Tag Archives: (i3)

Rock Chalk, Collapse: Another Grant Writing Lesson from Basketball as Seen in the Investing in Innovation (i3) and Administration for Native Americans Social and Economic Development Strategies (ANA SEDS) Programs

For KU basketball fans, the unthinkable happened yesterday. Our beloved Jayhawks, pre-season Number One and end-of-season Number One in the polls, winner of the Big 12 regular season and tournament and picked by the Bracketologist-in-Chief, President Obama, to win the NCAA championship, lost in the second round to the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). Despite all the predictions and prognostications over the past year, KU still had to win its tournament games but ran into a feisty foe in 9th seeded UNI and lost.

Faithful readers will remember that I drew lessons for grant writers from KU’s spectacular championship win two years ago in Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, KU! — Lessons from Basketball for Grant Writers. There is also a significant lesson to be learned from KU’s improbable flop this year. Although KU has been the favorite all year, the would-be NCAA champion must win six games in a row, sometimes against teams like UNI that haven’t gotten the memo saying they can’t win. The same phenomenon often happens in grant writing. Two cases on point:

* Our new-old friend, Investing in Innovation Fund (i3): We’ve blogged about i3 several times. This is an enormous program with huge grants that has been tantalizing LEAs and youth services nonprofits since the Stimulus Bill passed last year. I’ve had lots of recent calls along the lines of, “Will our organization have any chance of funding, since there’ll be so many applicants?” My usual response is more or less the following:

Sure, at this moment, 5,000 organizations probably think they will apply. By the time the May 11 deadline arrives, 2,000 of these will have given up, so maybe 3,000 applications will go in. Since the RFP is fantastically complex, about half of the submitted applications will be thrown out as technically incorrect. The Department of Education says 220 grants will be made. Instead of an individual applicant’s odds of being funded being 4.4%, the odds are probably three times higher, or 14.6%.

But this assumes that all scored applicants have the chance of being funded, which is of course not true, as funding decisions involve lots of factors other than raw scores, such as geography, politics, service to racial and ethnic groups, past funding history and on and on. Nonetheless, many applicants will be scared away because of the assumed competition. About two weeks ago, I received a call from the development director of a large ethnic-specific advocacy organization headquartered in D.C., with affiliates around the country. He told me the organization planned to submit three i3 proposals and I gave him the fee quotes.

This week, he called me back to let me know that for internal reasons, they’ve decided to not submit any i3 proposals, even though the Department of Education has informally encouraged them to apply. This is an example of three of the 5,000 possible applications melting away before the deadline. The same pattern is unfolding across the country and who know how many other organizations will give up before May 11.

* Our old-old friend, the Administration for Native Americans Social and Economic Development Strategies (ANA SEDS) Program: This program has been around for decades and we’ve written lots of funded ANA SEDS grants over the years. For whatever reason, when the ANA SEDS FOA was issued a few weeks ago, there turned out to only be $6,500,000 available, which is substantially less in previous years. Right on schedule, I received a phone call from the executive director of a Native American organization who wanted a fee quote but was concerned about whether they should apply because “there is so little money available this year.” I asked her if she thought other possible applicants would also be discouraged by the small amount of money up for grabs. She said yes and I said she had answered her own question: the small amount available probably means fewer applicants, improving her chances. She hired us.

Whether there is lot of money (i3) or little money (ANA SEDS) to be had in a given RFP process, don’t be discouraged if it is a program that your organization wants to run (and read our previous two posts on the subject). No matter what the imagined odds, apply anyway. Just as teams have to play the games to win the NCAA Tournament, your organization cannot get a grant unless a technically correct and compelling proposal is prepared and submitted on time.

Poor little UNI could have forfeited the game in the face of mighty KU, but they played well enough to win on that particular day, even though they probably will lose the next ten in a row. David only needed one well placed stone to take down Goliath, and your organization only needs one well prepared proposal to bag a big federal grant. Although I am a KU fan, if I was scoring yesterday’s game in the way a reviewer scores a federal proposal, I would have given the game to UNI, even if KU had caught them at the end, because they played a better game.

The Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) Notice Inviting Applications Finally Appears

NOTE: The Notices Inviting Applications (NIA) for Fiscal Year 2011 are now available. It took the Department of Education a year and three months to issue the second round, but I suppose that’s better than never.

Subscribers to our e-mail grant newsletter saw that the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) RFP was (finally) released on Friday by the Department of Education, with a deadline of May 11. We’ve already written about i3 twice, including a post about its similarity to other Department of Education programs, like Goals 2000. We’ve also found one nasty trick in the RFP in our first reading.

Virtually every Department of Education RFP has a section at the start that clearly states what types of organizations are eligible applicants. This one doesn’t. Instead, the i3 RFP says on page 8 of 29 that:

Applicant means the entity that applies for a grant under this program on behalf of an eligible applicant (i.e., an LEA or a partnership in accordance with section 14007(a)(1)(B) of the ARRA).

What’s a partnership? Are nonprofits on their own eligible? If you find section 14007 in the American Recovery and Relief Act full text, you’ll see that the legislation is completely clear that an eligible entity is:

(A) a local educational agency; or
(B) a partnership between a nonprofit organization and—
(i) one or more local educational agencies; or
(ii) a consortium of schools.

(Emphasis added.)

So an LEA has to be involved for a nonprofit to apply, but presumably several schools could apply even if their respective districts were not involved in the project. Interesting, but curious. The text at the very beginning of the RFP lists the entities blockquoted above but doesn’t specifically say they are the eligible organizations. There are probably other gotchas too, despite the fact that ARRA was passed in February 2009. We first wrote about i3 in November 2009. The proposals won’t be reviewed until July 2010—almost 18 months after ARRA, which was designed to provide immediate stimulus fund to the economy, passed in Congress.

Another notable aspect to the i3 application process is that the grant writer has to understand the relevant sections of 407-page ARRA, the 29-page RFP, the 76-page application with lots of complex forms, and (get ready for it) the 212-page Final Priorities Notice. While i3 is a great opportunity with tons of money up for grabs, preparing a technically correct proposal will be fantastically complicated and not for the faint-of-heart or inexperienced grant writer. If you’ve never written a Dept. of Education proposal before, this is not a good starter. Isaac uses three monitors as a matter of course; I use two; but you probably need five to have all these documents open at once. Writer beware.

Where Have All the RFPs Gone?

Subscribers to our Free Grant Alerts will probably have noticed relatively few large federal RFPs so far in this fiscal year, which began October 1. To paraphrase Peter, Paul & Mary, Where Have All The RFPs Gone?. I assume this dearth is because federal program officers are still churning through the tidal wave of Stimulus Bill proposals submitted in the last fiscal year. I predicted this problem in Stimulus Bill Passes: Time for Fast and Furious Grant Writing and said . . .

Unfortunately, we don’t have a National Guard of Program Officers who train one weekend a month shuffling papers to be ready to answer the call. That means Federal agencies will find themselves up to their eyeballs in spending authority with existing staff levels pegged at much smaller budgets.

Since federal agencies are running their regular programs while trying to spend additional Stimulus Bill funding and implementing entirely new programs, one imagines that our cadre of GS 10s and 11s, who are supposed to move the endless paperwork associated with shoveling federal funds out the door, simply have not gotten around to the FY ’10 RFP processes.

For example, just about every LEA and youth services nonprofit is waiting breathlessly for the Department of Education’s enormous and well-publicized Investing in Innovations (i3) Fund to be issued. The i3 program website still says, “The Department of Education anticipates accepting applications in early 2010, with all applications due in early spring of 2010. The department will obligate all i3 funding by September 30, 2010.” Hmmmm. Early 2010 has come and gone, so there is no chance that having proposals due in “early spring” is going to happen. But the Department of Education will still try to obligate i3 funds by the end of the fiscal year. This means that when the i3 RFP is finally issued, it will be during a fantastically busy time because the Department of Education has not issued most of their other programs either.

One indicator of the likely chaos at the Department of Education: the planned competitions for the Talent Search (TS) and Education Opportunity Centers (EOC), two of the very large “TRIO Programs”, “have been delayed. At this time, the Department expects to have a closing date for TS and EOC applications in fall 2010.” No sign yet of the annual RFP process for the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) either. We’ve been hired to write several PEP proposals and have been told by clients that the RFP will be issued in early April. On the PEP website, the last “funding status” information is from 2006!

The Department of Education is not alone in being tardy this year. We have yet to see any of the 30 or so NOFAs that HUD issues every year, any SAMHSA RFAs, few Department of Labor SGAs and almost no Department of Energy FOAs. We are also waiting for the DHHS Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (OAPP) to issue the FY ’10 RFP for their new teen pregnancy program. It was funded in the DHHS departmental budget authorization last fall but has yet to emerge. This program will be sex education/family planning-based, rather than abstinence-based, which has been the federal funding focus in teen pregnancy in recent years.

We know OAPP is coming because one of our clients, for whom we have written funded abstinence-based grants was contacted by their OAPP Program Officer to encourage them to switch approaches and apply for the new program. We’ve been hired to write the proposal when OAPP awakes from its slumber. As is said in Jamaica, “Soon come.” Just for fun, follow this link to the DHHS “FY ’10 Grants Forecast Page” and see what you get. That’s right, a blank page! This is not unusual, as most federal agencies will not tell you in advance when RFPs will be issued.

While you’re waiting for FY ’10 RFPs to blossom, figure out what funds will be available for your organization in the next several months and do everything you can to get ready to write the proposals. For most federal programs, the application period this year will be short.

Acronym Confusion at the Department of Education: Does i3 Mean “Innovation through Institutional Integration” or “Investing in Innovation Fund?”

(EDIT: Note that the i3 RFP discussed below has finally been released, as discussed at the link.)

The “Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program” program solicitation says that it’s part of the “Institutional Integration (I3)” program, which immediately made me think of the i3 programs that Isaac wrote about here. I sent him an e-mail saying, “the i3 RFPs are starting to be released!”

“Not so fast, young Skywalker,” he replied (young Skywalker is how the Emperor and Darth Vader refer to Luke in Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi): the Department of Education must be running out of acronyms, because I3 is different from i3. The first stands for “Innovation through Institutional Integration,” while the second stands for “Investing in Innovation Fund.” The only difference between the two acronyms is the capitalization of the letter “i.” Maybe someone is taking lessons from Steve Jobs.

I can’t be the only person who is going to be confused, given the similarity. Since millions of potential acronyms exist out there, how does the Department of Education come up with two nearly identical acronyms for programs that already sound similar? If they must recycle an acronym, they should pick ECOMCOM (Emergency Communications Control), the central mystery in the pretty good 1964 film, Seven Days in May.

Perhaps the Department of Education is using Unix-style case-sensitive acronyms, in which you have to pay attention to whether you’re getting a capital-I cubed or a lower-case-i cubed. As the Wikipedia entry on filenames says, “In most file systems in Unix-like systems… upper-case and lower-case are considered different, so that files MyName and myname would be valid names for different files concurrently in the same directory.” When you’re thinking Department of Education, think Unix, with all the user friendliness that entails. Consider this a public service announcement that clarifies the difference.

Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) is the same as it ever was

As grant writers, we usually don’t pay much attention to new grant programs as they move through the regulation writing process, since we are focused on writing proposals, not the policy minutia of federal regs. A caller last week, however, got me to look at the birthing of the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), and I fell in love with this cute little grant puppy, eyes closed and all.

I immediately liked the fact that a lower case “i” is used in the name, which leads me to believe that perhaps archey the cockroach of archey and mehitabel fame, who jumped from the top of a typewriter to write his stories and couldn’t use the shift key, was involved in the development of the program. Part of the almost already forgotten American Recovery and Relief Act (ARRA, or otherwise known as the Stimulus Bill), i3 will offer up $650 million to “start or expand research-based innovative programs that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for students.” This is music to a grant writer’s ears because we could make just about any education project concept work for this nebulous description. Even better, both Local Education Agencies (“LEAs” = school districts in FedSpeak) and nonprofits are eligible.

This is just the latest in a long series of Department of Education grant programs that purport to do more or less the same thing, with few discernible results. i3 projects are supposed to:

  • improve K-12 achievement and close achievement gaps;
  • decrease dropout rates;
  • increase high school graduation rates; and
  • improve teacher and school leader effectiveness.

If there are any “research-based” strategies to accomplish any of the above, let me know, because in 38 years of writing endless Department of Education proposals, I’m not aware of them. If you think I am just a cynical grizzled grant writer, take a gander at the first four of the eight goals for the definitely forgotten Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which was passed in 1994 with much folderol:

By the Year 2000 –

  • All children in America will start school ready to learn.
  • The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
  • All students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics an government, economics, the arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our nation’s modern economy.
  • United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.

While Goals 2000 didn’t achieve any of its goals, or much of anything else in the real world for that matter, we wrote lots of funded Goals 2000 proposals and look forward to a target rich environment when the i3 RFP is published this winter. Perhaps archey should have named this effort “goals2010imeangoals2020imeandgoals2030” instead, or for that matter, g2. Attention school district and education-oriented nonprofits: as the Captain of the U-Boot in Das Boot said, “Good Hunting.”

While Secretary Duncan announced i3, and to paraphrase Joni Mitchell in a “Free Man in Paris” the rest of the Department of Education “grantmaker machinery behind the popular program” continues to rumble on. A case in point is the Student Support Services (SSS) program, for which a RFP was recently issued with a due date of December 14. There is $268 million available for SSS, but no fanfare from Secretary Duncan.

Why? It’s simple–nobody pays attention to the old dog when a new puppy appears. SSS is one of the seven “TRIO” programs that fund various initiatives to “assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to postbaccalaureate programs.” We’ve written lots of funded TRIO grants over the years. Some TRIO programs, like SSS, are aimed at college students, while others, like Talent Search and Upward Bound, focus on middle and high school students. Hmmm, methinks I could write an i3 proposal that mimics a TRIO proposal without the Department of Education figuring it out.

The reason that SSS causes little excitement, despite the enormous amount of money available, is that it’s been around since the Johnson administration! Everyone is rushing around to pat the i3 puppy on the head, while the old dog SSS barely gets noticed. At Seliger + Associates, however, we love all Department of Education dogs equally and are carefully grooming proposals for our SSS clients while we wait for i3 to be whelped.

I could go on with other Department of Education programs that have more or less the same purpose as i3 (e.g., Title I, Title III, No Child Left Behind, Smaller Learning Communities, Partnership Academies), but you get the idea. Regardless of the likely failure of this latest education reform effort, i3 is another great example of why this is such a wonderful time for grant writing, as I’ve been writing about in various blog posts since the Great Recession started a year ago. Given the various youth and other recession-based horror stories I cited recently in There’s Something Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What It Is, Do You Mr. Jones?, you can be assured that many more grant programs are gestating as I write this. The time to plan (or apply) is now, so that your public agency or nonprofit organization can swoop in. As the Talking Heads put it in “Once in a Lifetime”, for the Department of Education and other federal agencies, it’s “same as it ever was.”