In addition to using resources such as Grant Watch, look locally and nationally for grant opportunities that fit your goals. While Vermont happens to be an excellent resource for grant seekers – JPACC found local grant opportunities through Northern Borders Commission, the Vermont State Commerce Department (VT State), and Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM), for example – national grants, such as United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), have also proven to be fruitful for the chamber.

Networking is also big. Searching for grants is “a lot of exploring the horizons, creative energies, and talking to a lot of different people to see if you can fit into some niche,” O’Donnell shares. She also notes that connecting and partnering up with other organizations can help DMOs be more eligible or rank higher for grants.

4. Lock Your Goals into the Grant Application
It’s important to show how your destination marketing initiatives meet the grant criteria and expectations. “When reviewing a grant opportunity, if you look at the criteria and can make your goals fit into the application process, that would be one to go for,” O’Donnell advises.

Also, demonstrate precisely how you’d achieve the goals of the grant. For example, with economic development and job creation such an essential part of USDA grants, JPACC makes sure its applications include realistic goals for meeting grant expectations, as well as letters of support from businesses in the community that will benefit from the grant.

5. Paint a Picture with Your Application
For JPACC, telling their story and painting a picture of their community within the letter of intent and throughout the application has been helpful in winning grant awards. For grant administrators poring through one application after another, an application that describes the grant’s goals “in action” within a community can stand out from the crowd.

6. Don’t Let Rejection Get You Down
Going for grant funding is not for the faint of heart in many ways. O’Donnell admits, “It’s not an easy process and can be an exhausting and emotional roller coaster. You put a lot of time, effort, heart, and soul into an idea – pursuing it to meet the grant criteria and needs for the funding opportunity.” Look for other opportunities when you’re told “no.” When JPACC experiences rejection, they explore how the projects (or even aspects of projects) they’ve identified as essential might fit into the niche of other grants out there.

Don’t Forget to Measure, Collect, and Share Your Results

Every DMO must demonstrate the value of their marketing activities to their members and grant-funded initiatives are no exception. The destination marketing programs JPACC has put into place thus far thanks to grant awards, for example, have resulted in improvements on many fronts – some more measurable than others, but all of them meaningful:

Website traffic and clicks have increased by over 20% – and website referrals have increased by 10 to 25% – since the website redesign.

Chamber membership has grown approximately 20% within the past three to five years and the chamber’s marketing accomplishments have contributed to a “more positive sort of environment.”

The touch-screen kiosks have driven new advertising revenue.

The chamber has not only received positive feedback and increased brand recognition from their “Top of VT” video, but has also been able to repurpose pieces of the video in their new visitors guide.

Leverage Your Success

The above accomplishments are something to be recognized and celebrated and certainly help the chamber fulfill its constant obligation to show value to their members. But perhaps more importantly, O’Donnell notes, the results of JPACC’s grant-funded initiatives also have a “snowball effect” of driving new grant awards for the chamber and their members. With the need to demonstrate prior success high on the list of all grant applications, the tangible results a DMO can show will position them well for future grant opportunities.

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