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How the Choctaw Nation Is Finding and Funding the Grants That Matter

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The grant team that serves an agency of over 11,000 employees for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has a mantra: “We win grants that matter.”

For our hero of this story, Delene Rawls, Director of Grant Development for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and her team of eight individuals who are motivated by service and compassion, nothing is more exciting than analyzing and presenting all the different ways that grant projects can help tribal members and surrounding members of the community. Grants are essential to helping preserve the sovereignty of the Choctaw Nation while growing its prosperity. 

“Grants are one of the key ways that it gets done,” Delene said. “They’re a substantial part of the annual revenue of the tribe.”

For Delene and her team, what matters most in evaluating grant opportunities is not only the size or dollar amount of the award, but its potential for impact.  

Prioritizing Grant Opportunities to Pursue 

With so many employees and internal clients to serve and many layers of leadership, finding the right grants to dedicate the time and resources to pursue can be especially challenging. Whenever Delene and her team evaluate a grant opportunity, they work to ensure that it aligns with the tribal strategic vision. 

“Being a tribal entity is not always clearcut,” Delene said. “It’s important to be able to read a funding announcement or refine a search result to know for certain from a Notice of Funding Announcement (NOFA) that you’re eligible for it or determine that you may be eligible but don’t have time to get through all the internal approvals needed.”

That’s why Delene and her grant team turned to eCivis’ pre-award grant software to make sure they don’t miss a single grant opportunity that has the potential to truly make a difference for their tribal members. 

“Having a research tool that doesn’t rank opportunities in terms of dollar amount but treats every possibility with equal importance helps us incorporate it when we process and handle grants according to our tribal strategic vision,” Delene said. “If a grant opportunity comes from eCivis, it’s treated with the same attention, regardless of dollar amount.” 

Never Missing an Opportunity

Recently our hero and her team were alerted by a project director to a foundation funding opportunity but the email attachment showed an older version of the opportunity that had already expired. Using eCivis’ research tool, she and the team were able to find the grant opportunity with a quick keyword search. Not only were they still eligible for the opportunity but they also found a current opening with a deadline coming up that had even more funding available.

“If we didn’t have eCivis, we would have read our project director’s email and passed on it thinking we weren’t eligible,” Delene said. “We didn’t end up having any regrets.”

Finding Grants With Small Dollar Amounts But Mighty Impacts

For Delene and her team, it’s not always about the dollar amount when it comes to selecting grants to pursue. She and her team recently won a grant that was less than $6,000 for a 12 month Community Garden project. Even though the dollar amount wasn’t significant, it didn’t diminish the impact on the community.

In fact, it brought the community closer together where seniors and teenagers became more involved in working on keeping the garden healthy and growing. The project was such a success that it was even featured in the annual state of the nation address.

“It’s one of those grant projects where the tangible outcomes may not be hitting all the markers of big bucks but the intangible outcomes tell an important story and show a return on investment that matters to our tribal culture.”

Pitching Grant Opportunities to Tribal Leadership

What makes our hero, Delene, and her team so successful is their thorough evaluation of every grant opportunity against the overall agency’s tribal strategic vision.

“Our approval process asks project directors who are interested in grant funding to identify which aspects of their proposed project would align with the tribal strategy,” Delene said. 

Typically, she and her team run through these questions before pursuing a grant:

  • How will the money be used?
  • Will this support the tribal strategic vision?
  • If there’s a match, will they have to put the money down now?
  • What will be promised from future budget years?
  • Is there a need for a partner to be involved?
  • Is there a heavy burden on reporting or backup documentation?

All of these considerations are part of a score that she and her team use to assess a funding opportunity, which is then sent to leadership with a summary of the analysis, what it’s going to cost, and expected ROI. 

“Once they approve for us to write the grant, we get going and meet the deadline. We want to be sure that we pursue grants that we can win and implement so that we don’t run the risk of not being good stewards of the money we receive,” Delene concluded. 


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