Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Nonprofit Blog Carnival is Here: Tell Us About Your Tools

We’re hosting October’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which means that we’re inviting you (the reader and possibly writer) to contribute posts about the tools you use in your life working for a nonprofit. What hardware, software, items, or techniques have made your life substantially better, easier, or more interesting? We (and others) want to know; think of this prompt as being like Cool Tools, but for nonprofits.

Submit your links here, send an e-mail to me at seliger@editingandwriting.com, or send a note to the carnival address: nonprofitcarnival@gmail.com.

You can interpret the topic as broadly or as narrowly as you choose. We’ve written about this previously from a grant writer’s perspective—see, for example, Tools of the Trade—What a Grant Writer Should Have and Tools and Organizing Organizations: How to Wrangle Information and Databases for Grant Writers—but want to hear what others are doing and how they’re doing it. If you have a post that you think is valuable but doesn’t fit with the theme, let us know and we may include it anyway.

If you don’t have a blog but still want to contribute, leave a comment on this post.

You can see an example of a previous carnival on Katy’a Nonprofit Marketing Blog; I like her definition of what this is about: “I should explain the carnival is simply a monthly roundup of themed blog posts hosted by various bloggers in the nonprofit world.” Right. It’s supposed to be a fun, easy way for nonprofits and others to share thoughts and ideas. We hope to hear yours no later than October 25.

Why Academics Don’t Always Make Good Social and Human Services Grant Writers

People with advanced degrees and university professors are (presumably) good at lots of things, like publishing the original research they’re trained to produce, but they aren’t always good grant writers—especially for the kinds of social and human service proposals that Seliger + Associates often writes. I think there are lots of reasons for this:

  • Academics often don’t like or respond well to short deadlines. Having a four- to six-week turnaround time simply isn’t enough. Having a one- to two-week turnaround time, which we sometimes do, is even harder. And a lot of people, academics included, don’t have the right stuff.
  • You don’t have to be an expert to write on a subject, but academics are culturally encouraged to make claims only in areas they have studied deeply. This means they often sneer at dilettante journalists, but journalism is actually the field most analogous to grant writing, and sometimes being an expert can actually impede your ability as a grant writer by making you too enmeshed in the area. Reviewers won’t have the same expertise as you, and the assumptions you hold might not be the ones everyone else holds. What you really need to do is tell a story—and experts are often better at making find-grained distinctions of fact or opinion than telling stories. We discuss the problems of experts in National Institute of Health (NIH) Grant Writers: An Endangered Species or Hidden Like Hobbits?. (Note that this paragraph won’t necessarily apply if you’re seeking advanced research grants).
  • Academics love committees and process. Both are lovely in their time and place, but writing a proposal isn’t one of them, and a love of committees sometimes leads to the critical mistake of trying to divide writing tasks.
  • A lot of academics have no idea how social and human services are actually delivered. They know how such services should be delivered in theory, but the gap between theory and practice is wider in practice than in theory. They haven’t read Project NUTRIA: A Study in Project Concept Development or Every Proposal Needs Six Elements: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. The Rest is Mere Commentary.
  • Academics are sometimes prone to hand-waving, which I witnessed in my own department’s colloquium and described in Grant Advice is Only as Good as the Knowledge Behind It.
  • The goal is to get the money, not to be right.

This last one is especially significant, and we’ve talked about it before in The Real World and the Proposal World and The Worse it is, the Better it is: Your Grant Story Needs to Get the Money. If your goal is to get the money, you should disregard data that doesn’t support the idea that your service area needs the money and highlights the idea that service area does. You shouldn’t lie, but the judicious selection of facts and ideas to support the narrative you’re trying to develop will help your application.

As mentioned above, grant writing, especially for social and human services, is more than anything else about telling stories. Sometimes stories aren’t entirely factual, or miss an important part of the whole picture, but they’re what proposals (and journalism feature stories) are made of. So if you can get important-sounding opinions from misery professionals but not much about data, use the important-sounding opinions. Sometimes they’re not very far from “research” anyway. Here’s how you get data: take a bunch of opinions, collate them, publish them, and call them data. A lot of peer-reviewed articles basically amount to this. You can spend loads of time searching for research to support your organization’s need and come up with nothing or with weak research. If so, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and massage what you’ve got. A lot of academics can’t, or won’t, do that.

To be sure, I’m confident that there are some academics and professors out there who would make or are lovely grant writers. But we’ve witnessed a sufficient number of failed grant writing attempts by academics to doubt most are good at it. If you have an academic writing social or human service proposals, especially if it’s the academic’s first time doing so, make them read this post.

September 2010 Links: HRSA Section 330 Grantees, The Technocracy Boom, Hilarious Federal Program Titles, Why Grant Writing is So Hard, and More!

* Cash-Poor Governments Ditching Public Hospitals, a phenomenon that HRSA section 330s grantees are no doubt already familiar with.

* The Golden State’s War on Itself: How politicians turned the California Dream into a nightmare.

* Your government at work: The Department of Commerce has released the “Grants to Manufacturers of Certain Worsted Wool Fabrics” program, which is not a headline from the Onion or a Monty Python skit, but is obviously essential to nation’s well-being.

* Also in “Your government at work” (an ongoing series): the USDA released the “People’s Garden School Pilot Program,” which sounds like something out of China (“People’s Liberation Army“) or Soviet Russia.

* The Technocracy Boom:

When historians look back on this period, they will see it as another progressive era. It is not a liberal era — when government intervenes to seize wealth and power and distribute it to the have-nots. It’s not a conservative era, when the governing class concedes that the world is too complicated to be managed from the center. It’s a progressive era, based on the faith in government experts and their ability to use social science analysis to manage complex systems.

I’m not sure it’s true, but at least it’s an unusual argument.

* Pretty much everyone on the Internet has linked to this article on Greece, written by Michael Lewis (think Moneyball) and full of astonishing tidbits that do not bode well for the country’s future.

* Awesome: In German Suburb, Life Goes On Without Cars.

* Also about cars: Free Parking Comes at a Price, which has been obvious for a while now but mostly unacknowledged by politicians.

* Most hilarious recent RFP title: “Shrubby Reed Mustard – Reproductive Success and Affects of Roads” from the Department of the Interior. Send your nominations to me.

* The runner-up: “Reinvigorating HIV Prevention for Men who have Sex with Men” program, which proves that someone at the NIH has a sense of humor.

* Inexperienced Companies Chase U.S. School Funds, evidently without having read Grant Writing Confidential first.

* How Censoring Craigslist Helps Pimps, Child Traffickers and Other Abusive Scumbags.

* Measuring colleges for what they do instead of who they enroll: finally!

* What Social Science Does—and Doesn’t—Know: Our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound.

* The U.S. is bankrupt and we don’t even know it (maybe).

* Five myths about prostitution, which could also be named, “What Belle de Jour got right.”

* Speaking of wired programs, the “Affordable Health Care Act Infrastructure to Expand Access to Care” has one grant for $100M for “a public research university in the United States that contains a State’s sole public academic medical and dental school.” That could be the University of Washington. But I bet that whoever it is, knows it’s going to get the cash.

* Someone found GWC by searching for “why is writing a grant so hard”. The answer: read all of GWC and you’ll start to realize just how many nuances there are to a good proposal.

Is it Collaboration or Competition that HRSA Wants in the Service Area Competition (SAC) and New Access Points (NAP) FOAs?

HRSA just issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA, which is HRSA-speak for RFP) for the Service Area Competition (SAC). SAC FOAs are issued each year for different cities and rural areas in which HRSA has existing section 330 grantees, including Community Health Centers (CHCs), Migrant Health Center (MHCs), Health Care for the Homeless (HCHs), and Public Housing Primary Cares (PHPCs). Without going too far inside baseball, as section 330 grantee contracts expire, HRSA groups them together and forces them to reapply while encouraging other organizations to complete for the contracts. Hence the word “competition” in SAC.

SAC applicants are required to respond to a section of the FOA called “Collaboration” by describing “both formal and informal collaboration and coordination of services with other health care providers, specifically existing section 330 grantees, FQHC Look-Alikes, rural health clinics, critical access hospitals and other federally-supported grantees.” I’m guessing that if your organization is applying to take the contract away from the current Section 330 grantee, that grantee is probably not going to be in much of a mood to collaborate with your application and give you a letter of support.

To put a requirement for “collaboration” in a FOA that uses the term “competition” in its title demonstrates HRSA’s cluelessness. A particularly fun aspect of the SAC FOA is that HRSA pats itself on the back by stating in the Executive Summary that “For FY 2011, the HRSA has revised the SAC application in order to streamline and clarify [emphasis added] the application instructions.” The instructions are 112 single-spaced pages and the response is limited to 150 pages! And there a two-step application process involving an initial application submitted through our old friend Grants.gov, as well as a second application with a second deadline through a HRSA portal called Electronic Handbooks (EHBs). That’s what I call streamlining and clarifying. I would hate to see the results if HRSA tried to complicate and obscure the application process.

HRSA has another FOA process underway for the New Access Points (NAP) program, which I recently wrote about in “The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Finally Issues a New Access Points (NAP) FOA: $250,000,000 and 350 Grants! (Plus Some Important History).” A quick search of the FOAs reveal that the term “collaboration” is used at least 32 times in the NAP FOA, compared to 8 times in the SAC FOA. I suppose collaboration is four times as important in writing a NAP proposal that in writing a SAC proposal. For those with inquiring minds, the word “competition” is not used at all in the NAP FOA. As far as I can tell, HRSA does not let NAP applicants know that, if they are successful, they will eventually have to compete to keep their contract, while simultaneously committing to collaborating with their competitors. Since I have written many NAP and SAC proposals, I know how to thread this word needle by writing out of both sides of my Mac. But novice grant writers and new HRSA applicants will find this a challenge.

For more of my reasoning on the essential pointlessness of requiring grant applicants to profess their undying commitment to collaboration, see “What Exactly Is the Point of Collaboration in Grant Proposals? The Department of Labor Community-Based Job Training (CBJT) Program is a Case in Point.”

HUD’s Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control Program (LBPHC) Program Explained

HUD’s FY 2010 NOFA for the Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control Program (LBPHC) confuses many applicants. We’ve written at least six funded LBPHC grants, so we’re familiar with it. The program is actually simple: it funds the remediation (not necessarily removal) of lead-based paint in privately owned housing occupied by low-income folks.

Applicants, however, often have trouble figuring out how to efficiently spend the grant funds. Lead-based paint remediation usually costs about $15,000 per unit remediated. To make a LBPHC program work, applicants should propose using the LBPHC funds in conjunction with their housing rehabilitation program.

That’s the real secret of the program. Virtually every city has had some form of housing rehab program since the Nixon administration, using a combination of HUD HOME formula grants, CDBG entitlements, state funds, or who knows what. The rehab programs usually entice homeowners and landlords to fix up the housing units by offering small grants for the very low-income (below 50% of area median income or “AMI”) and subsidized loans for low-income and moderate-income (50% to 120% of AMI, depending on the jurisdiction).

The real problem for lead-based paint programs is invariably that the City of Owatonna wants Mrs. Smith the homeowner to fix code violations, remediate lead paint, etc., while Mrs. Jones wants granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and maybe faster Internet access. The city has trouble spending its rehab funds because Mrs. Smith doesn’t want to borrow money to do things that won’t impress her friends and neighbors.

What to do? The City (or other applicant) gets a LBPHC grant and bungie cords it to their existing rehab program. Now Mrs. Smith can get $15,000 or so in LBPHC sub-grant funds to remediate the lead hazards that the city inspector wants her to do and can use the rehab loan to buy her granite countertops.

The lead remediation grant can be used to entice Mrs. Smith to take the rehab loan. Now everyone is happy, including the local contractors who have some work while waiting around for the economy to improve. As long as a city doesn’t try to run LBPHC as a standalone program, but instead combines it with their rehab effort, HUD will love it. So will everyone in town. It’s remarkable to me how many calls I’ve had over the years from city officials who do not get this idea until I explain it. The ones who follow our direction usually get funded and have great success with the program.