Monthly Archives: February 2012

Why Did the City of Los Angeles Really Lose Out on Stimulus Money?

I find it grimly hilarious, in a Catch-22 way, the City of Los Angeles’ City Controller, Wendy Greuel, realized that a “lack of oversight” cost the City an estimated $125,000,000 in stimulus money because the City failed to pursue all the funding it was eligible to receive.

This isn’t a surprise to Seliger + Associates, as we’re on the pre-approved grant writing vendor list for the City and didn’t receive any calls or RFPs from the City inquiring if we had the capacity to prepare one or more grant applications, as we have in the past. And if we had, this is the daunting gantlet we would have faced before writing a single word in the grant proposal:

  • the City has separate pre-approved lists for almost every City department;
  • apparently none are in a database easily accessed by departments that need grant writing assistance;
  • just because you have been approved by one department of the City, does not mean that you will not have to prepare and submit, almost, if not exactly the same paperwork for each and every department you want to work for.

If you bill by the hour, you could go out of business just preparing paperwork.

Then, if you’re chosen to bid on the specific job, you have to again fill out the same/similar paperwork again to turn in with your bid documents.
These problems, combined with the incompetence or laziness cited in the article, are the real reason the City lost out on more than $125,000,000 in stimulus funds. The City hasn’t realized that every check has a cost.

Nonprofits, however, can learn something important from this: pursue every opportunity you can. Be nimble, like a small business, instead of sclerotic, like the City of Los Angeles.

February Links: California, Survival, Censorship, Prisons, the Unwise War on Overhead, and More

* “This is our national identity crisis in a nutshell: Do we want government spending half its money on redistribution and military, or re-dedicating itself to science, infrastructure, and health research?

* Stop Fixating on the Administrative Overhead of Non-Profits:

I’ve heard from more than one frantic foundation fundraiser who can’t raise a dime for overhead–everyone wants their money earmarked for programs. None of the donors seem to realize that even at a very well run charity, the electric bill, accountants, IT staff, grantwriters, compliance experts, investment managers, and yes, fundraisers do not actually get paid by good fairies who drop off wee buckets o’ gold at the beginning of every month. Or that unless you have all those boring-yet necessary things, you cannot actually run any programs.

* The Internet won the Congressional battle against censorship. This time.

* Funny grant fact of the day: the Family Planning Services Grants program was released on Valentine’s Day. One other curious fact about the program: it promises “grants” in the plural, yet only one award is expected.

* California dissolves redevelopment agencies.

* The Affordable Care Act continues to give; the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Research Program first appeared in 2010 and, as our subscribers know, it came back for another round recently.

* “This might seem a small thing — hey, so what if these foreign jet-setters endure some hassle? — but I think it is emblematic of some cumulatively larger issues. Americans are habituated to griping about our airports and airlines, but I sense that people haven’t internalized how comparatively backward and unpleasant this part of our “modern” infrastructure has become.”

* Do STEM Faculties Want Undergraduates To Study STEM Fields?

* Every day at my job I helped people just barely survive.

* “The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life.

* Great idea: “Legislation in Florida would allow parents to vote to restructure a public school into a private or charter model.

* Make playgrounds are safe but boring and kids won’t use them.

* For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage. This quote from the article: “Ms. Strader said her boyfriend was so dependent that she had to buy his cigarettes. Marrying him never entered her mind” reminds me of Bryan Caplan’s post “Poverty, Conscientiousness, and Broken Families,” where he says, “even when [the authors] are talking about men, low female conscientiousness is implicit. After all, conscientious women wouldn’t associate with habitually unemployed men in the first place – not to mention alcoholics, addicts, or criminals.”

* Government is not the only field in which people routinely have trouble using language.

* “How to Fight The Man:”

For generations people have been told: Think for yourself; come up with your own independent worldview. Unless your name is Nietzsche, that’s probably a bad idea. Very few people have the genius or time to come up with a comprehensive and rigorous worldview.

If you go out there armed only with your own observations and sentiments, you will surely find yourself on very weak ground. You’ll lack the arguments, convictions and the coherent view of reality that you’ll need when challenged by a self-confident opposition. This is more or less what happened to Jefferson Bethke. [. . .]

Most professors would like their students to be more rebellious and argumentative. But rebellion without a rigorous alternative vision is just a feeble spasm.

* Here’s some counterintuitive advice for literary critics: don’t read other critics before you write your review or criticism.

* Why the video pros are moving away from Apple. And I can’t blame them.

Upward Bound means more narrative confusion

The Upward Bound deadline passed, but the RFP lingers on in my mind like a foul meal.

The RFP was an extraordinary work of indirection, with 130-something pages of instructions supporting a 72-page narrative (counting “Competitive Priorities”). Upward Bound is one of the Department of Education’s “TRIO” programs—there used to be three: Upward Bound, Educational Opportunity Centers, and Student Supportive Services, but now there are five or six. Another TRIO program, Educational Opportunity Centers (“EOC”), was released last May, and that RFP is particularly close to my heart because I used its “Plan of operation” section to teach my University of Arizona students technical writing. The EOC RFP was also overly long and overly verbose, but its similarity to Upward Bound meant that looking at that proposal would help me with the new one.

It also included a trap, because the Department of Education made subtle but real changes between the way they phrased requirements from one program to the other. For example, under “Project Need” in EOC, the first two major headers said something like, “Low-incomes in the target area” and “High percentage of target area residents with education completion levels below the baccalaureate level.” The UB RFP says, “The income level of families in the target area is low” and “The education attainment level of adults in the target area is low.” So an applicant who applies for both EOC and UB can reuse data—but a straight copy-paste will result in the Department of Education knowing that you’ve done so. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Department of Education does this intentionally, like Van Halen and their legendary M&M Rider:

The rider’s “Munchies” section was where the group made its candy-with-a-caveat request: “M&M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES).” While the underlined rider entry has often been described as an example of rock excess, the outlandish demand of multimillionaires, the group has said the M&M provision was included to make sure that promoters had actually read its lengthy rider. If brown M&M’s were in the backstage candy bowl, Van Halen surmised that more important aspects of a performance–lighting, staging, security, ticketing–may have been botched by an inattentive promoter.

Van Halen uses brow M&M’s as a signal, and the Department of Education is using section headers the same way. If your section headers are identical to the EOC section heads, your proposal will be thrown out altogether, or at least have its points lowered.

There are other perils stashed in this RFP, too: its writers practically hide the location of the material you’re supposed to respond to. The RFP directs you to page 102, but the actual narrative requirement in the form of the “selection criteria” to which you’re supposed to respond starts on page 70 (of a 132-page RFP). And the narrative section lists “Objectives” on page 71, but you have to be cognizant enough to know that you have to copy the objectives listed on page 93.

Read and tread carefully when preparing to write a grant proposal.

EDIT: A former Department of Education reviewer wrote us to say:

I read with interest your article on Upward Bound grants in which you spoke of “traps” by the Department of Education. You clearly are experienced and are doing a great service for fledgling grants writers. However, I have served as a reader for several TRIO programs, and my experience is that the Department of Education NEVER puts traps in their RFPs. They work very hard to see that readers are fair and generally positive about the grant process. Of course, they also want consistency to keep down on appeals. The reason that I am writing is that you are doing your readers a disservice by making them think that there is a “magic phrase” that might result in acceptance for funding or rejection of a grant. The Department of Education wants writers to address the problems in a straightforward manner and teachers readers to reward clear writing.