How to Apply for a VOCA Grant
- April 15, 2019
Applying for grant funding, especially from government bodies, can be a complicated and tedious process. For victim services organizations, the VOCA grant can be an essential component of their annual funding. Once an organization has applied for and received funding from VOCA, they then need to submit quarterly reports demonstrating how they’ve used the funding, which can be as complex and tedious as applying for the grant itself.
To demystify the grant application and reporting process, we’ve developed products like GrantTracker+ and CiviCore Victim Services, Client & Case Management systems that helps victim services organizations like yours manage data. As part of the CiviCore Victim Services system, you’ll get access to a one-click VOCA reporting tool that helps you easily and accurately submit your quarterly reports.
But first, here’s what you need to know when applying for VOCA grants.
What is a VOCA Grant?
VOCA stands for Victims of Crimes Act, a bill that was signed into law under President Reagan in 1984. This ruling established the Crime Victims’ Fund, a federal pool of money reserved for victims services organizations.
In 1988, an amendment was made to the bill that created the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). Since then, the OVC has been responsible for administering the Crime Victims’ Fund, as well as for raising awareness about victims’ issues, promoting compliance with victims’ rights laws, and providing training, technical assistance, publications, and products to victim assistance organizations.
Money in the Crime Victims’ Fund isn’t sourced from taxpayers. Instead, it consists of money from individuals or corporations convicted of federal crimes. Payments such as fines, penalties, and forfeited bail bonds are allocated to the Crime Victims’ Fund, as well as donations, gifts, and bequests by private parties. Due to the nature of this funding, the Crime Victims’ Fund does not add to the national debt or deficit.
Each year, the OVC releases a set amount of money from the Crime Victims’ Fund, and states individually apply for a portion of those funds through the Victims of Crimes Act Formula Grant Program. Each state then distributes the money to qualifying organizations that serve victims of crime. These organizations, which are either public or nonprofit, are considered “sub-grantees,” with the state government bodies acting as the grantees.
What is a Victim Services Organization?
Traditionally, a victim services organization supports victims of three types of crimes: domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. Organizations today generally support victims of many categories of crimes in addition to these, but those three categories are considered the top priority areas for victims services. Because of this, the OVC requires that 10% of a state’s VOCA funding supports victims of domestic violence, 10% supports victims of sexual assault, and 10% supports child abuse. (For most states, the percentage of funding for each of these categories greatly exceeds 10%.)
In 2014 under President Obama, the federal government more than tripled funding for victim services orgs. With this came an effort to prioritize funding for underserved communities. The term “underserved communities” is loosely defined by the federal government as senior citizens, non-English speaking residents, disabled persons, members of racial or ethnic minorities, or people living in rural areas or inner cities. To help support these communities, the OVC requires that at least 10% of a state’s VOCA funding go towards underserved populations.
More specifically, this 10% or more must go towards people who are both members of an underserved population and who are victims of violent crimes other than the three priority categories. Here’s where things start to get tricky. It’s left up to each state to define what constitutes an underserved community, and to determine which categories of crimes (other than the primary three) whose victims can be supported with VOCA funding. And unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult to find these state-by-state distinctions.
According to Colorado VOCA Administrator Debbie Kayson, Colorado’s definition of underserved populations includes “individuals who by virtue of language, ethnicity, race, culture, disability, age, sexual orientation, or geographic location may require specialized accommodations in order to access services.” She reports that the Advisory Board regularly reviews this definition to evaluate if it necessitates revision.
More complex still, an organization does not have to exclusively serve victims of crimes to receive VOCA funding. If your public or nonprofit organization serves many communities, and victims of crimes happens to be one of them, you could be eligible to receive funding for the portion of your work that does support victims.
Because VOCA funding starts at the federal level and is distributed by state governments, organizations hoping to receive VOCA grants must comply with both federal and state requirements. We’ll lay out the federal requirements, but be sure to check what your individual state requires as well. You should be able to find this information by searching “VOCA grant” or something similar in your state’s government website, or by contacting your state’s VOCA office.
For example, we typed “Colorado government website” into Google and found colorado.gov. In the search bar, we typed “VOCA grant.” The top result in the list was this website, which provides resources to help navigate applying for VOCA funding in Colorado.
Among these resources, we found a sample VOCA Federal Subgrantee Report, which shows what information we’ll need to provide when applying for funding.
Be sure to check with your state’s VOCA administrator to see how your organization could apply for funding, even partial funding, for your victim support services.
What Kind of Organizations Apply for VOCA Funding?
There are two broad categories of organizations eligible for VOCA funding: public and nonprofit. Public organizations are owned and operated by the government. In the victim assistance services field, public organizations include agencies such as law enforcement, emergency services, and social services. In Colorado, the list of organizations who received funding for 2019 and 2020 includes crisis centers, district attorney’s offices, homeless advocacy groups, domestic violence safe houses, child advocacy groups, and many more. (To see the orgs who have received funding from 2013 to 2020, visit this page and click on “What Organizations Have Received Funding?”)
We’ve found that this categorical distinction between public and nonprofit organizations holds true with users of our Victim Services Client & Case Management software as well. In order to best serve both types of organizations, we’ve built versatility and customization into our victim services software.
The public agencies who use our software (mostly law enforcement) maintain a case-oriented approach. They’re focused on court dates, legal status of a case, case numbers, protection orders, VINE registrations, letters, and other details centered around the criminal justice system, in addition to supporting the victims of crime. These clients tend to be larger and use the software more robustly.
Nonprofits, such as the Rose Andom Center, typically have a more client-centered focus. While they also keep track of crucial information such as details of an incident and client demographic info, they are most interested in a comprehensive understanding of a client so they can see how to best serve them. Nonprofit staff need the ability to quickly review the history of an individual and easily add to their file.
For instance, when a client comes to a nonprofit for services, the staff member wants to be able to easily look up the client’s name to see if they’ve received victim services before. If they have, the staff member wants to see a digestible summary of how they were served in the past. They also need an easy way of adding notes and services information to their file based on their current interaction.
With CiviCore Victim Services, a user can navigate to a page summarizing all the cases a person is tied to as well as their history of services for each case — all in two clicks from the homepage. Our victim services software is also customizable so nonprofits can tailor the information that shows on this summary page. If desired, we can tailor the specific pieces of information on the page to your needs.
For example, using the screenshot below for reference, if you didn’t track an “Agency Report Number” but instead wanted to show the “Type of Case” (i.e., “domestic violence”, “assault”, “robbery”, etc.) CiviCore could help you swap it out.
State grantees of VOCA funding are required to comply to 12 federal regulations. In addition to requirements on how funding is distributed, states must keep records and monitor the programs their grants support. Each state must report to the OVC information regarding the victims served, the kinds of crimes these victims experienced, and what services were provided. In order for states to accurately report on this, they must collect information from the individual organizations who receive VOCA funding. All of this depends on diligent records from individual organizations regarding their funding and services.
In order for public or nonprofit organizations to qualify for VOCA funding, they must meet 14 federal requirements. You can find a full list of these requirements here: scroll down to the 5th grey box that reads “A complete copy of the Guidelines is available on the NAVAA Web site “Members Only” section available online here” and click on the hyperlinked “here.”
We’ve outlined the biggest differentiators:
1) You must be a public or nonprofit organization.
A public organization is one that is owned and operated by the government and exists to serve its constituents. The chief goal of a public organization is not to earn a profit. Your organization, whether public or nonprofit, must provide direct services to crime survivors and/or victims’ families.
2) You must maintain a record of providing effective direct services to crime victims.
You must demonstrate that your services have the support and approval of your community and that you have a history of providing services in a cost-effective manner. You must also have financial support from other, non-federal sources.
3) You must contribute a minimum match (cash or in-kind donations) of 20% of the total project cost.
In order to increase the resources available to projects supported by grant funds, your organization is responsible for matching 20% of your funding or donated goods/services from non-federal services. Say you received $10,000 from VOCA funding. Your organization would be required to secure $2,000 (or $2,000 worth of goods/services) from other grants, donations, sponsorships, or other funding sources. Groups that serve Tribal or Native American communities are exempt from this requirement.
4) You must use volunteers.
Your organization must employ the use of volunteers (unless your state VOCA office determines there is a compelling reason to waive this).
5) Your organization must promote community efforts to aid crime victims.
The OVC wants to see that your organization is developing strong working relationships with other community programs in order to promote a coordinated effort to aid victims of crimes. They also want to ensure that your team isn’t duplicating efforts with a nearby org. To demonstrate this, you might serve on task forces, coalitions, or multi-disciplinary teams (either on a federal, state, or local level) working to make victim support services accessible.
6) You must help victims apply for compensation benefits.
Many victims of crimes are entitled to compensation benefits. Your organization is required to inform survivors about the compensation they are due, distribute appropriate materials, help victims fill out forms, and check on their claim status.
7) You must keep program and financial records.
In order to prove compliance with federal and state regulations, it’s essential that your organization keeps detailed records of your finances, the victims you serve, and how you serve them. This includes financial documentation for disbursements, daily time and attendance records specifying time devoted to allowable VOCA victims services, client files, job descriptions, contracts for services, documentation regarding the portion of your project supported by other sources of revenue, and other records that facilitate an effective VOCA grant audit.
This information is required for your quarterly VOCA grant reporting, and providing it ensures that your organization can continue receiving funding from the OVC.
8) You must maintain civil rights information.
This is where CiviCore Victim Services becomes enormously helpful: our system helps you maintain statistics on victims served, including demographic information such as race, national origin, gender orientation, age, special population (such as senior citizen, member of the deaf or disabled community, etc.), and more as you apply for and track your VOCA grants.
In order to facilitate the easiest data collection possible, CiviCore Victim Services software allows you to customize the categories your clients fall into. For example, on your intake forms, you could ask clients to choose their sex, or you could ask them to choose their gender identity. If your organization works with populations who are trans, transitioning, or otherwise non-conforming to traditional gender identities, CiviCore can work with you to customize the options your clients can select. We can also help you report accurately on your VOCA quarterly grant report (which only allows male, female, and other designations).
9) You must comply with state criteria for VOCA grants.
Again, check with your state’s VOCA office to determine additional eligibility or services criteria you must abide by.
10) You must maintain client-counselor and research information confidentiality.
To protect the identities of the populations you serve, you must maintain confidentiality of client-counselor information as required by state and federal law. Be sure to check with your state’s specific laws in order to comply as a VOCA grantee.
11) You must register with DUNS and SAM.
Your organization is required to obtain a Duns & Bradstreet (DUNS) number for each physical office or location you hold. This nine-digit number is free and required by all organizations hoping to receive federal funding. You must also be registered in the System for Award Management (SAM) and renew your registration each year. This qualifies you to work as a federal contractor.
Reporting on VOCA Grants
Once you are awarded a VOCA grant (Congratulations!), you are then required to report regularly on your organization’s activity during the grant period. In order to prepare yourself for VOCA grant reporting, it’s essential that you track the relevant information throughout the year. Among the items you are required to track are financial information, staff and/or volunteer time, client/constituent demographic information, and services provided.
For financial information, you must show how your VOCA grant funds, matching funds, and any other funding sources are applied to your organization.
If you have staff and/or volunteers (and one of the requirements of qualifying for VOCA grant funding is that you use volunteers), you must track their time and attendance, including actual hours worked on the VOCA-funded project. You must maintain accurate job descriptions and duties for each active staff member and volunteer.
Finally, the state needs detailed information regarding the clients/constituents you serve and the services you’ve provided them with your VOCA grant funding. This includes the number of clients receiving victims assistance services, their demographic information, what kind of crimes they are a victim of, and the services they received. Maintaining accurate records of client information is far more manageable with an online database: this is where CiviCore can make your life far easier.
With CiviCore Victim Services, your database helps ensure you collect the right data at the right time. When a new client comes into your organization, CiviCore Victim Services can assist your intake specialist (or other member of your team) in capturing the information you need for VOCA grant reporting. Upon opening the system and navigating to create a new client file, your system will display all the categories of information you need to record for your new client.
When looking at a particular case profile, prompts will indicate if data that is critical for VOCA reporting is missing. An in-system guide will also provide an explanation of how VOCA wants grant data to be counted and how CiviCore Victim Services conforms to these rules.
At the end of each quarter, you can use the one-click VOCA grant reporting tool to pull all necessary data. You can set the specific fields of information you need to report on, and when you’re ready to generate a report, your VOCA tool will collect and summarize the data for you to transfer into your reporting worksheet.
If your victim services organization needs software to manage client information, apply for VOCA or other grants, or generate quarterly report information, we are here to help. Contact us to speak with an expert today.
Additional Resources for VOCA Grants
Need more assistance? We highly recommend getting on the OVC mailing list. They let you know about additional funding, new grants, information on special populations, and more.
Here is CiviCore’s list of additional resources:
- EJUSA VOCA Toolkit: https://ejusa.org/voca/toolkit/
- OVC’s Grants 101: https://ojp.gov/grants101/
- DOJ financial guide: https://ojp.gov/financialguide/doj/index.htm
- OVC Federal Register – VOCA Program Guidelines: download from http://navaa.org/members/interactiveSite/html/ch02/ch02_page004.html
- Federal Grant Management Resources: http://navaa.org/members/interactiveSite/html/ch02/ch02_page004.html
- For Colorado victim services orgs: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dcj/voca
- OVC Grants & Funding index: https://www.ovc.gov/grants/index.html
- OVC Grants & Funding – Help applying: https://ojp.gov/ovc/grants/help.html