Tag Archives: Charities

November 2009 Links: Governments, Foundations, Data, Broadband, Cities, and More

* US charities expecting lean holiday. This makes writing proposals even more important, as Isaac explained way back during 2008 in “Market Tanks, Donors Disappear, Corporate Givers Vanish: Not to Worry, This is a Great Time to Write Proposals.”

* How government policy defeats itself, with California as an example. That’s my title for the article, anyway; the NYTimes dubs it, “California’s Zigzag on Welfare Rules Worries Experts.”

* What’s Wrong With Charitable Giving—and How to Fix It.

* Recession Drives Surge in Youth Runaways according to Ian Urbina the New York Times. As Isaac said in a note to Urbina: “I loved the subject article, which reads just like one of our grant proposals . . . lots of anecdotes, a few well chosen, but meaningless, statistics from dubious sources, and an entirely specious argument. You would make a great grant writer.”

The article says things like, “Over the past two years, government officials and experts have seen an increasing number of children leave home for life on the streets, including many under 13.” Compare this to our advice in The Worse it is, the Better it is: Your Grant Story Needs to Get the Money and Finding and Using Phantom Data.

(Urbina should’ve referenced Charles Bock’s Beautiful Children, which covers this topic from the perspective of the economic boom times.)

* America can’t be the world’s tech leader without immigration reforms.

* Another round of broadband stimulus money should be coming soon.

* Why newspapers are important, part 10,122: “Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost to Health.” Few if any bloggers would go into anywhere near the depth Charles Duhigg does and can.

* Want 50Mbps Internet in your town? Threaten to roll out your own. This is from Ars Technica:

ISPs may not act for years on local complaints about slow Internet—but when a town rolls out its own solution, it’s amazing how fast the incumbents can deploy fiber, cut prices, and run to the legislature.

* The worst kind of good news on AIDS.

* The WSJ predicts “The Next Youth-Magnet Cities,” where D.C. ties for first with Seattle. No mention of Tucson on the list.

* Why are some cities more entrepreneurial than others?

* From the New York Times (and linked to by virtually every blog): Chicago’s [Olympic 2016] Loss: Is Passport Control to Blame? The thrust of the answer: at least in part. America’s immigration process is screwed up, and so is its border control, which manages to combine ineffectiveness with invasiveness.

* The Books of Brin—that’s Sergey Brin of Google fame.

* * Computers are less effective at improving developing world education than other, simpler measures, like de-worming.

* The bookcase staircase is very cool.

* A Brief History of Sex Ed in America. Notice how this relates to our post on the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program.

* On helping students to finish college in four years. Given how few students do finish in four, this is of major consequence for economic health.

* Japan shows that knowledge is power.

* Those who would sacrifice property rights to development end up with neither.

* 15 Things Worth Knowing About Coffee. This comes in visual form.

* Learn your damn homophones.

* Hard-Hit Factory Towns Slow to See Relief From Stimulus.

* Ryan Vent on Libertarians and their “transportation blindspot.”

Juggling Rules and Principles In Running Grant Programs

Grant programs are not based solely around rules (e.g. you must do this, you must not do that) or around guiding principles (e.g. you’re to help the medically indigent achieve better access to healthcare). Neither approach is absolutely correct, and preferences for each tend to go in cycles, like those of leniency and harshness in criminal justice. The question is which you should adhere to, and the more general answer is: rules when you write the proposal, principles when you run a program.

This post again gets at some of the ideas behind the trade-offs inherent in running grant-funded programs, as I discussed in More on Charities and alluded to in Foundations and the Future. Isaac dealt with part of the issue last week, in It’s a Grant, Not a Gift: A Primer on Grants Management, which discusses the absolute rules of budgets. Within those rules, however, there is room for interpretation: how much of the budget travel should be allocated in travel costs, and how much within that should be dedicated to local travel, for example? Renting a Ferrari for the Program Manager probably won’t cut it, but a reasonable mileage reimbursement rate for an appropriate number of miles, given the size of the service area, probably will. If you reshuffle your budget categories by under 10% of the total budget, your Program Officer likely won’t care, but if you decide after the fact to charge 90% of the Executive Director’s time to the project and you’re audited, the auditors very much will care.

One can see the specific issues between rules and principles in novels, as when a character in Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red says, “Now that I’ve reached this age, I know that true respect arises not from the heart, but from discrete rules and deference.” The problem is that strict adherence to the rules of governing a particular grant program might actually result in inferior service: you can blindly continue an activity that is ineffective or, perhaps worse, run a program with a flawed project concept. Too strict adherence to principles can cause a different set of problems: they might be the wrong principles, or, worse, the unintended use of grant funds might constitute fraud.

The easy answer is, “find a happy medium,” which isn’t of much practical use when deciding what programs to apply for and how to fund an organization. The tension between rules and principles will probably always exist, like the tension between the orthodoxy of a movement and the reformers of a movement will always exist, regardless of the movement. In The Name of the Rose, much of the conflict revolves around schisms between ecclesiastical orders that question whether or not it is right to live in poverty. This, incidentally, is similar to questions of whether nonprofits should use more of their funds for direct services at the expense of making it easier to, say, attract good people, or whether they should allocate more to administrative expenses as a way to provide better services. Rules might dictate this—or principles. Regardless of which does, those who seek simple solutions to complex problems are often wrong and often have little sense of history between the complex problems in the first place. Both the movement toward rules and toward principles can be a good thing. Too many rules are stifling, and principles that are too general can lead to abuse.

So what should you do, the person who actually runs grant programs? Should you follow what seems best regardless of rules or adhere strictly to what a program orders you to do? There is no answer—there are only particular situations that might arise as a consequence of applying to some programs rather than others, but if you have some idea of the trade-offs involved, you’re going to be better equipped to understand the issues before you. You’ll also be better equipped to understand which programs you should apply for and how you should use what money you earn.