Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

There’s Something Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What It Is, Do You Mr. Jones?*

I felt like I was living Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man as I read the following news stories this week:

  • Thousands mob Detroit center in hopes of free cash. The City of Detroit has a $15 million Stimulus Bill grant to “prevent homelessness” and cluelessly announced that people could come to the Downtown Coho Convention Center to apply for a $3,000 housing assistance voucher. Something got lost in the translation and 35,000 folks showed up expecting to get a $3,000 check on the spot. At most, the City may eventually help up to 5,000 people with this program. Being a typical federal program, however, there’s a means test and lots of rules, so most of the would-be applicants have no hope of getting help. But the rumor on the street was that “Obama money” was there to be had and the stampede started, with the Detroit Police Gang Unit called out to restore order.

    Was any of this necessary? Of course not, but is an example of what I warned about last March in The Stimulus Bill Meets Santa Claus Meets American Idol in Virginia: At best it is disingenuous and, in this case, positively dangerous, to mislead the average Joe into thinking that they are somehow going to directly get a slice of the Stimulus Bill pie. The “official” unemployment rate in Detroit is 28%, which means the actual rate is probably about 40%. Seems more than a little cruel to wave a phantom $3,000 in front of thousands of desperate people, but I am sure the same pattern is unfolding all around the country (email me any examples you’ve come across, or leave a comment). The whole business reminds me of the Federal Free Cheese giveaways of the early 1980s recession, but at least then you got a five-pound block of Velveeta for your troubles. If I had written the City of Detroit proposal that resulted in the $15 million grant that spawned this fiasco, I would have included 5,000 blocks of cheese in the budget just for old times’ sake.

  • Holder, Duncan plan to fight Chicago teen violence: The senseless beating death of 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert by other teens was captured on cell phone video, unlike the murders of 29 other school kids so far this year in Chicago. I guess the video component woke up Washington. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was previously the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Superintendent for many years but apparently never noticed the violence in his schools, and Attorney General Eric Holder were dispatched to find out what’s happening in Chicago. But the meeting with city politicos, school officials and parents from Christian Fenger Academy High School (where Derrion was a student) was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in the Loop, not the High School! I have a feeling not too many of the parents had ever been to the Four Seasons.It seems that while Duncan and Holder are concerned, they are not concerned enough to actually set foot on the South Side. Incidentally, at the exact time the croissants were being passed around at the meeting and stern looks exchanged, a violent fight involving dozens of students broke out at Fenger Academy.

    So perhaps it was prudent to keep our Education Secretary and Attorney General out of harm’s way and in the Green Zone while visiting Chicago, like Vice President Biden does when he drops into Baghdad. Not surprisingly, Duncan and Holder have promised “$25 million in next year’s budget for community-based crime prevention programs, Holder said. Duncan said an emergency grant of about $500,000 would go to Fenger for counselors or other programs.”**I guess the message to school principals facing budget shortfalls across America is to make sure all student beatings/murders are videotaped and broadcast around the country. Since we’ve written many funded proposals for youth violence prevention, mentoring, etc. for clients on the South Side of Chicago and frequently churn the very depressing school data from CPS, I looked briefly at the 2008 Fenger Academy High School Report Card. Two percent of students meet or exceed state academic standards (this has actually gone down by 80% from 10% in 2006) and 0% (that’s right: zero) of students exceed the math, science or writing standards. Violence is clearly only one of the school’s many challenges. Statistics like this are what makes writing proposals involving Chicago Public Schools such a mixed pleasure: it’s easy to make a case for the proposal, but it’s hard to imagine the people behind the statistics.

  • New Hampshire prosecutor: Evidence does not support death penalty charge: Four teenagers decided to stab a woman and her daughter to death in what seems to be a random attack in rural New Hampshire, which is apparently not as bucolic as its seems. This incident recalls the Leopold and Loeb thrill killings of 1924 and the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. The four teen suspects apparently admitted the crime, saying more or less that they just wanted to kill somebody. I guess after school recreation opportunities in rural New Hampshire were not challenging enough for this quartet.
  • California’s Zigzag on Welfare Rules Worries Experts: To save $375 million, California has taken the workfare out of its CalWorks “welfare reform” program that replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). California no longer requires welfare recipients to attend training or get a job to get a check. Let’s party like its 1989!While the story is interesting on many levels, reporter Erik Eckholm doesn’t understand one very real impact of this starling change. The $375 million California is “saving” are the vouchers that would have been used by CalWorks participants to pay for participant training, along with child care while they are in training. Over the past ten years, an enormous infrastructure of mostly nonprofit training and child care providers has grown up around the country that are fed by these vouchers. Without the vouchers, these providers will not be able to continue to provide services and will have to lay off hundreds, if not thousands of child care and other workers, many of whom originally were CalWorks participants themselves. I guess they can re-apply for CalWorks, only this time they won’t have to work, squaring the circle.

Since I am not a coy tunesmith like Bob Dylan, I will plainly read the tea leaves about what the above stories mean for all of you Mr. Jones out there: a second wave of Stimulus Bill type grant opportunities is coming, although Congress is unlikely to bill the bill(s) as such. Instead, the effort will be couched in such proposalese as “safety net funding,” “community violence prevention” and the like. Unemployment is still rising, the Great Recession is more of a Depression in many of the communities for which we write proposals and teens go on violent rampages.

The Obama administration is already testing the waters—at the risk of overwhelming you with random news stories, see Obama Aides Act to Fix Safety Net. As is the case with most publicized social problems, the government response to crises is more grant programs. A case in point: I mentioned the Columbine Massacre previously. The federal response then was to ramp up funding for all kinds of youth programs, and in particular my personal favorite, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Program. For years after Columbine, we wrote dozens of funded 21st CCLC, youth mentoring and similar proposals. Some were for agencies serving the neighborhood in which Chicago’s Fenger Academy is located.

In August 2008, when the economy began to crumble and long before the words “Stimulus Bill” had been penned by anyone, I held a staff meeting in which I told the Seliger + Associates team that a wave of new grant opportunities was coming. We advised our retainer clients and started blogging on the subject. The wave turned out to be a tsunami of grant availability unseen since the Ford and Carter administrations. Another wave is building. Smart nonprofits, cities, counties and school districts will rub on their Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax and start paddling to meet the wave. There are going to be enormous opportunities to fund all kinds of human services, community development and economic development programs in the next year or two, just as there has been since last winter.

As faithful readers will know, we’ve been furiously writing proposals. In the past week, we’ve learned that three disparate proposals we wrote recently have been funded: $1,500,000 for a California city under the HUD Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control Program, $500,000 for an Ohio nonprofit under the Department of the Treasury Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Program, and $300,000 for a Wisconsin nonprofit under the HUD Rural Housing and Economic Development (RHED) Program. This is partially a consequence of skill, but also one of awareness: when the waves are good, it’s time to surf.

This remains the best time in 30 years to seek grant funds and, and if my finely tuned grant antenna is working as it has for 38 years, it’s only going to get better in the coming months. Keep in mind that the new federal fiscal year started October 1, appropriation bills are emerging from Congress, and all representatives and many senators have to gear up their election campaigns with the prospect of double digit unemployment, weak economic growth and both urban and rural youth violence exploding across America. Bad news, as illustrated above, is good news in the wonderful world of grants, so don’t wait for the actual grant tsunami to crash over your head. Instead, make sure your organization takes full advantage of this reality now by researching and applying for grants.


* The perhaps apocryphal backstory of this biting song is that Dylan may or may not have written it after being interviewed by a particularly clueless Time Magazine reporter for Dylan’s wonderfully obtuse 1965 Time Magazine interview.

** I am delighted to read about a new $25 million community violence prevention grant program. Here’s a small sample of the dozens of existing federal grant programs that aim to do more or less the same thing (pssst—keep these a secret as we don’t Secretary Duncan or Attorney General Holder to know about them):

  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Program
  • Juvenile Mentoring (JUMP) Program
  • Title V Delinquency Prevention Program
  • Recovery Act Edward Byrne Memorial Competitive Grant Program
  • TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) Program
  • I could go on. Nonetheless, I’m all in favor of new grant programs, so all I can say to Duncan and Holder is rock on!

    Graffiti, Windmills, CAP Agencies, and an Answer to the Question As to Whether This is 1975 or 1965

    After six months of Stimulus Bill madness, I felt like Bob Dylan in Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues: “I do believe I’ve had enough.” So my wife and I decamped for two weeks in Paris and Berlin, leaving Jake with a whip and a chair to deal with hordes of would-be grant applicants wanting “some of that Obama money,” as one recent caller described it.

    As usual, I can’t travel anywhere without contemplating the wonderful world of grant writing. Between fabulous meals and wonderful wine in Paris and Berlin, one fact stood out: the overwhelming amount of graffiti covering many public spaces. I am not a fan of graffiti, so my view is biased, but even someone who appreciates this “art form” would likely be taken aback by the shear volume. The complexity and layers of the graffiti tell me that public officials have given up trying to get rid of it. In contrast, most American cities fight a constant battle against graffiti, which in many cases seems to have worked.

    The most famous example was then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s application of the “broken window” theory of fighting urban decay in the 1990s. Overall, I think such efforts have been reasonably successful in most American cities I visit, but as Borat and Jon Stewart would both say, not so much in France and Germany. This is too bad because anti-graffiti programs are great for nonprofits, which can approach the problem at both ends of the spectrum by hiring the people who put up the graffiti at night to paint it out during the daytime, while adding a soupçon of art instruction to spice up the grant application to pay for this cycle. The Arizona Star just reported on such a program trying to get going in Tucson (“Red Tape Stalls Graffiti Cleanup“). The County Court system wants to use juvenile offenders to do the clean-up, and I’m certain many of the young people working in the project are also pretty handy with a spray paint can. In the US, anti-graffiti programs are typically funded by local government agencies, such as this Tucson example, or business groups.

    In Europe, we took several day trips from Paris on the TGV. One could see the beautiful French land zipping by at 150 MPH and imagine a knight or two partially hidden in a copse of chestnut trees. The countryside looked timeless.* In contrast, as soon as we entered Germany, the bucolic views were ruined by tons of 400 foot tall wind turbines on every hill. It seems the French value their views by generating electricity with nuclear power plants, while the Germans have decided to solve their electricity needs with wind turbines.

    Leaving aside the political aspects of nuclear versus wind power, since both alleviate the global warming problem, and to paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger in End of Days who said, “Between your faith and my Glock nine millimeter, I’ll take the Glock”—between nuclear power and windmills, I’ll take the nukes. I am not alone in my dislike of giant windmills, as Jeffrey Ball recently wrote in in Renewable Energy, Meet the New Nimbys for the Wall Street Journal. Many people aren’t too keen on sacrificing beautiful vistas on the altar of renewable energy. We are working on a couple of solar and wind projects, which, even if they are funded, might get tripped up by a rowdy band of nimbys.

    My final observation about our Europe ’09 tour is that I saw almost no evidence of nonprofits. This flummoxed me until I realized that this is likely because France and Germany are social democracies with extensive social safety nets. In Europe, most human services are provided by an army of social workers employed directly by the government, instead of through nonprofits, as is done in the US. I may be wrong, but I believe the US system of funding nonprofits through grants to conduct human services is an accident of history resulting from the frenetic pace of deploying War on Poverty programs in 1965, when the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) was set up to find a way to quickly get the federal funds to local communities. OEO was the brainchild of Sargent Shriver, special counselor to LBJ, first OEO Director, father of Governor Schwarzenegger’s wife Maria, and Senator McGovern’s running mate in 1972. Shriver decided the fastest and best way to alleviate poverty was to contract with local nonprofits, rather than using the New Deal model of having the government run local programs directly.

    In an effort to keep poor folks in the loop and in keeping with the concept of maximum feasible participation of the poor contained in the enabling Equal Opportunity Act that authorized the War on Poverty, Shriver hit on the idea of forming legions of new nonprofits, called community action programs, usually referred to as “CAP agencies.” About 900 of the CAPs survive around the county, running Head Start, Weatherization and a plethora of other programs. We often work for CAP agencies. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, garden variety nonprofits got hip to applying for government grants and the system as we know it developed. When services are provided directly by government agencies, nonprofits are back to surviving on donations and selling bratwurst as Jake described in Bratwurst and Grant Project Sustainability: A Beautiful Dream Wrapped in a Bun, which isn’t nearly as lucrative as government grants.

    This brings me back around to a question I posed last March in The Office of Community Services Rides the Stimulus Wave with Funding for Community Economic Development Projects, But Is It 1965 or 1975 Again?

    While thinking about what I had seen in Europe during the long flight back, I have concluded that it is more like 1965 because the feds are in a state of hysteria about trying to shovel Stimulus Bill money out the door, very similar to Shriver’s OEO in 1965, while nonprofits, alternative energy companies and your Aunt Martha are frantic to get a piece of the stimulus pie. In the background looms never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing a specter of Vietnam. I am just old enough to remember President Johnson failing in his attempt to balance a progressive domestic agenda with foreign commitments, or, as it was called then, the “guns and butter” dilemma (I’m hardly the only person to notice: the New York Times recently asked “Could Afghanistan Become Obama’s Vietnam?“) Since this ended badly for Johnson, my advice to nonprofits is to go after the butter while it’s on the table. This really is the best of times for grant applicants, so let’s all party like its 1965.


    * The best take on Americans visiting Europe remains Mark Twain’s wonderful The Innocents Abroad, Or, the New Pilgrims’ Progress. Not a great deal has changed in 150 years.

    ** In the Small World Department, and as I was thinking about writing this post last week, the Executive Director of a nonprofit in Kentucky called for a quote on writing a proposal for the CDC HIV Prevention Projects for Community-Based Organizations program. When she told me she was in Eastern Kentucky, I asked her if the Job Corps Center in Breckenridge was still operating and it turns out it is, much to my delight.

    In early summer 1965, my older brother got a job right of college as a Residential Counselor at something called a Job Corps Center, which was being set up in a WWII-era army camp by something called the “OEO” that was implementing “the War on Poverty.” He got the job because one of his professors at the University of Minnesota happened to be a pal of one of Shriver’s aides and OEO was desperate for personnel (I see shades of the recent Stimulus Bill ramp-up). My brother went off to become one of the original foot soldiers in the War on Poverty and later that summer I took the Louisville & Nashville Railroad’s famous Hummingbird train to visit him for two weeks. It was quite an experience for a 14-year old kid from Minneapolis to spend time in a southern state just getting past Jim Crow and it started me down the road to spending the last four decades soldiering myself in various ways in the never-ending War on Poverty. I gave the Executive Director, a “War on Poverty” discount on her fee quote for reminding me of why this is really 1965.