Monthly Archives: April 2015

No Calls, No Bother: “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” and the Grant Writer’s Work

In “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” Paul Graham writes

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour. [. . .]

But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

People who make things are often experiencing flow, which is sometimes called “being in the zone.” It’s a state of singular concentration familiar to writers and other makers. Managers may experience it too, but in different ways, and their flow emerges from talking to another person, or from productive meetings—but a tangible work product rarely emerges from those meetings.

In part because of the maker’s schedule and the manager’s schedule, we try not to bother our clients. When we write proposals, we schedule a single scoping call, which is a little bit like being interviewed by a reporter. During that call we attempt to answer the 5Ws and H—who, what, where, when, why, and how—and hash out anything unique to a particular RFP or client. We ask our clients to send any background information they might have, like old proposals or reports. And then our clients usually don’t hear from us until the first draft of the proposal is finished.

Just because we’re not noisy doesn’t mean we’re not busy, however. We’re writing during that quiet period. Writing works best when it’s relatively uninterrupted. If you’re a part-time grant writer in an organization, you may be used to phone calls and emails and crises and all manner of other distractions that hit you at least once an hour. In those conditions you’ll rarely if ever reach a consistent state of flow. These problems have scuppered more than one proposal, as we know from candid conversations with clients’s on-staff grant writers.*

We only have a single scoping call or scoping meeting because we know we’re better off writing the best proposal we can given what we know than we are attempting to call our clients every hour when we don’t know something. Our methods have been developed over decades of practice. They work.

Writing isn’t the only field with flow issues. Software famously has this problem too, because in a way every software project is a novel endeavor. Software is closer to research than to manufacturing. Once you have a manufacturing process, you can figure out the critical path, the flow of materials, and about how many widgets you can make in a given period time. That’s not true of software—or, in many cases writing. This list of famous, failed software projects should humble anyone attempting such a project.

Ensuring that a project, like a proposal, gets done on time is simply quite hard (which is part of the reason we’re in business: we solve that problem). But it can be done, and we work to do it, and one way is by ensuring that we don’t waste our clients’s time.

We don’t call ourselves artists, at least in this domain, but, as Joe Fassler says, “Great Artists Need Solitude.” Writers need solitude. The best work gets done in chunks of undisturbed time—for Neal Stephenson, those chunks need to be about four hours, which sounds pretty close to the way we write.


* People are often surprised that we get hired by organizations that have full-time grant writers already on staff. But this is actually quite common.

Seliger’s Quick Guide to Developing Facility Grant Proposals and Budgets

Developing proposals and budgets for facility grants is fairly easy, even though, as we’ve written before, getting a facility grant is often really hard (but not impossible).

Facility proposals and budgets are usually simple to develop because they contain the same elements. Once the basic needs argument is established–for example, a HRSA Health Infrastructure Investment Program (HIIP) grant will enable the Waconia Community Health Center to expand, increasing the number of patients served–the proposal action steps are:

  • The applicant must demonstrate site control in the form of a title, lease or lease-option. If leased, the term of the lease should be longer than the useful life of the capital improvements. Federal proposals often specify this length of time.
  • Hire an architect or contractor (e.g., design/build).
  • Due to concerns over climate change and sustainability, select an architect, who will design to meet LEED “green building” standards.
  • The architect then goes to the local jurisdiction’s planning department and/or building department counters to understand the land use and zoning constraints on the site, along with required hearings/permits and the anticipated timing.
  • The architect prepares a conceptual site plan for agency review and eventually a second trip the planning/building counters for a reality check.
  • Pre-building permit hearings are scheduled and held, as needed. In some jurisdictions, this may be where cranky, angry local NIMBYs complain.
  • The architect prepares detailed working drawings, based on the conceptual plan (as revised) and applies for a building permit.
  • The building permit is obtained.
  • Construction bids are requested (unless the design/build approach is used).
  • Construction is undertaken. It’s likely that the contractor will request change orders during construction, which will have to be resolved. Periodic city inspections will occur during construction, which may generate additional change orders.
  • Specified equipment is ordered and installed near the end of construction.
  • When construction is nominally complete, a walk-through will be conducted with the contractor and a punch list of remaining items will be developed and addressed.
  • The final city inspection will take place, leading to the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy.
  • You’re done. Let the services and champagne flow!

In the laundry list above, the most critical, and often overlooked, step is checking with the jurisdiction to make sure you can build what you want to build, as well as the sometimes exhausting interim steps between a good idea and an actual building permit. It’s also essential that these steps be clearly explained in your proposal, with realistic timeframes.

About ten years ago we wrote a HUD Section 202 proposal for senior housing on behalf of a large faith-based organization in a big Midwestern city. Their architect prepared a conceptual plan but failed to fully grasp the steps that would be needed to obtain a building permit. The issue involved consolidating a number of small parcels owned by our client. We wrote the proposal based on the information provided by the architect.

HUD deemed the proposal “fundable” and reserved Section 202 financing of about $3 million for the project. When the HUD regional office back-checked the permitting process described in the proposal, however, it turned out that the project couldn’t be built. Our client lost the grant but perhaps learned a valuable lesson about grant writing for facilities: there’s not much point seeking grants for an infeasible project, no matter how great the need.

To draft your facility proposal, explain the preceding set of bullets in narrative form and following the pattern in the RFP. You should also include the key milestones in a timeline, as we’ve written before. Leave out references to champagne.

Here are the key line items in a facility budget:

  • Plan check and other fees for public hearings, permits, etc. Your architect will be able to figure this out for you.
  • Architectural/engineering (A/E) costs, which are usually about 7% of the estimated total project cost but may vary in your region.
  • General conditions, which includes staging, materials/equipment storage and miscellaneous other costs that facilitate construction activities.
  • Demolition costs and/or site grading / preparation costs.
  • Construction costs, which will probably be about 70% of the total project costs. One way to calculate estimated construction costs is to multiply the total square feet by local construction costs/square foot. This can be tricky: the cost to build a Community Health Center or UPK classrooms is going to be much higher than general office space because of life/safety code requirements.
  • Fixed and moveable equipment.
  • Legal fees.
  • A prudent contingency, which is usually about 10% of the total project costs but higher for renovation projects.

Links: Grant writing training, Los Angeles, hospitals, skyscrapers, land use, bikes, SAMHSA disfunction, illnesses and more!

* A new study says it doesn’t matter how much time you spend with your kids. Anxious and neurotic upper-middle-class parents, consider yourself relieved. I don’t (particularly) recall wanting to wanting extensively to interact with my parents when I was a kid, though maybe my memory is flawed. (Lancy’s The Anthropology of Childhood is also relevant here.)

* We’ve updated the Seliger.com FAQ pages. Check it out! There’s even a new question, answered. We’ve also changed our stance, but not our emphasis, on grant writing training.

* “Finding the Dense City Hidden in Los Angeles,” which surprises me too.

* “Radical Vaccine Design Effective Against Herpes Viruses,” which is hugely important in many ways, and the development of this vaccine should retard AIDS transmission.

* As demand for welders resurges community colleges offer classes. Call this a counter-cyclical story!

* “An Interview With the NYU Professor Banned From the United Arab Emirates,” which tells you a lot about NYU.

* On government, voting, and costs.

* “Hospitals Are Robbing Us Blind: Forget Obamacare. The real villains in the American health care system are greedy hospitals and the politicians who protect them.”

* “Skyscrapers are all too evidently phallic symbols, monuments to capitalism and icons of hubris. Yet Will Self can’t help but love them. He explores their significance – from JG Ballard to Mad Men, and from London to Dubai.” I love skyscrapers too.

* “Poor land use in the world’s greatest cities carries a huge cost“—in financial, equality, and other terms.

* “Slumber Party! Casper leads a new crowd of startups in the $14 billion mattress industry, trying to turn the most utilitarian of purchases into a quirky, shareable adventure. Wake up to the new world of selling the fundane.”

* “Why I keep fixing my bike,” which is shockingly beautiful and about more than just the bike.

* “Bungling the Job on Substance Abuse and Mental Health: Employees at this federal agency rank it 298th out of 315 in a list of best places to work in the government.” Based on our interactions with SAMHSA we can’t say we’re surprised. Perhaps they should have more mental health counseling and coaching for SAMHSA staff? If so, we can definitely suggest some curriculums.

* “Thinking too highly of higher ed,” by Peter Thiel, who also wrote Zero to One (which you, like everyone, should read).