Category Archives: RFPs

Talking About Progressive Ideals in Proposals: Money, Time, and Poverty in Grant Writing

No Money, No Time” helps set the cultural tone for the proposal world. In the proposal world—which does sometimes overlap with the real world—poor people spend time where richer people might spend money. Rich people are rich in many ways, but one is simple: their lives aren’t as organized around other people’s bureaucracies.* A nonprofit or public agency should help the poor, and it would be a good idea to incorporate the idea that poor people don’t have the time wealthier people do. This idea also ties into other important parts of contemporary thinking: if low-income people** weren’t so busy with day-to-day survival, they’d go buy arugula from the farmers market and make a salad, instead of buying Cokes and Big Macs.

There is some truth to the argument: a lot of low-income people are surrounded by endless appointments, case managers, social workers, parole officers (sometimes called corrections officers), and others who want a piece of their time. That time does add up. Years ago, we wrote a proposal to L.A. County for a nonprofit proposing to fund “master” case managers who would manage each client’s roster of case managers, parole officers, court cases, etc.

That’s not a totally superficial idea, though it has the ring of parody. If a poor single mom misses an appointment with her Child Protective Services (CPS) case manager, her kids might be put in foster care and she’ll end up in court. If she misses a shift, she might lose her job. If she fails to fill out out a form completely, she (and her children) might lose Medicaid or a Section 8 apartment. Life for the American poor is like a game of Chutes & Ladders—which is not an original thought, since Katherine S. Newman made the argument in a book called Chutes and Ladders: Navigating the Low-Wage Labor Market (and she’s written a number of others, all good; used copies are under $1 on Amazon. If you’re writing social and human service proposals, you can’t afford not to buy them).

In the proposal world, solutions spring from government funding, but in the real world, many of the problems derive from laws passed by legislatures. Among the poor in particular—who cannot afford good lawyers and who often cannot afford service fees and other penalties—lives get complicated by entanglement with officialdom and by drug prohibition. Legal issues usually involve drugs and kids; jailing men for failing to pay child support has a real, under-appreciated downside that is not being widely discussed (though you will hear about it in some places).

Even outside the realm of drugs and kids, we have so many laws, rules, and regulations—many not at all intuitive and many counter to the ways actual people want to live—that no one is innocent and everyone breaks laws, usually inadvertently. Tyler Cowen’s “Financial Hazards of a Fugitive Life” also describes this; the column is substantially about Alice Goffman’s brilliant book On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, which you should also read (and cite).

These laws came, not surprisingly, from good intentions. Before Prohibition, progressives theorized that getting rid of Demon Rum and John Barleycorn would mean that men wouldn’t get drunk, lose their jobs, eventually lose everything, and send their wives and daughters into prostitution. As any student of history knows, that didn’t turn out real well. Drug prohibition isn’t working out real well, but we’re still wasting a lot of time and resources doing it—in all sorts of ways.

Some costs to drug prohibition are quite small. Office Depot used to have tons of signs up saying, “We drug test employees.” But our thought was: who cares? We’re just asking someone where the pens are. If Office Depot’s employees want to light up after work, that’s their own affair. Nonetheless, Office Depot may have been unintentionally reinforcing poverty by denying jobs to otherwise qualified workers who like to dance with Mary Jane on the weekends (just like many social workers and case managers, at least in my experience).

The net result of this is the time crunch. The first article in this post should be cited in proposals—but only in the needs assessment. The problem should be forgotten in the project description, since participants must be assumed to have lots of time to serve on the Participant Involvement Council (PIC), community service etc. Other writers have also described the time trap of being poor: John Scalzi’s “Being Poor” is one particularly poetic example.

The time crunch is not unique to poor people and human service organizations serving them. Isaac actually tried to talk to the Small Business Administration (SBA) group in Seattle when he first started Seliger + Associates. They wanted him to sit through ten sessions on… something, all of which required lots of travel time he didn’t have because he was furiously busy writing proposals and finding clients. You do not discuss the nature of warfare, starting with the Greeks, when the enemy is shooting and your position is in danger of being overrun.

That being said, it’s useful to understand where these ideas come from. There are, loosely speaking, two big views on poverty right now. The one presented in the New York Times, which we’ve been discussing in this post, is the generally leftish, Democrat, progressive view, and that’s the view that should predominate in proposals. The other view is generally rightish, Republican / Libertarian-esque, and slightly more conservative, and that’s the view that the material conditions of being poor in the U.S. have improved incredibly over the last century or more. That’s where one gets The Heritage Foundation pointing out that 80% of poor people have AC, 75% have a car, two thirds have a TV, and so on. That’s also where one finds Charles Murray’s solutions in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (these issues are not unique to the United States: Britain’s working class faces similar travails).

Just about everyone likes Murray’s research, but American progressives and conservatives tend to disagree on what the research means and what, if anything, should be done about it. Progressives tend to stress direct income transfer and government-paid supportive services, while conservatives tend to stress marriage, avoiding drugs, not getting knocked up outside of marriage, etc.

Beyond the drug war, there are other drags on the earnings and lives of poor people. Almost no one, right or left, mentions that the rent is too damn high, and that every time wealthy owners in places like Santa Monica, Seattle, and New York prevent new construction, they’re simultaneously making the lives of the poor much, much harder. Only a relatively small number of voices in the wilderness are speaking up.

We’re grant writers—that is, hired guns—so we’re not intensely political about these issues and are in it for the money (I know you’re shocked). Usually we shy away from the theory and thought behind grant writing, since most readers and human service providers don’t really care about it, or care to the extent that thinking translates into dollars.

* Isaac doesn’t like using the word “bureaucracy” in proposals, in any context, but I’m quite fond of it. Isaac says that isn’t a good idea to remind the bureaucrats reading a proposal that they are in fact bureaucrats who are making people jump through hoops in order to receive goods and services. He may have a point.

** In proposals, no one is poor and everyone is “low-income.” We use them interchangeably here only because a) this is where grant writers and nonprofit administrators come to talk about reality, not fantasy, and b) the original writer uses the term “poor.”

My first bidders conference, or, how I learned what I already knew

In January I went to and got kicked out of my first bidders conference. For those of you not familiar with the practice, bidders conferences are largely pointless schmooz-fests for potential grant applicants. Aside from being there to show the flag to program officers and to preen in front of potential competitors, bidders conferences are useless because almost every RFP will issue a disclaimer like this one:

if the NYCDOE issues an addendum with a digest of the inquiries made and answers given at the pre-proposal conference, proposers shall rely on the information contained in such addendum rather than those given orally at the conference.

This language kills accountability and applicants can’t rely on anything that’s said at a bidders conference. They can only rely on the words in the RFP. As a result, most bidders conferences will at best confuse potential applicants. Anyone who sees something amiss in an RFP would be better served to seek an amendment rather than pester the low-level bureaucrats at a bidders conference. Bidders conferences are great for grant writing consultants, however, because they gather a lot of potential clients in one small space.

Back to my story about being ejected. I arrived at the New York City Department of Education’s (NYC DOE) Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) bidders conference a few minutes early, with marketing fliers in one hand and business cards in the other. Almost no one else was there, so I chatted with the staffers hanging out. There were at least four and maybe half a dozen DOE staff there. I had no idea what they were doing, other than make-work.

People slowly started showing up. A staffer said I could leave flyers next the sign-in table. I said hi and chatted with whoever was wandering by until an older DOE staffer showed up, grabbed the flyers, and brought them over to the recycling bin. I asked her not to chuck them—we put time and energy to getting them made! She gave them back and told me to leave.

As usual I played jailhouse lawyer—public facility, First Amendment, etc.—but she wasn’t having any of it and found a fat security rent-a-cop guy (the conference was being held in downtown Brooklyn at a small college auditorium) who had no doubt kicked many people out of many places.

I left, though I suspect that there’s a real First Amendment case to be made: I wasn’t interfering with the proceedings and it’s a public meeting. But my goal was to get nonprofits to hire us to write their UPK proposals, not be an ACLU test case.*

It was January in New York, which meant that nasty weather was a possibility and that day it was indeed raining. Nonetheless the attendees did show up and took my flyers, which, in keeping with our general style, are bright, eye-catching and obnoxious (but very effective).

About 30 to 40 percent of the bidders looked at me like I’d just taken a dump in front of them. Another 20 or so percent were actively excited. The rest seemed confused. By and large, nonprofit personnel don’t want to be seen consorting with grant writers, much as married men don’t want to be seen with ladies of the evening, so they don’t want to smile and say hi. One woman asked where we were three years ago, when she’d first gotten her UPK contract. Grant writing is one of those things, like house cleaning, that people want to pay someone else to do.

Despite the reactions I got in the flesh, I can say that based on the number of calls we got and UPK proposals we wrote, it’s apparent that a lot of people liked us regardless of how they behaved with their peers watching.

I look forward to the next Bidder’s Conference. When I was too young to attend these events, Isaac used to go to them wearing a brightly colored Seliger + Associates T-shirt, emblazoned with our logo, 800 number and slogan, “We know where the money is!”

We did then and still do.

* I am an ACLU member: I may disagree with what you see but will fight for your right to say it.

Why Do the Feds Keep RFP Issuance Dates a Secret? The Upcoming FY ’14 GEAR UP and YouthBuild RFP Illustrate the Obvious

An oddity of the Federal grant making process is that projected RFP issuance dates are usually kept secret.* Two cases in point illustrate how this works: the FY ’14 Department of Education GEAR-UP and Department of Labor YouthBuild competitions.

Last week, former clients contacted us about both programs. Both clients are well-connected with the respective funders and strongly believe that the RFPs will be soon issued, likely by the end of the month. We believe them, as both were seeking fee quotes to write their GEAR-UP or YouthBuild proposal. The challenge both face, however, is that the Department of Labor and Department of Education typically only provide about a 30-day period between RFP publication and the deadline. So, if you’re an average nonprofit not connected to the funding source, you can easily be blindsided by a sudden RFP announcement.

I’ve never understood why the Feds do this. Hollywood studios announce film premieres weeks and sometimes months in advance to build buzz. You know that when Apple holds an event at the Moscone Center, new products will be launched. Unlike most humans, though, the Feds think it’s a good idea to keep the exact timing of new funding opportunities a secret. This is beyond stupid, but they have been this way since I looked at my first Federal Register about 40 years ago. I don’t expect anything to change soon.

When we learn about likely upcoming RFPs, we usually note them in our free weekly Email Grant Alerts and, for particularly interesting announcements, at this blog. The best advice I can give you comes from that intrepid reporter Ned “Scotty” Scott at the end of Howard Hawks’s great 1951 SF film, The Thing from Another World:** “Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!”

* There are many oddities; this is just one.

** This movie has it all: monster loving scientist who spouts lots of stentorian Dr. Frankenstein bon mots about the importance of science, a rakish and fearless hero, a hot babe in a pointy bra, weird SF music, a claustrophobic setting that’s a precursor to “Alien” and many other movies, and James Arness (yes, that James Arness) as “The Thing.”

The Weird Case of SUNY Geneseo’s RFP for Grant Writers

We received this “RFP for Grant Writing & Related Consulting Services” from SUNY Geneseo:

That SUNY Geneseo RFP

It’s gotta be the Ron Jeremy of consulting RFPs—even by the standards of public agencies, it’s massive. At least a hundred pages. It’s also only available as a hard copy and was sent to our New York office, so we can’t provide a link. That alone signals that something is amiss: anyone who wants the best services possible should also want to disseminate their RFP as widely as possible. And SUNY Geneseo sent this sumo-sized document via UPS overnight delivery—they must not have read the memo about not wasting dead trees and running up shipping costs. It must still be 1996 in Geneseo.

SUNY Geneseo, however, doesn’t seem to want wide distribution of this RFP, and we have a pretty good theory about why. A few years ago Isaac wrote a post about why we don’t respond to RFPs/RFQs for grant writers (and, implicitly, why any grant writing consultants reading this shouldn’t either). The only exception is when we’re told that the RFQ is already wired for us, in which case we’re happy to apply.* In the case of SUNY Geneseo, there’s almost certainly a local firm or person they’re already going to hire. They just need to get a couple stooge bids.

Most RFQs and RFPs like this have some telltale signs that the local boys are going to win—usually something about the requirement that the consultant be available for in-person meetings, or have knowledge of local operations, or a similar formulation.

Public organizations with mandatory bid processes almost always also have the option of executing “sole-source contracts,” which get past the usual bidding rules. In this case, the contract authority at SUNY Geneseo probably doesn’t want to go through the institutional hassles of getting a sole-source contract, so she’s instead using the stooge method. Isaac actually sent the contract authority an e-mail asking about their convoluted RFP process, and their contact person claimed they “can’t do sole-source contracts.” This is nonsense, of course, as government agencies routinely use sole-source contracts for all kinds of specialized and emergency situations.

I’m not sure how many stooges she’ll find. The SUNY application itself is sufficiently complex that, were we writing a response for clients, we’d probably charge at least $5,000 to complete it. We’re not going to—instead, we’re going to real work, and we recommend that you do the same and that you not fall for the unsolicited RFP/RFQ trap.

EDIT: We’re obviously not the only ones curious—we’ve been getting search engine hits for the phrase “geneseo rfp”. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, since we’re the number one hit for the phrase on Google and the number two hit on Duck Duck Go, which is a search engine with one delightful feature: it doesn’t log searches. Your fascination with Miley Cyrus is safe with it.

* Though we did once get into a situation in which a public agency told us on the QT that the RFQ was wired for us, we submitted an application, and then they picked someone else anyway! We were angry for the usual reasons, the most obvious being that when we say we’ll do something, we do it.

California Issues An RFA for the 21st CCLC Program, Illustrating Why You Should Remember Old Grant Programs

As we’ve written before, grant availability moves in waves, with funding rising to meet new challenges. For example, the advent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan caused a host of nonprofits to spring up and provide support to wounded veterans. Funders, particularly foundations, rushed to offer significant grants. With the wars winding down, it is getting harder for such nonprofits to claim urgency and foundations are likely moving on to address emerging problems.

In the government funding world, however, things are different. Congress is always ready to create new programs, such as the huge Health Navigators program and dozens of other healthcare-related discretionary grant programs created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”), but it behooves nonprofits not to forget about long-standing programs. They may seem to be buried in the background as zombie grant programs, but they often retain significant funding. With the de facto replacement of federal budgets by continuing resolutions in recent years, most discretionary programs are refunded year after year, with cost of living increases.*

For an example of an old program that has lots of money and remains relevant to provide needed services, check out 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLCs). It’s been around since the days of Columbine but remains one of the best ways of funding after school enrichment activities. Since there has been no reduction in school shootings, bullying, and disappointing educational outcomes in general, after school programming should be of interest to nonprofits and schools. We wrote extensively about the 21st CCLC program as an illustration of federal pass-through funding two years ago and since then nothing has changed.

California just issued Requests for Applications (RFA) for its 21st CCLC Program for Elementary and Middle Schools, along with the 21st Century High School ASSETs program. There’s $36,000,000 up for grabs, Pay attention even in you’re not in California, since 21st CCLC is a federal pass-through program and funding exists in every state. If your agency is at all interested in after school programming, it’s a good idea to check with your state department of education to figure out when you can apply. A nice aspect of 21st CCLC grants is that they’re for five-year projects, so if you get a grant, you’ll be operating the project for a fair amount of time.

* There is the minor annoyance of budget sequestration, which may have some impact on discretionary grant programs but so far hasn’t been discernible to us. Besides which, it looks like the Republicans in Congress will probably trade sequestration cuts for entitlement reform in the upcoming budget negotiations. No one knows the future, but this is one plausible future.

More RFP Looney Tunes, This Time from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Health Care Innovation Award Program

Having been a grant writer since before the flood, I should not be flummoxed by a hopelessly inept RFP. I wasn’t flummoxed by the recently completed Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Health Care Innovation (HCI) Awards Round Two process, but I was impressed by the sheer madness of it.

This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA, which is CMS-speak for “RFP”) was exceptionally obtuse and convoluted. I should expect this from an agency that uses 140,000 treatment reimbursement codes, apparently including nine codes for injuries caused by turkeys.

The HCI FOA was 41 single-spaced pages, which is fairly svelte by federal standards—but, in addition to the usual requirements for an abstract, project narrative, budget and budget narrative, it also includes links to templates for a Financial Plan, Operational Plan, Actuarial Certification and—my personal favorite—the Executive Overview. The Financial Plan was a fiendishly complex Excel workbook, while the Operational Plan and Executive Overview were locked Word files.

Since the Word documents were locked, spell check and find/replace didn’t work in the text input boxes. Every change had to be made manually. Charmingly, the Operational Plan template had no place to insert the applicant’s name or contact info. So when the file is printed for review, which I’m sure it will be, and gets dropped on the floor with several other proposals, which is possible, there’ll be no way to tell which Operational Plan is which.

This could be a problem in an Operational Plan.

My vote for the most fabulously miss-titled form is the “Executive Overview.” Remember: a one-page abstract was also required, so an Executive Overview seemed redundant until I realized it was 13 single-spaced pages, with tons of inscrutable drop-down menus and fixed-length text input boxes. It seems that CMS is confused as to the meaning of “overview.”

The Executive Overview was really another project narrative, disguised as a form. If one double-spaced the Executive Overview, it would be about 26 pages long. Although the FOA nominally allowed a 50-page project narrative, the length of the project narrative was effectively much shorter because of convoluted instructions that required the project narrative file to include other documents. Our project narrative ended up at 35 double-spaced pages—not all that much longer than the so-called Executive Overview.

This FOA also included four “innovation categories” that were obtuse and mostly interchangeable. The FOA required that the selected innovation category be listed four times, once in the abstract, twice in the project narrative and again in the Overview. Since the categories were confusing at best, our client changed their selection a couple of times during the drafting process, which meant it had to be changed in four different places each time.

The grant request amount had the same problem, except that it is also included in the Financial Plan, budget narrative, cover letter and Actuarial Certification, as well as the abstract, project narrative, and Overview. So when the budget changed—which it inevitably did—each change had to occur in seven places to maintain internal consistency.

CMS, of course, never thought to link the various templates so that global changes could be made. But then again, why would they? After all, the authors of this FOA don’t write proposals and aren’t concerned with simplifying the process, which brings me back to the nine categories of turkey injury treatment. I wonder who keeps stats on turkey injuries. I would like to meet the GS-13 in charge of domestic fowl attacks at the Department of Agriculture.

Health Navigator Grants: The Walking Around Money Concept Confirmed

In a recent post about the new ObamaCare Health Navigators program, I said that it looks like classic grant walking around money that should be of great interest to almost all nonprofits and many public agencies, regardless of whether or not they’ve ever done any health related activities. This particular RFP is for the 34 states that are not setting up their own Health Insurance Exchanges.

The other 16 states are doing their own “thang,” to quote The Isley Brothers, with respect to ObamaCare outreach and education. In California, this effort is the wonderfully named “Covered California,” which sounds more like a teen pregnancy prevention program than something about affordable health insurance.

Just sayin’.

Last week I received a call from a prospective client who was interested in applying to the Covered California Outreach and Education Grant Program, which is California’s equivalent to the federal Health Navigators program. My caller was out of luck because the RFP process concluded in March. But there’ll be additional RFPs, so I advised him to watch the skies for the next RFP. One interesting point about the California RFP process: the organizations that submitted Letters of Intent are conveniently available at the above download link in the first sentence.

Look at the Letter of Intent (“LOI”) list and the phenomena of walking around money will be instantly illustrated. Prospective applicants included a cornucopia of nonprofit and pubic agencies, many of which seemingly have much to do with health insurance needs. Here’s a few that caught my eye in the 13 pages of would-be applicants:

The Actors Fund, Rancho Santiago Community College District, California Association of Black Pastors, Apple Valley Chamber of Commerce, San Bernardino Employment Training Agency, Union of Pan Asian Communities, Office of Small Business of the City and County of San Francisco, County of Ventura Area Agency on Aging, Partnership for Affordable Housing, Rasin City Elementary School District, Jamboree Housing Corporation, California Latino Water Coalition (who knew there was such a thing as “Latino water”), Girls After School Academy, the California Teachers Association, SIEU Locals 521 and 99, and—my personal favorite—The California Restaurant Association.

Based on a close reading of that list, it should be obvious that California organizations recognize a gravy train when they see one. As I said in my earlier post, if you like grants—and who doesn’t?—squeeze in close and get your snout in the Health Navigator trough. This free-for-all is too good to pass up.

The Street Outreach Program (SOP) and Seliger’s quick guide to outreach components

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) just issued the Street Outreach Program (SOP) FY ’13 Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA),* which offers an opportunity for us to describe a common funder program paradigm: outreach. Last week, faithful readers will recall that we blogged about yet another outreach program: Health Navigators.

Not all of our readers are likely hip to outreach program design. In essence, all outreach programs use more or less the same design and have changed little since the halcyon days of outreach of the 1970s. Actually, this is not entirely true: these days a soupçon of social media should be added to the outreach stew, but otherwise things remain the same.

Unless there is a static client input stream (e.g., domestic violence offenders being court-referred), almost all human services programs require some outreach component; even if the RFP doesn’t require one, smart, imaginative grant writers will include outreach anyway. An SOP or Health Navigator proposal is just a gigantic outreach effort, but the basic structure of outreach can be applied to most any project design.

The point of outreach is to connect some target population with something that is supposed to improve their life outcomes (free proposal phrase here). Within this context (another free proposal phrase here), there are two basic types of outreach: local and regional/statewide. Local outreach almost always includes:

  • One-on-one information meetings conducted with the staff of other providers to give them the good news about the program, so that they will refer their eligible clients.
  • Presentations to community groups, faith-based organizations and any other group that has a constituency that could benefit from the program, or, barring that, any other constituency that can be gathered in one place at one time.
  • Press releases to whatever print media that remains alive in your target area.
  • Radio and TV public service announcements (PSAs), although these have largely been superseded by YouTube uploads.
  • Direct mailings and email blasts, using as many mailing lists as you can find and/or develop.
  • Widespread distribution of posters and other printed material touting the project’s message, ideally in every language spoken by the target population, up to and including Elbonian.
  • The ever-popular “street-based” outreach, which requires a brave Outreach Worker to actually leave the comforts of their warm agency nest and venture out to where the target population hangs out: parks, community centers, welfare offices, public housing projects, liquor store parking lots, minimarts, barber shops, basket ball courts, and so on.
  • Use of Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, group texting, and whatever other “new” media seems plausible. We’re often tempted to include a social media tool that doesn’t actually exist, but we choose the path of righteous honesty and have not actually done so.
  • The only real question is whether to use a dedicated outreach worker, usually a peer of the target population, or a portion of the time of other proposed staff. Keep in mind that having a dedicated outreach person can lead to unfortunate acronyms like “Peer Outreach Worker” (POW), or even worse (particularly for female target populations): a Community Outreach Worker. You’ve been warned, watch your acronyms!

For regional/statewide outreach initiatives like Health Navigators, one or both of the following complications are usually added to make the funder think you’ll actually find eligible clients in distant places:

  • Propose a hub-and-spoke system with a circuit riding Outreach Worker. Your agency is the hub in Minneapolis and you find collaborators in Owatonna, Climax, Blue Earth, and Sleepy Eye Minnesota, to periodically host an Outreach Worker. She’s in Blue Earth on Tuesdays, Climax on Thursdays, and so forth. When in Sleepy Eye, the Outreach Worker reaches out, using the above toolkit. If you’re really frisky, you can open small site offices in other towns, so the Outreach Worker has a place to nest and preen while visiting.
  • Use a train-the-locals approach in which your Outreach Worker trains staff or volunteers from indigenous organizations in the region to conduct the various outreach strategies, using social media to watch over her dispersed brood.

Now you know how to develop an outreach component: no need to convene a group-think, draw circles and arrows on white boards, and eat donuts.

* For those of you keeping score at home, this makes it the DHHS ACF FYSB SOP FOA. I know it looks like cryptography, but the acronym is actually just your tax dollars at work.

Another New Federal Grant Program Emerges: PPHF – 2013 – Cooperative Agreement to Support Navigators in Federally-facilitated and State Partnership Exchanges

Despite sequestration and budget worries, the Feds are churning out a new grant program every month or so; today, let’s consider this tasty if poorly named treat from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service: “PPHF – 2013 – Cooperative Agreement to Support Navigators in Federally-facilitated and State Partnership Exchanges.” The trade name for this FOA is “Health Navigators,” and it is the first of what should be a tsunami of federal and state FOAs designed to help clueless Americans understand how to access the cornucopia of subsidies and benefits glittering like tiny jewels in the 25,000 pages (so far) of the byzantine Affordable Health Care Act (“ObamaCare”) regulations.

ObamaCare is roaring at us from the distance and is supposed to arrive at the station on January 1, 2014. Without getting too far inside baseball, the subsidies and Medicaid expansion at the heart of ObamaCare are supposed to provide health insurance for millions of uninsured Americans. These programs are structured as a series of state-run Health Insurance Exchanges. Somewhere along the way, however, only 16 states actually opted to set up their own exchanges, with the balance deciding to join the Federally-facilitated and State Partnership Exchanges.

The new Health Navigators program has $54,000,000 up for grabs for nonprofits in the 34 states without Exchanges. If you’re in a state with a proto-Exchange, like California or New York, don’t worry—they’ll issue their Health Navigator FOAs.

In the federal program, however, here’s a section that should warm the cockles of the stone-like heart of even the most jaded nonprofit Executive or, in my case, grizzled grant writer:

Section 1311(i) of the Affordable Care Act requires each Exchange to develop and implement Navigator grant programs. This funding opportunity announcement (FOA) is open to . . . serve consumers in States with an FFE or State Partnership Exchange. As health reform implementation continues, consumers will need to understand new programs, take advantage of consumer protections, and navigate the health insurance system to find the most affordable coverage that meets their needs. Exchange Navigators are intended to assist consumers in those areas.

Health Navigator grantees will be responsible for ObamaCare outreach and education to uninformed populations—which is just about anybody in America, since nobody understands it. Maybe a few health policy wonks do.

If there is any nonprofit Executive Director reading this post who doesn’t think their agency could run a Health Navigator program, call me, because you’ve missed one essential aspect of human service providers: virtually all nonprofits do some kind of outreach and education. This makes the Health Navigator program an exceptionally great opportunity, and perhaps the best in recent memory, for getting “walkin’ around money“—a grant concept we’ve written about before.

Although the Health Navigator FOA clearly presents a very attractive grant opportunity on the street, with its promise of walking around money for vaguely defined and impossible-to-measure activities (just the kind we love to write proposals about and our clients love to operate), the real reason to apply now is to be on the ground floor of this emerging class of grants. As I noted in my recent blog about another new grant program, Face Forward, it is always a good idea to apply for the first funding round of any new grant program.

In the case of the Health Navigators FOA, this general principle is even more important because ObamaCare has created an entirely new class of service delivery organizations—”Health Navigators”—which is presumably going to provide never-ending grant competitions.

This reminds me of about 20 years ago, when the HIV/AIDS crisis was in the full bloom of its first major publicity salvo and a mounting public outcry. The Feds responded with Ryan White Act grants. The agencies that originally received Ryan White and similar HIV/AIDS grants formed what we termed an “AIDS Mafia” that slurped up all the available HIV/AIDS grant funds.

If your agency was not in the local AIDS Mafia, your chances of getting grants was very low. The same thing happened about 18 years ago with HUD McKinney Act Homeless Assistance Grants (and we’ve written about the knock-on effects in “HUD’s Confusing Continuum of Care (CoC) Program Explained“). As with Ryan White, it soon became obvious that if you weren’t part of the Homeless Mafia, your agency would not be likely to get HUD homeless grants.

I think the same will be true for Health Navigator grants: if you want to get your organization’s snout into the ObamaCare trough, make sure you apply for this first Health Navigator funding round. When you get funded, your agency will instantly become an expert! In grant writing, I sometimes refer to programs like this as grant herpes: it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

RFPs for “National Nonprofits,” like the Rural Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing Grants, are Effectively Wired

It’s barely worth writing this post, but we hope to save someone from the danger of applying for a program that for which they’re probably not a competitive applicant—even if they’re nominally eligible.

Subscribers to our e-mail grant newsletter recently saw an RFP for the “Rural Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing Grants” program. Only “national nonprofits” are eligible. The eligibility requirement is doubly strange, because the purpose of the program is to “to enhance the capacity and ability of local governments, Indian tribes, housing development organizations, rural CDCs, and CHDOs, to carry out community development and affordable housing activities” (emphasis added).

So a national nonprofit is supposed to be helping local efforts. Those of you who find this somewhat perplexing are not alone. It’s almost certain that this application has already been de facto wired for an organization or set of organizations. There just aren’t many nonprofits with real presences in five or more states. If you don’t already know that you’re going to get this, you’re probably not going to get it.

Programs like “Rural Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing Grants” are effectively earmarks without an earmark.

There’s another lesson embedded in the Rural Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing Grants RFP: always read the eligibility requirements very, very carefully. It would be easy to read the project description, get excited at the possibilities, and overlook the unusual eligibility requirements.

Occasionally, by the way, we do get hired to write wired grant applications. This might seem counterintuitive: why hire consultants to write a complete and technically correct grant proposal when you already know that you’re going to get the award? The reason is simple: the funding agency still needs a plausible, and ideally good, proposal to present to anyone curious about why Joe’s Nonprofit got a grant and Jane’s Nonprofit didn’t. The funder doesn’t want to embarrass itself, and Joe’s Nonprofit needs cover. Even wired grants sometimes need a grant writer.