Category Archives: Grants

Grant writing during an economic boom: primary health care, substance abuse, homeless services, job re-training, and foundations

In 2010, I wrote “Grant Writing from Recession to Recession,” and last week the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that GDP increased by 3% in each of the last two quarters. The stock market is rocketing upward.

This post is the obverse of my 2010 post; while grant seeking and grant writing are eternal, they’re different during economic lows and highs. As we’ve written many times before, nonprofits typically derive revenue from a mix of donations, membership dues, third-party reimbursements (e.g., Medicaid, substance abuse treatment, etc.), fee-for-service contracts (e.g., foster care, home health care, etc.), government grants, and foundation grants.

As the economy takes off, nonprofits will see increased donations, fundraising revenue, and/or membership dues, as people either have more disposable income or think they do. Still, it’s a shortsighted nonprofit that puts too many revenue strategy eggs in the donation / fundraising / membership dues basket—any number of impossible to predict black-swan events could occur, or the economy could just fizzle back into the slow growth pattern of the recent decade. Donations and membership dues could disappear in a flash, just like they did in 2008 – 10.

Nonprofits that provide some kind of heath care should see a big uptick in third-party reimbursements and fee-for-service contracts, particularly regarding Medicaid services (FQHCs for example), opioid-use disorder (OUD) treatment, and HIV services. Despite eight years of political posturing, it looks like some version of Obamacare and expanded Medicaid is here to stay. Also, with more Americans now dying annually from ODs than car crashes, there’ll be big increases in funding for OUD treatment and HIV services, since HIV transmission is closely linked to the injection drug use that is at the center of OUD.

This brings us to grants. Despite rumors, the Trump administration and Republican congress have not decreased federal funding for discretionary grant programs. The FY ’18 Federal Fiscal Year began on October 1. Since 1998, Congress has funded the federal government via a series of Continuing Resolutions (CRs), rather than passing actual budgets. In general, CRs use a “baseline budgeting” concept, which means that the FY ’18 CR, which just passed Congress last week, mostly continues funding levels for discretionary grant programs from the previous CR, adjusted upward for inflation.

Since every Federal program has a strong lobby and highly paid lobbyists, Congress rarely makes significant, real spending cuts. Instead, if anything happens, Congress might restrict the rate of federal spending growth—but not adjust the underlying, baseline level. Funding for the NEA, public broadcasting, etc., will not be eliminated or even reduced. These parts of the government are popular symbolic targets, but virtually all of the growth in the federal budget comes from Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. Any budget hawk that doesn’t propose reductions to the first two is simply not serious.

There are actually more federal grant dollars up for grabs in FY ’18 than in FY ’17. The same will be true for grants from most states and big cities/counties, as tax revenues will climb with the rising economic tide. Counterintuitively, there’ll probably be less competition for most RFPs. With the better economy, some nonprofits will forgo submitting competitive grant proposals, choosing to pick the new low hanging fruit of donations, membership dues, and fundraising. Smart nonprofits will, however, go after every plausible government grant opportunity, since there’s no good reason not to and some organization is going to get the grants.

In the coming years, the big grant opportunities will likely be in primary health care, substance abuse treatment, Ryan White services, homeless services, and job re-training. One of the oddities of America at the moment is that homelessness continues to increase, despite a pretty good economy. Many cities, like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco have passed, or proposed, big new local taxes to fund homeless services, in addition to the federal McKinney Act Programs through HUD. With respect to re-training, despite low unemployment rates, about 90 million working age Americans remain out of the workforce for reasons ranging from former incarceration to less than catastrophic disabilities to outmoded work skills or something.

The workforce must adjust to the rise of robots and AI-related manufacturing and services, which means lots of grants will be available for job training and re-training project concepts. Nimble nonprofits, who traditionally have been involved in such services as housing, prisoner reentry, family support, after school programs, teen pregnancy prevention and the like, would be wise to change their missions to go where the money will be.

Foundation grants will also be a good target. By federal law, foundations are required to spend at least 5% of their endowments annually on grants. With the huge stock market run, foundations will be flush with investment earnings that must be distributed through grants. Go get ’em tiger.

Los Angeles’s Prop HHH Funding for homeless facilities meets NIMBYs

The NYT has learned that “For Homeless Advocates, a Discouraging Lesson in Los Angeles: Money is Not Enough.” The story describes how an LA nonprofit is struggling to build a 49-unit housing development for the homeless in Boyle Heights neighborhood, and the main funding source is a Proposition HHH grant—a program we first wrote about back in August.

As we wrote then, Prop HHH authorizes $1.2 billion for homeless facilities. Although the NYT reporter doesn’t seem to know it, Prop HHH funding is not limited to housing; it can be used for any facility—including medical clinics or supportive services—that can be construed to “benefit persons experiencing homelessness, chronic homelessness, or at risk of homelessness.” The key phrase is “at risk of homelessness,” since, given LA’s astronomical rents and relatively low incomes, Prop HHH grants could be used for almost anything. Remember that, adjusted for the cost of living, California has the highest poverty rate in the country. Overall, the proposed Lorena Plaza illustrates how how challenging it is for nonprofits to get facility grants—and then actually get the facility built.

LA and California as a whole are progressive Democratic Party strongholds that superficially care about affordable housing. While most politicians and voters support expanded human services initiatives like Prop HHH (which is great news for grant writers), the Democratic LA City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, killed Lorena Plaza.

In other words, the City that giveth with one hand taketh away with the other. Councilman Huizar would probably support a homeless housing development in the distant, white and affluent Pacific Palisades neighborhood, but he’s not so much interested in one in his low-income and Latino district. We’re seeing a specific instance of the long-standing NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) phenomenon.

Even though the City is trying to give away huge Prop HHH grants and Boyle Heights residents likely voted overwhelmingly for Prop HHH, they voted in the abstract for “more funding,” which feels different than looking at concrete plans to build a facility down the street from their home, business, school, church, whatever. As anyone who’s worked in affordable housing development, and especially housing for potentially less than angelic residents, knows that, no matter the income level or ethnicity of the neighborhood, residents with metaphoric pitchforks and torches will oppose a project like Lorena Plaza. In Lorena Plaza, 50% of the units are or were to be for homeless folks with severe mental illness. All politics is local and apparently Councilman Huizar opted for re-election over a place for the most vulnerable people in our society to sleep at night.

At Jake’s recommendation, I’m currently reading Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s excellent Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are. The author uses Google searches and other big data sources to illustrate that much common wisdom is wrong. It turns out that people often lie about things in the abstract (e.g., “I support housing for the homeless” to a pollster), while at the same time googling “how to stop a housing project,” when one is proposed down the street.

All this doesn’t mean that some version of Plaza Lorena won’t get built or that the City won’t eventually award the $1.2 billion in Prop HHH grants. It just means that nonprofits have to be prepared for the struggle. Legal struggles also increase costs, and, in the aggregate, those legal costs help explain why California has the highest poverty rate and affordable housing crisis in the nation. Legal and political struggles also mean at that much of Prop HHH funding will actually be used for non-housing projects, like primary care clinics, which are much easier to “sell” to NIMBYs who have been legally empowered to block any change, anywhere.

Whether an LA nonprofit is proposing a project like Lorena Plaza or a clinic, it’s important for the nonprofit seeking a Prop HHH or any other facility grant to understand that the proposed site can usually be easily changed after the grant award. The funder doesn’t want the grant to be returned. The leverage shifts from the funder to the grantee after funding.

We advise our clients seeking facility grants to pick a site that can be made to seem easy to build for purposes of the proposal but also to be ready to swap the original site for a new site if something goes wrong with the original site, including an attack of the NIMBY Zombies. We see this site-swap frequently in facility grants from HUD, HRSA, etc. YouthBuild projects, for example, often feature site switching. In grant writing, it’s always critical to remember the difference between the proposal world and the real world. In the proposal world everything with the site will work out perfectly and smoothly. In the real world… well, as you can see from the Plaza Lorena example, things rarely works out smoothly.

And, in other LA housing news, “Up to 600,000 expected to apply when L.A. reopens Section 8 housing list this month after 13 years.” Section 8 is a fine program, but it cannot overcome parochial zoning that restricts the supply of housing. Until LA overcomes zoning that limits livable space by mandating height limits, lot setbacks, and parking minimums, it won’t and can’t achieve anything like affordable housing goals.

HRSA sort of “Streamlines” FY ’18 Service Area Competition (SAC) NOFOs

As happens every year about this time, HRSA has been issuing Service Area Competition (SAC) Notices of Funding Funding Opportunities (NOFOs). As we’ve written before, HRSA requires Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs—otherwise known as Section 330 grantees) to compete every three years against non-grantees to keep their Section 330 grants. About one-third of the approximately 1,400 FQHCs must submit a technically correct SAC proposal every year.

We’re in the early stages of the FY ’18 SAC derby and, while the process is more or less the same this year, we came across this, on page 3 of this year’s NOFOs:

The Project Narrative has been streamlined to reduce applicant burden, more closely align with Health Center Program requirements as defined by statute and regulation, and simplify the collection of information.

(Emphasis added.)

Sounds great in theory, but let’s take a closer as what passes for streamlining in HRSA-land. The term “NOFO” replaces HRSA’s longstanding practice of calling their RFPs Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs). Thus, HRSA has replaced one pointless three-letter acronym with a similarly pointless four-letter acronym. In they had to change the acronym, why not just use the more common acronym “RFP?”

The FY ’17 SAC FOAs were 73 single-spaced pages, while the FY ’18 NOFOs are 67 single-spaced pages (NOFO length does not include the 365 single-spaced Service Area Announcement Table). It also doesn’t include the 66-page, single-spaced HRSA SF-424 Two-Tier Application Guide (love the doc name). The Guide has intricate formatting instructions for all HRSA grant submissions but often conflicts with the instructions with particular NOFOs, like SAC. Then there’s the voluminous underlying regs for the Section 330 program, but counting these pages would like counting grains of sand on Santa Monica beach.

In summary, HRSA has shaved six pages off of the 498 pages of instructions, not counting regs, or a generous 1.2%! We must applaud HRSA for this Herculean streamlining effort!

To be fair to HRSA, some items previously required of all applicants, like floor plans, no longer must be submitted by current grantees. Also, current grantees don’t have to answer a few of the repetitive questions in the Program Narrative. Still, the SAC applications may not exceed 160 pages “when printed by HRSA.” Despite the digital application upload process, HRSA still prints and copies proposals for reviewers to read in hard copy—partying just like it’s 1999. This is a good reason to avoid color graphics in federal proposals, as most will be printed and copied in grayscale for reviewers.

For FY ’18, HRSA also still requires a two-step application process: the first step in a relatively simply application uploaded through grants.gov, while the second step is the fiendishly complicated online application through HRSA’s Byzantine Electronic Handbooks (EHB) system.

Without doing a deep dive into the SAC NOFOs, a couple of features remaining in the FY ’18 NOFOs illustrate why HRSA using the term “streamlined” might be euphemistic.

There’s a convoluted section of the Project Narrative called “Governance,” where applicants must explain how their governance structure meets complex Section 330 requirements. For current grantees—some of which have received SAC grants for decades—this is odd, since these applicant couldn’t have been funded before if they didn’t meet these requirements. Also, even current grantees must upload copies of their articles of incorporation and bylaws as attachments. One would think that after, say, four SAC grants, HRSA probably doesn’t need another copies of the Owatonna Community Health Center’s articles and bylaws (I made this up, but there probably is a FQHC in Owatonna, MN).

Also, in addition to the grants.gov application file, Abstract, Project Narrative, and Budget/Budget Narrative, the EHB application includes 13 required forms and 12 required attachments for all applicants, including existing grantees.

“Backbone” grants for nonprofits, illustrated by the HRSA SAC and RWHAP Part C EIS programs

Human-service nonprofits face two basic challenges: keeping the lights on and providing integrated, case-managed services to meet client needs. Meeting the first challenge is obvious—if the nonprofit can’t cover basic costs like rent and salaries, the need for their services is irrelevant. The latter is trickier, since it usually takes a layer cake of grants, donations, and contracts to provide comprehensive services that really meet client needs.* To do this over the long term, it’s helpful to have at least one ongoing grant source that I’ll term a “backbone grant” for purposes of this post.

Two HRSA programs, both of which have RFPs on the street now, illustrate what backbone grants look like. In both cases, new applicants are eligible to compete with current grantees.

The Service Area Competition (SAC) provides three-year grants (often called “Section 330” or “Health Center” program grants) to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to provide primary health care to low-income patients. SAC grants are tagged for designated geographies called “service areas.” Hence the term “Service Area Competition or SAC;” we’ve written about the SAC grant process.

There are about 1,400 FQHCs right now, and every year a few dozen nonprofit health care providers receive a new FQHC designation, usually by receiving a New Access Point (NAP) grant. These days, FQHCs derive most of their revenue from Medicaid and other third-party payer reimbursements. Still, The Kaiser Family Foundation—a great source for health-related data—reports that Section 330 grants account for 18% of FQHC revenue. At first glance this might not seem like a lot, but imagine that your income was suddenly reduced by 18%—there goes Netflix, vacations, your rainy-day fund; you’ll be buying yoga wear at Target, not Lululemon. The same is true for FQHCs, which, like most Medicaid providers, operate on thin margins.** Thus, disaster would follow loss of Section 330 funding.

The second, Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Part C HIV Early Intervention Services Program (RWHAP Part C EIS), provides three-year grants for outpatient primary health care and support services for low income, uninsured, and underinsured people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWH) in specified service areas. A range of nonprofit types receive RWHAP Part C EIS grants, including many FQHCs.

Not surprisingly, PLWH have very complex heath care and supportive services needs in addition to primary health care, as many also face challenges like injection drug use (IDU), other substance abuse, severe mental illness, homelessness, and so on. This makes providing case-managed integrated care to PLWH complicated and expensive. While grantees use multiple funding streams (e.g., Medicaid, other RW grants, etc.) to serve this hard-to-serve population, RWHAP Part C EIS grants are often the glue that holds the Rube Goldberg PLWH care system together. They’re the backbone grant. Without those grants, many fewer people would receive comprehensive HIV services—and they’d be more likely to transmit HIV to others.

We write many SAC and RWHAP Part C EIS proposals and know that many current grantees alternate between being indifferent and hysterical when the new funding cycle is announced. CEOs of FQHCs and similar large grantees often come to take backbone grants like these for granted (pun intended) because they’ve had the funding for years and think they’re entitled to the grant. This is a mistake.

Both programs, as well as many other similar backbone grant programs, force current grant grantees to complete with new applicants. While it’s not easy for a new applicant to “take away” a backbone grant, it can be done. We know, as we’ve helped clients do just this. We’ve also helped clients defend against new entrants to the market.

The CEO indifference towards the grant turns to hysteria when the CEO realizes the deadline is approaching and also realize they can’t receive a new backbone grant unless a technically correct and compelling proposal is submitted on time. HRSA uses peer reviewers and, from the reviewer’s point of view, applications from existing and new applicants are the same—it’s as if HRSA has never heard of the applicant, even if they’ve received the same grant for years. Victory is never final. Proposals need to meet some minimum quality threshold to be fundable. If they don’t meet that threshold, they may be rejected even if there are no other plausible providers in a given area.

The moral of this tale is twofold. If you’re a current grantee for a backbone program, don’t take your grant for granted. If you’re a new applicant, who wants to provide the service, by all means, go after the current grantee’s grant—they might stay in indifference mode and either turn in a lousy proposal or miss the deadline. It happens.


* Many grants and contracts don’t actually provide sufficient funding to do all the activities and accomplish all the goals funders require. Everyone knows this but no one talks about it. Except us.

** According to this analysis by FiveThirtyEight, state funding for colleges is down to the 8 – 20% range—which explains most of the cost of public-college tuition hikes over the last decade. For some reason, most state residents are demanding that colleges be better funded.

Maybe reading is harder than I thought: On “The Comprehensive Family Planning and Reproductive Health Program”

We very occasionally pay attention to bidders conferences; usually, however, we usually avoid them for the reasons last discussed in “My first bidders conference, or, how I learned what I already knew.” Despite knowing that bidders conferences are mostly a waste of time, we’re sufficiently masochistic careful enough that we’ll occasionally look into one anyway.

New York State’s “Comprehensive Family Planning and Reproductive Health Program” bidders conference was a special example of silly because it literally consisted of the presenter reading from slides that regurgitated the RFP. As the “conference” went on, it became steadily more apparent that the conference would literally only consist of . . . repeating what’s in the RFP. This is as informative as it sounds.

After 20 minutes of listening to the presenter read, I gave up. I can read it myself. Still, as I shook my head at the seemingly pointless waste of time, my mind drifted back to some of my experiences teaching college students, and I have to wonder if the presenter read the RFP as a defensive strategy against inane questions that could easily be answered by the RFP. Something similar happens to me in class at times.

One recent example comes to mind. I had a student who seemed not to like to read much (note: this is a problem in English classes), and one day I handed out an essay assignment sheet with specific instructions on it. I told students to read it and let me know if they had questions. This student raised her hand and I had a conversation that went like this:

Student: “Can you just go over it in general?”
Me: “What’s confusing?”
Student: “I mean, can you just say in general what the assignment is about?”
Me: “That’s what the assignment sheet is for.”
Student: “I don’t understand. Can you go over it?”
Me: “What part confuses you?”
Student: “The entire thing.”
Me: “Which sentence is confusing to you?”
Student: “Can you just go over it in general?”

This was not a surrealist play and by the end of the exchange—I did not reproduce the whole exchange—I was somewhat confused, so I began reading each individual sentence and then checking in with the student. This was somewhat embarrassing for everyone in the class but I didn’t really know what else to do.

When I got to the end of the assignment sheet, the student agreed that it was in fact clear. I know enough about teaching not to ask the obvious question—”What was all this about?”—and yet I’ve had enough of those experiences to identify, just a little, with the people running the world’s boringest* bidders conferences.


* Not an actual word, but I think it fits here.

“Turning NATO’s Words into Action After the Brussels Meeting”

One advantage of reading the Federal Register every day while looking for RFPs is that I also get a first look at how bureaucrats are trolling the politicians who are supposed to be the bureaucrats’ masters. In today’s Federal Register, for example, there is a notice for the “Turning NATO’s Words into Action After the Brussels Meeting” (this is not a joke and that is a real link). Given the current words of the United States Executive Branch, which I will not belabor here (you’ve either been following that news or not or are on Mars), I can’t help but think that someone is having a good time with some dark humor at the “U.S. Mission to NATO,” which is the federal agency that issued this particular RFP.

There is $100,000 available for two awards, should you want to apply. I can only wish you good luck in attempting to achieve the program’s purpose, which at this juncture seems even less achievable than many of the projects we work on. The RFP invites applicants to “submit project proposals which encourage public discussions and creative public engagements in Europe.” I can think of at least one major way to encourage “creative public engagements in Europe,” but that way starts with the House of Representatives, not with the two nonprofits that might get this funding.

NIH opioid research grants are here; expect opioid treatment RFPs to come soon

In his review of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” and in his post on the “New grant wave for Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT),” Isaac noted that the heroin and prescription drug addiction epidemic crisis is likely to generate new grant programs. Since then, the crisis has in some ways been getting worse, not better, especially in politically sensitive parts of the country. The federal response has so far been slower than we expected, but the NIH just released a trio of research grant RFPs focusing on “Marijuana, Prescription Opioid, or Prescription Benzodiazepine Drug Use Among Older Adults.” Those grants are under the NIH R01, R03, and R21 categories.

The only surprising thing about these RFPs is how long they’ve taken to hit the street. Every time you see a news article or watch a TV exposé about the opioid epidemic, the likelihood of federal action rises. And every time you see such an article or video, you should be thinking about how it will affect your own proposals.

For example, SAMHSA just released a new RFP for a very old program: “Targeted Capacity Expansion-HIV Program: Substance Use Disorder Treatment for Racial/Ethnic Minority Populations at High Risk for HIV/AIDS (Short Title: TCE-HIV: High Risk Populations).” Someone ought to tell SAMHSA that brevity is a virtue in program titles, but apart from that I’ll note that, if I were writing a TCE-HIV proposal, the needs assessment would be filled with data about opioid use. We have collectively known about the dangers of sharing needles for decades, but the present opioid issue gives new urgency to old problems.

The federal budget in the age of Trump: Round up the usual suspects

The New York Times says that “Popular Domestic Programs Face Ax Under First Trump Budget.” Those listed include the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Legal Services Corporation, AmeriCorps, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). With the exception of AmeriCorps, which wasn’t yet born, the rest are the usual suspects, which have been proposed for the chopping block on and off since David Stockman* was Director of the Office of Management and Budget in 1981. I’ve seen this movie before, and I’m highly confident that, after the Congressional inquisition is over, NEH, NEA and the rest will ride off from Capitol Hill like Keyser Söze at the end of The Usual Suspects.

You might be surprised to learn that Congress last passed an actual Federal budget in 1998! Since then, Congress has used a variety of legislative tricks to “pass” non-budget budgets, including Continuing Resolutions (CRs), department budget authorization bills, and budget reconciliation bills to enable senators and representatives to avoid going on the record voting for or against an actual budget. This whole mess is tied up with the headache-inducing need to pass a bill increasing the Federal debt limit every six months or so.

In March, we’ll get to experience this exercise in political theater again, as the Trump administration will likely propose a revised FY ’17 budget (not to be confused with FY ’18 budget coming along later in the year). As reported by the NYT and others, this revised budget will likely propose a decrease in FY ’17 budget authorizations for selected discretionary domestic Federal spending agencies/programs like NEA and its pals. This is opposed to the usual practice of “budget hawks” to propose reductions in the rate of increase in Federal spending, due to the Feds using baseline budgeting (another headache-inducing concept) rather than zero-based budgeting.

My guess is that few discretionary programs will receive actual cuts and none will be eliminated (see one of our most popular posts, “Zombie Funding—Six Tana Leaves for Life, Nine for Motion,” to learn how Federal programs usually return from the dead). That’s because every Federal discretionary funding/grant program has constituencies in every Congressional District—along with an army of lobbyists.

Let’s use NEA as an example. NEA funds symphonies, theater groups, art museums, etc., everywhere. These are nonprofits, the boards and docent corps of which are composed mostly of well-off locals, who might be married to Congresspeople or their donors. They’re likely to be members of the same country clubs, churches/synagogues, and Chambers of Commerce as Congresspeople. That means Congressman Horsefeathers is not only going to be beaten up by lobbyists and donors but is going to an earful at the breakfast table.

As a young grant writer during the Reagan ascendancy, I learned that—despite the fevered rhetoric you’re going to soon hear and the attempt of the Trump administration to cut something—most grant programs will squeeze through. In contemplating Federal budget cuts, I use the Economic Development Administration (EDA) as my yardstick. EDA, the most overtly political of Federal grant-making agencies, has been around since 1965. Every so often, an administration or Congress threatens this small nimble dinosaur with a budget meteor, but EDA always dodges. I won’t take the latest budget battle seriously until EDA dies. I won’t bring up the real budget brontosauruses like HUD and the Department of Education. They’ve survived Presidents Reagan and Bush the Younger, as well Speaker Newt.


* Stockman now shows up in infomercials hawking various doomsday economic books (or gold), but he actually wrote a terrific political autobiography, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed. I read this in the mid-80s and it’s relevant once more.

How to write grant proposal work plans

In addition to the ever-present requirement for a project narrative, some RFPs require a “work plan.” For many novice grant writers, confronting the work plan raises a sense of dread similar to having to prepare a logic model. Unlike logic models, which involve a one-page diagram that displays project elements in a faux flow-chart format, work plans are usually structured as multi-column tables, like the simple illustration in this PDF (or try here for the Word version).

As the attached file shows, the work plan usually contains a blank for goals, with blanks for objectives under each goal and activities for each objective. Other columns may include timeframes, responsibilities, deliverables, data to be collected, and so on.

While it’s possible to create a 10- or even 20-page work plan (the work plan is usually not not counted against the project narrative page limit), there’s little reason to do so, unless you’re required to by the RFP. Instead, one overarching goal statement is generally enough. A goal statement might be, for example:

The project goal is to improve employment and life outcomes for formerly incarcerated cyclops by providing a range of culturally and linguistically appropriate wraparound supportive services.

Use that goal to develop three or four specific and measurable objectives, along with three or four activities for each objective. This will result in a work plan ranging from one to five pages. Each additional goal will (probably pointlessly) increase the page count and the chance to create continuity errors. A compact work plan will clearly summarize why and how the project will be implemented and it will be easy for readers/scorers to understand. That’s enough for a work plan.

It’s easy to introduce continuity errors between the workplan and narrative because goals, objectives, activities, timelines, etc., may be sprinkled throughout the narrative, budget, logic model, and/or forms, depending on the RFP requirements. Details in the work plan must be precisely consistent with all other proposal components. The more you edit each proposal draft, the less you will be able to spot internal inconsistencies within the narrative or between the narrative and the work plan. Inconsistencies will, however, stand out in neon to a reviewer reading the entire proposal for the first time.

We’re experienced grant writers, so we draft work plans after the second proposal draft is completed. But novice grant writers will find it useful to draft the work plan before writing the first draft, as this will help you organize the draft. Novices should also read differences among goals, objectives and activities before tackling the work plan.

Grant writing derangement syndrome (GWDS)

Grant Writing Derangement Syndrome (GWDS) occurs when the grant writer works on too many nonsensical, poorly organized, or simply maddening RFPs. The symptoms include an inability to think straight; the inability to continue forming semi-coherent sentences in the face of self-contradictory or incoherent RFPs; and cackling maniacally in the absence of appropriate humor stimulus (the cackling often disturbs anyone sharing the grant writer’s space).

Problems leading to GWDS often begin with repetitive, inane RFP questions that seem designed to frustrate the transmission of information rather than enable it. GWDS becomes more severe as the grant writer persists, knowing that the deadline looms like the ever present clock in High Noon.

I don’t know what the cure for GWDS might be, but I know the ailment well. To some extent, GWDS can be alleviated by going for a walk, taking deep breaths, staring off into the distance, and, best of all, putting aside the proposal for a while. The challenge, however, is that RFP deadlines are rigid and often prevent the grant writer from executing that last step. This means that the symptoms usually persist for at least as long as the assignment does, and sometimes longer. Then, I look at my work schedule and see yet another RFP train bearing down on me. It’s time to power down the iMac and stroll to my favorite hipster coffee shop, La Colombe.

But that often isn’t enough, because the RFPs never stop.