Monthly Archives: September 2016

Is a good idea to “Kiss and Tell” in grant writing?

Most of us have had the experience of deciding if you should tell the new girlfriend about the old girlfriend or the old girlfriend about the new girlfriend, or tell neither and shower frequently instead. While I can’t help you with those dilemmas, I can tell you when you should kiss and tell in grant writing and when you should keep it on the down low.

Let me explain. In pursuing foundation grants for a new project, it’s always a good idea to tell the new foundation about the old foundation that has already committed funding. The old foundation’s commitment makes the proposal a “matching grant” request. Like having more than one date offer for the senior prom, this will make you much more intriguing to the new foundation—all foundations want to give the last dollar to a project, but it’s harder to get a foundation to commit the first dollar. Foundations are like lemmings and they prefer to jump off the cliff in groups. Still, they know that they’ll have to  go first in most cases.

Telling the new foundation about the old is particularly potent in capital campaigns. Say the Waconia Cyclops Youth Recreation Association want to build a new facility. It’s not a bad idea to start by getting the Waconia Community Foundation to commit a $100K grant toward your $1 million capital goal before seeking grants from other foundations. When the project is pitched to new foundations, you can trumpet that you’re one-tenth of the way there; if you want to really go old school, erect a 10 foot tall “capital campaign thermometer” in front of your building.

The new foundations may think that the Waconia Community Foundation knows what they’re doing and will want to get on train before it’s too late. NRP stations, like KCRW in LA, have honed this approach over the years for what seems like bimonthly pledge drives. KCRW knows that the closer the breathless announcer says the station is to that hour’s $10K matching grant from Himmelfarb Industries, the more likely it is that you’ll finally give in and call. Plus, there’s that “handsome” tote bag they keep dangling.

For most nonprofits, captive audiences lured by tote bags are not an option, as they have to hunt down that first foundation grant. Keep in mind, however, that you never want to seem like you have too much money, as foundations want to feel special, just like girlfriend analogy above. Enough money for momentum is good; so much that you seem like you don’t need the money is bad.

The situation is more complex for government grants. Some federal funding agencies like EDA or Rural Development more or less force applicant to demonstrate hard money matching grants,* since they mostly fund large capital projects and almost never provide 100% of the funding. The vast majority of government funders that require a match for human services projects, however, are perfectly happy with an in-kind match, an ephemeral beast I wrote about in “The Secrets of Matching Funds Exposed: Release the Hounds and Let the Scavenger Hunt Begin.”

Most government grant proposals we write use variations on the “but for” argument to demonstrate need: “But for the grant being requested, at-risk young adult Waconian cyclops will not have access to job training with wraparound supportive services and will be doomed to intergenerational poverty.” If you tell the new funder that you already have funding, they may conclude that you don’t need the grant as much as other applicants, who are all screaming poverty. Also, boasting about other funding in a federal grant proposal is likely to raise the dreaded specter of supplantation, which must be avoided at all costs. The Feds usually want to be the first dollar on projects that wouldn’t exist without them.

While contemplating this kiss and tell conundrum, keep in that the funder usually only knows what you tell them in the proposal. While we always advise our clients to be truthful in proposals, proposals can be like writing a match.com profile. It’s not necessary to list your seven previous failed relationships until you’ve gotten past the Starbucks meet & greet.


* We describe stacking several government grants for a capital project as a “layer cake” approach. The grant we’re writing about is invariably the top layer.

How 9/11 Changed Grant Writing

I went to the office around 5:30 AM PDT on September 11, 2001 because we had an Administration for Native Americans Social & Economic Development (ANA SEDS) deadline later than week. Fifteen years ago, the Internet was still relatively new and, while I always checked my email when I got to the office, I didn’t automatically open a browser (back then probably Explorer) to check the news.

I was listening to music (remember CDs?) on my Bose headphones as I polished the final proposal draft. The ringers were off on the land lines (remember those?), since it was so early. Around 6:30 AM, my brother called on my cell phone (probably a Motorola StarTac flip phone—remember those?), hysterically asking if I’d seen the news. By the time I went to CNN.com and turned on the office TV, both towers were in flames and no more work got done that day. Like everyone else, we were transfixed by the unfolding horror.

In 2001, all grant proposals were hard copy submissions, including the ANA SEDS proposal that had to be in Washington, DC on Friday of that week. Our office was then located in the Seattle area, and our FedEx cutoff was 5:00 PM for East Coast deliveries, so for a Friday deadline, we had to finalize our “master copy” by about noon to give us enough time to 1) run the five or six required hard copies, 2) substitute “wet signatures” in one copy to make the “original” copy, 3) run a client copy, 4) box up the FedEx package, and 5) dash to the FedEx office by 4:59 PM. Sometimes—usually due to a late arriving original of a wet-signed signature page—we’d miss the FedEx deadline, so we’d have to use Alaska Airlines “Gold Streak” small package delivery service. As long as we got the boxed proposal to the Alaska Air freight terminal at SeaTac by around 10:00 PM, the package would be put on a red eye to DC and delivered by courier the next morning, usually beating FedEx.

That option ended on 9/11.

While we sent the SEDS in by FedEx on Thursday, it wasn’t received by ANA for about six weeks. The weeks and months following 9/11 were beyond chaotic. All airline traffic was halted for days, and services like Gold Streak soon required “known shippers,” which proved to be too complex to comply with. All postal packages were held for X-ray and federal offices no longer would accept direct deliveries from FedEx, Express Mail and couriers—packages were held at central locations until they could be inspected. For the next couple of years, this meant finishing proposals well in advance of deadlines, which were usually extended, often multiple times, because of the confusion and uncertainty.

I assume that the rapidly changing shipping environment spurred the Feds into accelerating digital uploads, including our old pal Grants.gov, which is the portal for most federal grant submissions. Today, almost all federal, state and local proposals, as are about 50% of foundation proposals.

There are some exceptions, most notably in Los Angeles County. We write many proposals to various LA County agencies and for them, it’s still September 10, 2001, as multi-copy hard copy submissions with a wet signature original in a hand-delivered big box are required. Maybe the LA County Chief Administrative Officer will read this post and bring them fully into this century.

There are many ways of remembering 9/11. I had no friends or family directly involved, but the memory stays with me. This post is my own way of recalling it and way it altered the world in ways great (and well known) and small (like changes to grant submission processes).

Links: ACA news, job training news, “Walrus Haulout” grants, money and jobs and social services, and more!

* “Aetna Joins Rivals in Projecting Loss on Affordable Care Act Plans for 2016: Health insurer will review how it will continue its public exchange business in existing states.” This is essential reading for FQHCs, and note: “In addition, Medicaid-focused insurers continue to do well.” It’s interesting to contemplate Tyler Cowen’s 2009 post, “What should we do instead of the Obama health reform bill?“, in light of recent news.

* My favorite recent grant program: “Re-announcment of the Community Training and Video Production for Walrus Haulout Public Education Video.

* A new Tyler Cowen book is coming out in February; the link goes to the post describing the book (and how to get a free copy of another book), and here is a direct Amazon link to The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream.

* “ How The Cures For Cancer Snuck Up On Us,” good news all round.

* “How The West Was Won,” which is actually about how and why “Western” culture took over the world because a) it’s popular and b) it’s not so much Western per se as the result of technologically oriented development.

* “You Should Read More Romance Novels: The libertarian case for bodice rippers,” file under “headlines I could not have imagined reading.”

* The pre-order page for Tom Wolfe’s new novel, The Kingdom of Speech. If Wolfe writes it you ought to read it. EDIT: Read it; you can safely skip this one. The research and really entire worldview are not so good.

* “Why Police Cannot Be Trusted to Police Themselves,” a point that seems increasingly obvious.

* “It turns out that putting money directly into the pockets of low-income parents, as many other countries do, produces substantially larger gains in children’s school achievement per dollar of expenditure than does a year of preschool or participation in Head Start.” Attention UPK legislators!

* “Israel Proves the Desalination Era is Here: One of the driest countries on earth now makes more freshwater than it needs,” an important point and one I didn’t realize.

* Mark Manson: “Is It Just Me, Or Is the World Going Crazy?

* “How to Write a Novel,” amusing throughout and it seems that many quality authors use many different systems (or lack of systems). There is not one, single route to good end product.

* Oliver Sacks: “Me and My Hybrid,” from 2005, and his points still stand today.

* GM delivers 100,000th Chevy Volt in the US alone.

* “US fertility rate falls to lowest on record” as Americans fail to reproduce themselves, driving the need for more immigrants (remember this data when you hear some kinds of political rhetoric). And: “More Old Than Young: A Demographic Shock Sweeps the Globe.” And: “Europe’s ageing population is set to wreak havoc with the economy.”

* “The Next Generation of Wireless — “5G” — Is All Hype: The connectivity we crave — cheap, fast, ubiquitous — won’t happen without more fiber in the ground.”

* L.A. isn’t a suburb. It needs to stop being planned like one. There’s still some truth in Dorothy Parker’s observation about LA being “72 suburbs in search of a city.”

* “Can 42 US, a free coding school run by a French billionaire, actually work? Just across the bridge from Facebook HQ, a radical education experiment is underway.”

* “Why Tokyo is the land of rising home construction but not prices:”

Here is a startling fact: in 2014 there were 142,417 housing starts in the city of Tokyo (population 13.3m, no empty land), more than the 83,657 housing permits issued in the state of California (population 38.7m), or the 137,010 houses started in the entire country of England (population 54.3m).

A social bonus, too: “In Tokyo there are no boring conversations about house prices because they have not changed much. Whether to buy or rent is not a life-changing decision.” I would love to never have those boring conversations ever again, yet they seem everywhere around me.

* NSA attacked Pro-Democracy Campaigner, demonstrating (yet again) the ills of secret proceedings and near-unlimited power.

* The race for a Zika vaccine.

* “The case for making New York and San Francisco much, much bigger.”

* Mark Zuckerberg’s charity sells $95 million of Facebook stock.

* “Aging out of drugs: Most addicts just stop using in time, without needing costly treatment. Why?” An important question for anyone providing drug treatment services or seeking SAMHSA grants.

* “It’s the first new U.S. nuclear reactor in decades. And climate change has made that a very big deal.” Nuclear power is still, oddly, underestimated; note that New England and Germany, both places with lots of superficial climate change worry, are now emitting more carbon dioxide than they used to—because they are phasing out nuclear plants and failing to replace them.

* “Making bicycles in Detroit is an uphill climb.” My bike came from REI and was made in China.

* “Cycling Matches the Pace and Pitches of Tech.” Probably a bogus trend story, but I like riding so I hope not.

* “‘I’ve done really bad things’: The undercover cop who abandoned the war on drugs: Neil Woods used to risk his life to catch drug dealers. But as gangs responded with escalating violence and intimidation – some even poisoning users who talked to the police – he started to see legalisation as the only solution.”

Lawyers misread RFPs all the time. They rarely improve the grant writing process

Occasionally clients want their lawyers to read RFPs or our draft proposals or both. This is almost always a waste of time of time and money, because a) most lawyers have no special expertise or experience in grant writing/reading RFPs, b) lawyers are not magical, and c) there is usually no good reason for lawyers to be involved in the process:

* Most lawyers have no special expertise or experience: There are no law school classes on grant writing or reading RFPs. The field is still blessedly unregulated, and the scourge of occupational licensing has not arrived. Someone who is a lawyer may also be a grant writer, but the fields are not linked in any way and a generic lawyer is going to have to learn a lot about RFPs, grant-maker machinations, and the like if they’re going to be a productive grant writer (or reader). Most aspects of practicing law and/or going to law school don’t provide such training.

* Lawyers are not magical. I went to law school for a year and met lots of lawyers and proto-lawyers. Lawyers are just people who’ve spent at least three years in law school. By now, many of the people who start law school are adversely selected for intelligence, because smart people realize that most law schools are scams and most law school grads don’t even get jobs that require J.D.s (Paul Campos is a law professor and wrote Don’t Go to Law School (Unless), a book that details why and how in greater detail than I can). Even those who aren’t adversely selected for intelligence do not necessarily learn more than people who’re studying reading, writing, and related topics via methods other than law school.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with lawyers, and if you’re arrested or sued, you should hire one. But many lawyers are not geniuses and are not better readers or writers than anyone else. In ye olden days, lawyers could simply apprentice to another lawyer and/or “read the law” in order to take the bar and start work. That system is much saner than the occupational licensing system that we have for lawyers now, and that system is mostly designed to benefit law school professors who get cush jobs teaching the next generation of lawyers. Today, lawyers are people with the time, money, inclination, and/or delusion necessary to spend three years and too many dollars in law school.

* There is no good reason for lawyers to be involved. We’ve written at least $275 million in funded proposals that we know about and probably that much in proposals that we don’t know about because clients often don’t tell us when they’ve been funded. Few lawyers have been involved in the preparation of the applications we’ve worked on. They add nothing to the process and can frequently make it more onerous, without adding value.

In most instances, hiring a lawyer or telling a lawyer to read an RFP or proposal is a way of lining a lawyer’s pockets. Most lawyers will (unsurprisingly) favor such an outcome, and they’re more than happy to hold your hand for as long as you want your hand held.

But you don’t need them to do grant writing. If you’re engaging in a complex real estate transaction, or you’ve been arrested, or you’re getting divorced, hire a lawyer. Those are circumstances in which a lawyer might add value to the process. Grant writing is not such a circumstance.