Executive Profile: Jake Whitaker on Keys to Successful Grant Writing

Renne Public Policy Group announced that Jake Whitaker has been promoted to Director of Grant Writing + Research, effective September 1. With a proven track record of bringing in millions of state and federal dollars for local public agencies, Jake’s unique ability to tell the story of public agencies and nonprofits consistently produces successful, highly competitive grant applications. In this interview, Jake discusses his approach, the firm’s philosophy, and his vision for the future.

Describe your work with Renne Public Policy Group. 

I joined Renne Public Policy Group in June 2021 to develop the grant writing practice as a new service offering for the firm. In our first year, we secured over $38 million for our clients. We have a well-rounded team of advisors, public sector funding experts, and grant writers, serving a client roster that includes 13 municipalities, a community college district, and a water district.

What motivated you to build this grant writing practice from the ground up?

I wanted to work for an organization that prioritizes the service aspect of public sector work. Our practice is about helping public servants on the ground better serve their communities and advancing projects that improve the quality of life in communities.

The consulting practices of Renne Public Policy Group (RPPG) and the recently established Renne Public Management Group are divisions of Renne Public Law Group (RPLG), which has a strong focus on public interest. As the RPLG partners built out the advocacy and management divisions, they preserved that focus for the divisions’ work. When I was considering the opportunity to join RPPG, I found this approach and commitment very compelling.

What are some of the highlights of the grant writing work you’ve done thus far? 

We work with clients of all sizes, from the City of Greenfield (a small agrarian community of about 18,000) to municipalities like Bakersfield, one of the 10 largest cities in California. Our clients are geographically diverse, from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley and beyond, with several clients in the Inland Empire, including the City of San Bernardino and the San Bernardino Community College District. We also have a strong presence on the Peninsula and in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re able to span a robust range of diverse demographics, geography, locations, and regional issues, which is very important because every public agency has its own story and unique needs.

Which aspects of your grant writing work do you enjoy most?

My favorite part of the job is getting to collaborate with public agencies and their employees. People who do this work tend to be very passionate and committed. They do their part every day to make life better for the people they serve. I have spent my entire career either working in public service or doing public interest work—I’ve always been drawn to it. I enjoy building strong working relationships with people who share that passion, and I love being able to support the missions of the agencies that we work with. That’s what grant writing is about: improving the quality of life in communities and supporting the public good by directing our discretionary tax dollars to projects that achieve this goal.

What is needed to prepare a successful grant application?

Taking a proactive, strategic approach to identifying and seeking grant funding is critically important. Grant seeking should be aligned with an organization’s mission and strategic goals. For some organizations, that’s a big shift; they’re accustomed to reacting to grant opportunities as they arise, but that scattershot, disorganized approach tends to produce mixed results. Our approach is comprehensive. RPPG supports organizations in building their capacity to be intentional about grant seeking, to have strong projects ready, and to position themselves proactively to give them a competitive edge.

Our relationship with each client is a partnership. When we get on board with a new client, whether it’s a city or an organization, we meet with each of the department heads to understand their priorities and needs and the nuances of their communities. As a consultant, leveraging that local expertise—the knowledge of the people who live and breathe this stuff every day—is a major component of developing a strong grant application. Having synergy between the staff and a consultant is huge. We do everything we can to position them for success.

Preparing successful applications requires effort, capacity, time, and attention to detail. For each project, we typically examine a number of potential funding sources. We don’t want to leave any stone unturned. Triaging funding options is a big part of what we do.

What are some of the challenges of developing a grant application for a client?

The process of vetting projects and understanding the scoring criteria for each grant funding opportunity can be challenging, because you must be very rigorous in evaluating the likelihood of success for an application—and you have to be honest and transparent with the client about it.

When a competitive grant cycle’s time frame is short, having projects that are “grant ready” and being able to tie these projects to a larger effort is hugely beneficial. This advance planning work allows organizations to position themselves to compete for discretionary dollars. It might take some time for the right opportunity to materialize, but generally we work with our clients to align preparation activities with funding opportunities that we know are on the horizon.

How does RPPG leverage its presence in Sacramento to support the grant writing practice?

Our connection to Sacramento and the legislative process is a major benefit. It allows us to proactively identify upcoming opportunities and work with our clients to prepare, even before a funding agency announces an opportunity. RPPG’s public policy advocacy team goes through the state budget every year and tracks budget trailer bills to identify grant programs that will be funded in the upcoming fiscal year. And likewise at the federal level: for example, our team worked on identifying opportunities that would be available as a result of the bipartisan infrastructure legislation that passed. Our familiarity with the legislative process allows us to understand the intricacies of the large spending bills. Having that intelligence supports our philosophy of strategic grant seeking and provides a key advantage for our clients.

How do you envision RPPG’s grant writing services moving forward? 

Our strategic focus is on ensuring that we have a strong foundation to deliver on the promise we make to our clients: We are a high-quality firm that wants to do our best work for you. I want to see the practice continue to grow, because I believe in what we are doing and the benefit we provide to our clients. But at the same time, it is vitally important to make sure we’re growing in a smart way and that continued growth doesn’t come at the expense of quality.

I look forward to pursuing opportunities to work with new clients: cities, organizations, and special districts. And I would like to build on our work for community college districts and expand into the world of education funding, from K-12 to higher education, because there’s a great deal of investment underway in education now.

The value of public service is foremost in what we do. We constantly challenge ourselves to work hard on behalf of the clients whom we have the honor of representing. Our team is mission driven, and that’s important to me, because our public sector clients all have the very important responsibility of fulfilling vital roles for the communities they serve. Supporting their work is our number one priority.

If you would like to discuss potential funding or employment opportunities with a professional grant writer, please reach out to RPPG at (916) 974-9270 or contact the Director of Grant Writing + Research directly via email at jwhitaker@publicpolicygroup.com.

Renne Public Policy Group (RPPG) is a full-service lobbying and consulting practice that strives to advance the interests of public agencies and companies that align with public entities. As a division of Renne Public Law Group (RPLG), RPPG provides clients with full wraparound services informed by a keen understanding of California’s evolving legislative and political landscape.

2022-09-15T19:49:31-07:00September 1, 2022|Insights, Private Sector|

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