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What Budget Cuts? The RFPs Continue to Pour Out: Educational Opportunities Centers, Carol M. White PEP, HUD Section 202 & 811, Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control, and California’s Proposition 84

Faithful readers will have noticed a paucity of recent blog posts. There’s a reason: we’re fantastically busy. Despite all of the media gnashing of teeth regarding the Republican–Democratic tussles over the FY ’11 Continuing Resolutions (which was resolved a week or two ago) not much actually happened. A list of final ’11 CR reductions might total $39 billion—or is it $300 million?

Basically, nobody knows, but in the finest Washington tradition both sides can claim victory while getting back to the serious business of raising money for the 2012 campaign, as well as fulminating about the 2012 election (didn’t we just have an election?). In the meantime, federal and state agencies have opened the RFP floodgates, so as to not get caught with non-obligated funds when the next fiscal year rolls around. Quelle Horreur!!*

Here’s a tiny sample of the avalanche of grant funds that are currently up for grabs:

  • Educational Opportunity Centers (EOC): It took months, but our friends at the Department of Education finally got this one one out of the door with $47,000,000 available and a May 23 deadline. EOC grants provide academic enrichment to prepare secondary school students for college. Even better, the DOE promises to issue the RFP for the much larger companion TRIO program, Upward Bound in September or so. If your organization has trouble funding its basic mission and it is vaguely plausible at providing academic support, pursue EOC or Upward Bound. Given the dismal student academic outcomes in America, getting young people prepared for college is sure to be a growth industry in the coming years.
  • Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP): Another old DOE friend, PEP grants fund physical education and wellness services for K–12 students. There is about $37,000,000 available, with grants to $750,000 and a deadline of May 23.
  • Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly: HUD has $371,000,000 to build Section 202 affordable housing for seniors. The deadline is June 1.
  • Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities: Another HUD warhorse, Section 811 has $114,000,000 to build affordable housing for persons with disabilities, and the deadline is June 23.
  • Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control (LBPHC) Program: LBPHC, another HUD favorite, usually has around $100,000,000 available, although HUD is keeping the total dollar amount a secret in this year’s NOFA. LBPHC grants are used to rehab affordable housing units to remove lead hazards, with grants to $3,500,000, and the deadline is June 9.
  • California Nature Education Facilities Program: To keep things interesting, I thought I would throw in a CA RFP. This nugget is funded by the $5,700,000,000 “Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006.” I know you think California is broke, but this particular budget pocket is stuffed with $93,000,000 for park and related “nature education” facilities. The deadline is July 1.

Now you know why we’re busy writing proposals and not writing as many blog posts as we usually do. There are many other RFPs on the street and lots more will be issued in the next two to three months. As I’ve blogged about many times in the last year or two, smart nonprofits and public agencies will go after the huge amount of available grant funds, instead of sitting in sack cloth and ashes and watching the Kabuki budget shenanigans going on in Washington or their state capitals.

Two years ago, when the barely remembered Stimulus Bill was in full stimulation mode, we were incredibly busy. While we are always involved in endless grant writing, we now find ourselves about as busy during a time of dire talk of budget cuts and deficits. I’m reminded of the wonderful 1960 film, Elmer Gantry.

Our eponymous anti-hero is discussing why people go to church with the cynical reporter Jim and says people come to a place like a revivalist church meeting, because “they got no money or too much money.” In our business, clients come to us because they think the government’s got too much money or not enough. Regardless of the reasoning, there are incredible grant opportunities available and applicant odds are better because so many agencies are paralyzed. Simply put, the fewer technically correct applications, the better your odds are of scoring.

*This is a nod to Jake, who is taking a French Translation grad school class and needs all the help he can get.

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Think Systems When You Write You Prepare Your Proposal, and a Tale From the Medical Trenches

A friend of mine just applied to medical residencies, and in the process he worked himself into a lather over what specialty he wanted to choose and how he should order his preferred programs. He made a nearly fatal mistake of the kind many grant applicants do: he waited until the last minute to make a decision and submit his choices.

Medical residencies are disseminated through a mechanism called the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), which is about as user-friendly as a double-edged sword with no hilt. This means he should’ve taken extra care by double checking every step of the application process and leaving himself at least a 48-hour window between the deadline and submission, which is a two-step, unintuitive process.

This being Grant Writing Confidential, you can probably already guess that he didn’t do that. Instead he waited until five minutes before the deadline. Over a couple months, I kept encouraging him to set a goal and create objectives, along with a timeline. That’s because I’ve seen Seliger + Associates prepare innumerable proposals and know what happens as a deadline approaches: panic. And panic isn’t conducive to clear thinking or good decision making.

Anyone who’s applied to a college knows that you need a large number of persnickety documents in the exact order and quantity the college demands. Those of you who’ve prepared a grant proposal should be thinking, “That sounds just like a proposal!” It’s also just like a medical residency. If you fail to do precisely what you’re supposed to, you’ll simply be out of luck. The main difference with grant applications is that a) they’re even more persnickety than colleges and b) a lot of agencies prepare them over and over again.

The weaker agencies panic each time and use the “hope and pray” method, which entails a lot of chaos. Smart agencies develop systems to prevent mistakes and ensure applications are submitted on time. They don’t procrastinate. They double check everything, then have a second person check too; it’s easy to miss a sentence or a document or a requirement. They learn from mistakes so they don’t make them again.

When you hire Seliger + Associates, part of what you get is a built-in anti-procrastination device. You’re not just buying our expertise, but the processes we’ve developed. If you, like most of my students, wait until the last minute to write your proposal (or paper), you’re more likely to miss critical parts of the RFP or nuances that might be essential to being funded. You’re going to miss a document that could get your application rejected. You’re going to be overwhelmed when you don’t need to, like my friend the soon-to-be doctor.

There’s nothing stopping you from doing all this on your own, of course, just as there’s nothing stopping my students from writing their papers early. It’s just that most people don’t make lists, don’t get someone knowledgable to back check their work, and don’t prepare in advance. As the big day inevitably approaches, they grow steadily more crazed. They’re more likely to make mistakes, and if they make a bad one, they’ll sink their million dollar grant ship.

In the case of my friend, his medical residency application was in jeopardy because of delays and self-imposed indecision. Innumerable nonprofits suffer the same malady every year. Don’t be one of them: design systems that ensure you get your work done methodically and in advance. If you can’t do it yourself, hire someone who will. Don’t be like my friend the medical resident and dither unless you want to harm your own chances of success for no reason at all.

And the friend did get into a great residency, which confirms the old adage that sometimes “luck beats skill.”