Posted on Leave a comment

Hard Times for Housing Nonprofits and the New York Times Provides a Pretty Good Example of Proposalese

Last week a former client and a prospective client called; both of their nonprofits have been involved in affordable housing development, foreclosure assistance, fair housing counseling and the like, but both have also seen their grant and other resources wither in recent years. Housing nonprofits are experiencing the negative side of the grant waves we’ve written about. Right now there isn’t a lot of government or foundation funds available for affordable housing issues: the Great Recession is officially over*, the foreclosure crisis has receded in most places, and the policy view of housing affordability has mostly shifted from social/legal/regulatory concerns (e.g., overt housing discrimination, redlining, predatory lending/foreclosures, etc.) to economic concerns, as best articulated by Matt Yglesias in The Rent Is Too Damn High: What To Do About It, And Why It Matters More Than You Think. The biggest affordability challenge is the inability to build housing at all in many superstar cities, like L.A., New York, and Seattle, due to NIMBY problems.

My advice to both callers was the same: they can a) change the mission of their nonprofit to something being pushed by the grant waves (e.g., job training, primary health care, re-integration of ex-offenders, supplemental education for out-of-school youth and young adults, etc.), b) put their nonprofit into suspended hibernation while waiting for the grant gods to once again smile on affordable housing, or c) try to use the emerging theme of continuing housing segregation that has risen in public consciousness through incessant media coverage of public outrage and civil disturbances in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore following police violence against unarmed African American youth.

Today, the New York Times published “An Indelible Black-and-White Line,” which illustrates pretty well how to build a grant needs argument around the civil disturbances and obvious housing segregation in most American cities. This paragraph from the article could have been ripped from our proposals:

“Such is the case in Ferguson. The part where Mr. Brown died is a predominantly black east side neighborhood where residents have complained of police harassment and high crime in a cluster of apartments that stretches into the census tract with the most Section 8 renters in Missouri. Life is much different just two miles away in the city’s amenity-filled central business district, surrounded by pockets of predominantly white, affluent neighborhoods with sturdy brick and clapboard homes.”

We often use variations on the life-is-different riff when writing about disadvantaged target neighborhoods embedded in affluent cities.

The article is a pastiche of misinformation and half-truths that conflates the history of Section8 Housing Certificates with desegregation efforts, fair housing, income equality, and general malaise in low-income communities. Section 8 was not created as a “tool for desegregation,” as stated in the article. The primary tool for desegregation in the 1970s and 1980s was school busing, not Section 8. Section 8 was a Nixon/Ford era reform that was supposed to encourage private developers to build more affordable housing. In the early days of the Reagan administration in the mid-80s, Section 8 was expanded as direct HUD financing programs for affordable housing developments were largely eliminated.

It wasn’t until the Clinton era that Section 8 was seen as something of a desegregation tool, but this shift occurred primarily within the context of then new HUD HOPE VI Program, (or “Hopeless VI,” as we used to call it around the office). This bizarre program resulted in the demolition of thousands of last-resort public housing units, replacing the original developments with “mixed-income” developments and providing Section 8 Certificates (now known as Housing Choice Vouchers or “HCV”) for poor, mostly African Americans, residents displaced by HOPE VI.

But Section 8 never resulted in many new housing units being built, so HCV holders were (and are) forced to compete with working poor and middle-class renters for the same limited pool of housing. Landlords will avoid accepting HCVs if they can—not necessarily because they’re racist (although they might be), but because the building/unit has to pass a HUD inspection to be certified for Section 8. The building and unit also have to undergo annual re-inspections.

Most landlords won’t sign up for this unless they’re having difficulty renting the units. They also prefer wealthier tenants with good histories, when those tenants are available. That’s why Section 8 units end up being in less desirable neighborhoods. The other reality is that the HCV holders often self-segregate for social, cultural and family reasons. While a single mom may be able to use her HCV in a nice, affluent suburb, that won’t help her much if her support system for childcare (e.g., extended family members) is back in the lower-income community she’s leaving. Also, she might not want be far from her church and friends. Whole Foods probably doesn’t sell chitlings** or chicken necks.

The Times article avoids all of these details and instead concocts a witch’s brew that explains all of the ills of low-income African American neighborhoods away by blaming everything on Section 8 caused segregation. While this is mostly nonsense, it’s perfect reasoning for a grant proposal for housing nonprofits—like my two callers last week—trying to get funding. We’ll use these concepts for any housing related proposals we write in the coming months.

If this stuff gets past the editors at the New York Times it’ll definitely get past foundation program officers, who don’t know any more than editors and probably know even less.

* In our grant proposals, no matter what is actually going on with the economy, the target neighborhood is always being buffeted by the current recession, the lingering effects of the last recession and/or the looming next recession.

** Anyone who’s worked and/or lived in African American communities like I have, knows that chitlings remain a favored delicacy. To test your knowledge, take the somewhat out of date, but still fun Chitling Test (also known as the Dove Counterbalance General Intelligence Test). I had the privilege of being a colleague of the test’s creator, Adrian Dove, in the mid-1970s, when we both worked in Mayor Tom Bradley’s office. Here’s a sample question: “Cheap chitlings (not the kind you purchase at a frozen food counter) will taste rubbery unless they are cooked long enough. How soon can you quit cooking them to eat and enjoy them? (a) 45 minutes, (b) 2 hours, (c) 24 hours, (d) 1 week (on a low flame), (e) 1 hour.”

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on 1 Comment

Behind the Article: Las Vegas’s Clark County and Race To The Top—District (RTTT-D)

In a press release masquerading as a news article, The Las Vegas Sun claims that the Clark County School District—the big one that covers Vegas—doesn’t want to apply for Race To The Top—District funds because they have “too many strings attached.” The strings aren’t that different from those that come with any very large grant program. And most of those strings are imaginary anyway.

Which means there’s something else going on.

The reporter, Paul Takahashi, writes, “There is also an expectation that school districts scale up these innovations after the Race to the Top pilot program ends, said Kimberly Wooden, chief student services officer.” Notice the weasel words: “There is also an expectation.” An expectation from who? How? In another choice quote, Takahashi writes:

“It’s a great idea, but in order to bring it to scale in a district our size, it may require technology,” Wooden said, adding there may be additional costs incurred to the School District to implement this technology.

Getting a grant that “may require technology”—whatever that means—sounds like a tremendous trial. This is the second example of weasel words I’ve quoted, and there are others.

It’s highly likely that there’s something else going on behind the scenes. Here are some possibilities:

  • The school district actually wants to apply, but it doesn’t like some aspect of the competition and wants a waiver or exception. As such, it’s threatening to take its ball and go home if the Department of Education doesn’t play by its rules. This kind of article might help get that exception. The district might be looking for a signal or reassurance from the feds.
  • As an addendum to the bullet above, the school district might already be negotiating with the Department of Education, and this kind of public statement is part of the negotiation process.
  • The district thinks it doesn’t have a real shot at the grant and wants to preemptively cover its ass by announcing that it doesn’t want the grant anyway. This yields a story to tell reporters and angry parents at school board meetings.
  • The district has already screwed up something we don’t know about.
  • There is some political reason the district, the teachers union, the city counsel, the mayor, the governor, or another political entity doesn’t want the district to apply (this is an election year, too, and RTTT-D is one of the rare Federal programs that generates mainstream media coverage; in addition, although presidential politics might not be the driving force,’s John Dickerson thinks Obama has a shot in Nevada). Perhaps there’s already a deal in place to offer more or less restricted money.

It’s possible that the district’s story as presented by Takahashi is true. It’s just highly unlikely. The political people and grant writers at the district know or should know the difference between the proposal world and the real world. They know that you have to apply to get the money (one of the school board members says as much). They know there’s a fair amount of money available, and that it would be a handy PR win if the district got the reward, and, moreover, most people and institutions like money. Given those facts, the stated reason for not applying—which amounts to, “it’s too hard”—doesn’t pass the smell test.

This kind of speculation only makes sense in the context of a district large enough to generate political gravity. Smaller districts that claim they don’t want to apply are probably simply telling the truth, or don’t have the political will to apply. For a very large district, like this one, which has access to grant writers or funds for grant writing consultants, something else is almost certainly going on, and the Las Vegas Sun is only being used as a messenger.

Posted on 6 Comments

What to do when you become a spontaneous grant writer

Susan wants to know:

I am being told that I must become a “grant writer” for my law enforcement agency within a month or so. There is not enough time to apprentice so they want me to learn everything I need to know in a 2 day workshop!!! Any suggestions?

Suggestions! I’m filled with ’em. Especially for someone who has transformed, like one of the X-Men, into a grant-writing superhero. Again like the X-Men, I replied via e-mail:

The self-serving but accurate answer to your quandary is “hire us.” Note that we also edit proposals, although about 60 – 70% of the organizations that hire us to edit their proposal would have been better off simply hiring us for the full monty. If that’s not going to happen, I’d say this:

1) Read all of Grant Writing Confidential; I should turn it into an ebook, but I haven’t had time, and making this blog into a cohesive book will probably never be worth it from a pure cost/benefit analysis. Still, I want to anyway—especially after reading “Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors.” What I wrote in “Why You’re Unlikely to see ‘Seliger and Associates Presents Grant Writing Confidential: The Book and Musical’ Anytime Soon” is still accurate, but the possibilities opened up by self-publishing have exploded in the last year.

2) Does your agency have a particular program to which it wants to apply? If so, which one? Assuming the agency does have a specific program in mind, write as much as you can of the proposal draft before you go to the workshop. Take the draft with you and try to discuss it with whoever is teaching it. Then you’ll basically be turning that person into an editor / professor; it’s much easier to discuss writing, or almost any other “making thing” discipline, in the concrete than in the abstract.

Taking an infinite number of workshops is not going to make the blank page any easier. Having something, anything, on the blank page is better than having nothing. Isaac likes to say, “Something can be edited. Write something.”

3) If you have anyone you know who’s a decent writer and can be pressed into service as an editor, warn and beg them in advance that you need their help. Every writer needs an editor.

4) Start writing as soon as you can. Leave blanks. Get to the end. I’m repeating what I said in number four, but something cannot be edited if it hasn’t been written. I suspect this fundamental fact scuppers as many would-be grant writers as any other.

5) Good luck.

6) GWC readers: you have any other advice for Susan?

Posted on 6 Comments

Prospecting for Grants: Be a Bear and Bite that Salmon, Any Salmon

A recent email from a prospective client got me to thinking about the best time to prospect and apply for grants.

Our would-be client presented the idea of hiring us to his board. One board member pointed out that the organization lacked a current strategic plan, the last one having expired at the end of 2010 while the new one not be approved until the end of 2011. Our client asked me:

Do you think trying to write foundation proposals without a strategic plan will be a hindrance?

I responded . . .

I don’t think that lack of a current strategic plan is an impediment to seeking foundation or government grant support. The status of the organization’s planning process can be included or not included in any proposal, at your direction. If the funder requests information about your organization’s strategic planning process, it would be our job as grant writers to address the question.

Or, as John Lennon put it in “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

The best time to prospect and apply for grants is always now, not at the end of an introspective planning process, no matter how well-intentioned—just like the best time to start writing a novel is now, the best time to start exercising is now, and so on. Strategic planning is a fine activity for a nonprofit, provided they have plenty of money and lots of time.

As I’ve been blogging about for the past three years, however, the continuing economic malaise means that most nonprofits have little extra money and are so overwhelmed with increased service demands that staff and board members are too exhausted to contemplate developing a plan for 2016—first the organization has to survive 2011. The very uncertain future of the discretionary federal budget funds (e.g., grant programs), combined with the roller coaster stock market (which impacts foundation endowments), make this a especially bad time to miss grant opportunities.

Obviously, I’m not a big fan of strategic planning. Leaving aside my view and whether strategic planning for nonprofits is efficacious, strategic plans have little to do with grant writing. While some federal RFPs and the occasional foundation guidelines will want some info on an organization’s planning process, funders are usually much more interested in what the organization has done, the need for the proposed service/activity, and plausibility of the project concept than the kind of generalities that are found in most strategic plans. And, as I pointed out in my email above, a good grant writer can fairly easily turn a marginal planning process into an passable one through the magic of proposalese.

Which brings me back to the question of grant prospecting. When talking to clients, I often describe the challenges faced by nonprofits and public agencies seeking grants as being analogous to those Alaskan bears we’ve all seen fishing for salmon.

Imagine you’re a bear standing by an icy Alaskan stream, and you’re pretty hungry after sleeping for six months. You could jump into the stream, try to bite the first salmon* that swims by and 20 more in a row, catching a few and missing most. Or you could first study the kind of salmon that might be found in the river, do a cost-benefit analysis of trying to catch sockeye versus pink salmon, decide that you only want sockeye, wait to look for somewhere the sockeye might to be likely to appear, mosey down to the river, and then bite a sockeye when you finally spot one. It might take awhile to get ready to go down to river and even longer until a sockeye swims by. But the planned sockeye has the potential to be the perfect lunch, provided you can catch it.

Bear # 1 will probably be full of salmon and lounging in the sun sending Tweets long before bear # 2 spots her first sockeye—and longer still until she actually catches one.

Let’s imagine two organizations, one called “Overworked and Chaotic Human Services” (OCHS) and the other “Well-Planned Human Services” (WPHS) in the context of our bears.

OCHS constantly looks for grant opportunities to fund its current services and any other services it could plausibly provide. Like bear # 1, OCHS closely monitors federal, state, local and foundation funding “streams” and tries to bite lots of “grant salmon.” Most of the time it comes up with water, but it manages to secure the occasional grant salmon, adjusting its programming to whatever grant salmon it catches. Although OCHS is pretty much willing to eat any grant salmon, the organization also closely monitors emerging trends and anticipates which grant salmon will swim by and when. It just doesn’t stop fishing while contemplating future grant salmon runs.

WPHS is tightly focused on delivering certain services and has a comprehensive overlapping five-year strategic planning process to ensure that the organization knows what it wants to do. Like bear # 2, it takes a long time for WPHS to actually get to the funding streams because it’s absorbed in delivering particular services and planning its organizational future. When it does take a dip into funding streams looking for sockeye, it may find out that the sockeye run was yesterday and there won’t be another one until next year. If this happens, it could become a very thin bear.

The prospective client, who declined to hire us during his organization’s strategic planning process, is like bear # 2. Over the years, we’ve worked for both kinds of bear clients and presently have one that is a bear # 2. Most nonprofits take the “let’s bite any salmon” approach. I think this produces better results. When I was a young grant writer during the Carter administration and writing proposals for a single nonprofit or public agency as an employee, I learned to dive into all funding streams at all times, giving my employer the best chance to get grant salmon.

In a future post, I will provide some tips on how to prospect for grant salmon. But, like most aspects of grant writing, one can only learn this by doing. Taking a two- or three- or five-day training course on grant prospecting, which lots of training outfits offer, will not teach you how to find and catch grant salmon. You have to be hungry and be willing to get your feet wet, or hire someone like us to dive in and bite the passing grant salmon for you. Just don’t be bear # 2, sitting by the funding stream and navel gazing, while the salmon grants swim by.

* Years ago, we wrote several funded proposals for an Alaskan Native organization to support the transition of their failing salmon canning business enterprise into a smoked salmon business. I had the opportunity to visit the cannery and learned quite a bit about salmon fishing, albeit by Alaskan Natives, not bears.

Posted on 1 Comment

Reading “Arugulance” and then Writing It

After reading the first draft of “One of the Open Secrets of Grant Writing and Grant Writers: Reading,” I suggested that Jake lay down for a while, as he seemed to have worked himself into a frenzy over the subject of no reading versus some reading versus close reading versus . . . well, you’ve gotten the idea from reading his post. So, it was with some surprise that I found myself (here it comes) “reading” the Sunday New York Times yesterday, when I came across Maureen Dowd’s column.

Ordinarily, I don’t read her column, as she is usually even too cynical for a inherently cynical and grizzled grant writer like me. This time, however, the headline caught my eye because it used the term “arugulance,” which I learned is shorthand for the arrogance of the grow local/buy local/shop at Whole Paycheck movement. As luck would have it, I had been writing a federal grant proposal over the weekend for a client that plans to expand access for low-income folks to a nearby urban farmers’ market to reduce obesity, et al. There in the Times I found the perfect term to sum up my project concept. Jake, I stand corrected. I guess I should stop watching Idol and ’50s Westerns and get a subscription to some esoteric periodicals instead.

Posted on Leave a comment

November Links: Myths, Housing, and More

* The New Republic has an article based on a Brookings Institute piece that deconstructs the small-town USA mythology regularly propagated in proposals:

But the idea that we are a nation of small towns is fundamentally incorrect. The real America isn’t found in cities or suburbs or small towns, but in the metropolitan areas or “metros” that bring all these places into economic and social union.

Think of this as a prelude to an eventual post on the subject of grantwriter as mythmaker. And if you’re interested in myth as a broader subject, see Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By. He’s the same guy who wrote Hero With a Thousand Faces, the book that, most famously, provided the outline for Star Wars.

* The New Yorker asks, “Why do so many evangelical teen-agers become pregnant?” Like some of the data discussed in our post on the Community-Based Abstinence Education Program, the article has problems of its own, including drawing conclusions that might be based on faulty data, but it nonetheless illustrates many of the issues at stake.

* The reason we can’t build affordable housing is chiefly structural, according to an article that also gives a recent history of industrial housing design:

What’s driving the high cost of houses today is not increased construction costs or higher profits (the Levitts made $1,000 on the sale of each house), but the cost of serviced land, which is much greater than in 1951. There are two reasons for this increase. The first is Proposition 13, the 1978 California ballot initiative that required local governments to reduce property taxes and limit future increases, and sparked similar taxpayer- driven initiatives in other states. Henceforth, municipalities were unable to finance the up- front costs of infrastructure in new communities, as they had previously done, and instead required developers to pay for roads and sewers, and often for parks and other public amenities as well. These costs were passed on to home buyers, drastically increasing the selling price of a house.

The other reason that serviced lots cost more is that there are fewer of them than the market demands. This is a result of widespread resistance to growth, the infamous not-in-my-backyard phenomenon, which is strongest in the Northeast, California, and the Northwest. Communities in growing metropolitan areas contend with increased urbanization, encroachment on open space, more neighbors, more traffic, and more school- age children.

Compare this to Virginia Postrel’s A Tale of Two Town Homes.

* We’ve written before about modern problems with bureaucrats. Such problems are hardly new: in the preface to The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne writes:

Suffice it here to say, that a Custom-House officer, of long continuance, can hardly be a very praiseworthy or respectable personage, for many reasons; one of them, the tenure by which he holds his situation, and another, the very nature of his business, which—though, I trust, an honest one—is of such a sort that he does not share in the united effort of mankind.

The oddest thing about the novel is how modern it seems in the subjects it treats and the way it portrays the subjectivity of its characters. The writing marks it from the 19th century, but in many other ways it is not.

* Mackerel Economics in Prison Leads to Appreciation for Oily Fillets from the Wall Street Journal has been making the blog rounds for good reason: it’s hilarious (“Elsewhere in the West, prisoners use PowerBars or cans of tuna, says Ed Bales, a consultant who advises people who are headed to prison.”) and insightful (using the specific example of prisons to demonstrate larger truths about the necessity of currency in virtually any non-hunter-gatherer culture). And how long have there been consultants who advise future prisoners?

* Speaking of the Wall Street Journal, it also published Giving Till It Works about “capitalistic philanthropy.” We’ve mentioned the issue with regard to Creative Capitalism, discussed tangent issues in Why Do People Give? And Other Unanswerable Questions, and brought up incentive problems in Foundations and the Future.

* Why is Mt. Denali in Alaska technically named McKinley by the federal government? I never thought I would care about the answer, either, but it sheds a great deal of light on politics, bureaucrats, history, culture, randomness, and infighting, as described by the Agitator.

* The New York Times reports on school reform efforts without discussing the enormous costs of some reforms, or the inherent scaling problems most such programs have had—just because a program with a small, extremely dedicated core of individuals manages to, for example, raise student achievement, that doesn’t mean that a larger program with less dedicated and less qualified staff do. Those two persistent issues have bedeviled attempts at reform, and there is no obvious way around them. Nonetheless, it’s still a positive sign that the issues are being more seriously discussed.

* Speaking of the New York Times, schools, and language, this could have come from a proposal:

The Equity Project Charter School (TEP) will open in September 2009 in Manhattan’s Washington Heights community, and it will aim to enroll middle school students at risk of academic failure. Students with the lowest test scores will be given admissions priority. In order to recruit the country’s top teachers to work with these at-risk students, the school’s founding principal will cut administrative costs and put a higher percentage of the school’s public funding into teacher salaries.

Notice the euphemistic “at risk of academic failure,” the choice to use the “most-in-need” model rather than the “most-likely-to-be-helped” model,” and the term “at-risk students” used again in the second sentence.

Posted on 1 Comment

Market Tanks, Donors Disappear, Corporate Givers Vanish: Not to Worry, This is a Great Time to Write Proposals

“Dow Down 500! Dow UP 400! Lehman Brothers Bankrupt! President Proposes $700 Billion Bailout!”* It’s not been easy reading the morning paper the last few weeks without spilling my coffee. This morning’s Wall Street Journal featured Nonprofits Brace for Slowdown in Giving, a scary article about the prospect of nonprofits not being able to raise funds. The intrepid reporters, Mike Spector and Shelly Banjo, say:

The failure of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and pain at other big firms threaten to cut into the corporate and individual donations that more than a million nonprofit organizations rely on for basic operations and charitable programs.

Then assorted nonprofits are trotted out with tales of woe and portents of looming, dire cuts to staff and programs. The United Way of New York City is even going to sponsor “a town hall meeting on the future of nonprofits.” Yikes—maybe the sky is falling. But the magic words “grants” and “grant writing” were absent. The article assumes, like most Americans, that nonprofits exist solely with donations, art auctions, direct mail and the like, forgetting the vast amount of funding available in the form of grants from federal, state and local governments, as well as foundations. While it will undoubtedly be harder for a nonprofit to get a wealthy donor to part with their money, particularly one with ties to the financial sector, there are plenty of foundations, including those related to such booming industries as oil and technology, with tons of grant funds available, as well as billions from all levels of government.

Nonprofit executives should stop worrying about their Christmas card sale fundraiser or silent auction of obscure art pieces by even more obscure artists and get busy conducting grant source research and grant writing, especially because the federal year ends September 30 and the flood of FY ’09 RFPs will arrive in short order like the buzzards returning to Hinckley, Ohio. In addition, the current chaos in the financial and housing sectors are sure to result in new programs and higher levels of funding for some existing programs, particularly those in various economic development and job training programs. For example, I would expect the Public Works and Economic Development Program of the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to get a big boost in its appropriation, which EDA will try mightily to spend quickly for the same reason nonprofits should spend their grant funds quickly. Seliger + Associates wrote lots of funded EDA grants in the mid-1990s, following the last big recession, for projects ranging from street construction in LA to rehabilitating a salmon cannery in Alaska. Similarly, expect lots of new money to be available from the Department of Labor for Youthbuild and other training programs. The bailout bill currently being negotiated between the Bush administration and Congress should be lit up like a Christmas tree with shiny “grant ornaments” before passing.

Even if I am wrong, however, and no new programs or unexpected funding results from the emerging recession, there are still plenty of grant funds available for nonprofits willing to put in the hard work to find them and apply. When economic times are good, it’s relatively easy for almost any nonprofit to lure the usual suspects** into donating. But times are not good; so, if want to keep your nonprofit going, stop worrying and start (grant) writing.

* My favorite quote on government funding was by the late Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, who famously may or may not have said,“A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money”.

** For a mind bending experience even harder than understanding federal regulations, see a truly great and surreal film, The Usual Suspects. Who was Keyser Soze, anyway?

Posted on 1 Comment

The Goal of Writing Objectives is to Achieve Positive Outcomes (Say What?)

Writing the goals and objectives section of a grant proposal is usually a daunting task for the novice grant writer. Compounding the challenge is that almost every government or foundation Request for Proposal (RFP) requires some statement of goals and objectives, and if not required, should be included in most cases. So, here is a short course in how to get over this hurdle.

First, it is critical that one does not confuse goals, objectives, and methods. A goal is an overall statement of intent, such as, “The overarching goal of the LHEAP (Left Handed Enrichment Action Project) initiative is to improve educational outcomes for at-risk left-handed youth in southwest Dubuque.” Note: I don’t mean to keeping picking on Dubuque in my posts, it’s just that as a kid growing up in Minneapolis with a kosher butcher father who always seemed to be ordering meat from a packing plant in Dubuque, it remains an exotic locale in my mind. Sorry for the Proustian reverie (In Search of Lost Time) and back to the subject at hand.

In contrast to goals, objectives are specific, measurable and time-framed products or outcomes of activities proposed for funding through the grant. Objectives are often separated into “process objectives” (sometimes called “formative”) and “outcome objectives” (sometimes called “summative”). Process objectives could include such statements as, “LHEAP will serve a minimum of 100 targeted left-handed youth annually.” Outcome objectives could include such statements as, “A minimum 10% increase in scores on the standardized Iowa Test of Arcane Academic Knowledge will be achieved annually by left-handed students who participate in project activities for a minimum of 10 hours per week over the nine-month school year. Methods are ways of accomplishing objectives, such as conducting individual assessments, providing tutoring, mentoring youth with mentors, offering family literacy to parents/caregivers, etc. Keep methods out of the goals/objectives section and discuss them in the project description section.

The secret to writing effective goal/objective sections is to use the time-honored KISS method, which is to “keep it simple stupid.” At the risk of going Proustian again, I first heard this term in Air Force basic training and it fits perfectly to this aspect of grant writing (for a nice discussion of the KISS method and the virtues of simplicity in general see a post on Ed Sim’s Blog (BeyondVC). By keeping it simple, I mean try hard to state a minimum number of goals (one simply stated goal is ideal), because a separate set of process and outcome objectives is needed for each goal statement. If you have multiple goals, you end up with something like this:

Goal 1

Project Objective 1.1

Process Objective 1.2

Outcome Objective 1.1

Outcome Objective 1.2

Goal 2

Project Objective 2.1

Process Objective 2.2

Outcome Objective 2.1

Outcome Objective 2.2

And so on.

You can see that with four or five goal statements, the objectives will be repetitive and you will likely not only confuse yourself, but also the reader. Having multiple goals also unnecessarily complicates writing evaluation sections (I will soon write a post on how to draft evaluation sections, another novice proposal writer nightmare). So, unless the RFP requires multiple goals, keep it simple and try not to confuse goals, objectives and methods.