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December Links: HUD, Emergency Solutions Grants, Boating Safety Grants, What’s Wrong with Liking Quiet Time, Real Dangers, Parents in Prison, Happy Porn Stars and More

* In a very important announcement, HUD has decided to

revise the regulations for the Emergency Shelter Grants program by establishing the regulations for the Emergency Solutions Grants program, which replaces the Emergency Shelter Grants program. The change in the program’s name, from Emergency Shelter Grants to Emergency Solutions Grants, reflects the change in the program’s focus from addressing the needs of homeless people in emergency or transitional shelters to assisting people to quickly regain stability in permanent housing after experiencing a housing crisis and/or homelessness.

Some observations:

1. The name change doesn’t matter.

2. This is only going to confuse people further.

3. This isn’t going to help people who actually need services, but:

4. It will certainly create more work for HUD bureaucrats.

* The Water Boating Safety Grants are out, and they’re now being provided under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Aren’t they supposed to be catching terrorists, not checking for life vests on dinghies?

* “The Quiet Ones.” This describes me, and wanting quiet sometimes makes me feel increasingly out of place, or out of time. The Hacker News discussion is also good, and Paul Graham said this:

I think the fundamental problem with noisy people is not that they’re inconsiderate, but that they don’t have any train of thought to interrupt, and they thus don’t realize the havoc they’re wreaking.

When I was living in Providence, working on On Lisp, I told my loud but well-meaning neighbors that I was writing a hard computer book, and that made them be quiet. Ordinary people can understand that you need quiet if you’re working on some specific, hard task, like doing math homework. What they don’t grasp is that someone would want their mind to work that way all the time, as a matter of course.

* “The attention paid to terrorism in the U.S. is considerably out of proportion to the relative threat it presents. That’s especially true when it comes to Islamic-extremist terror. Of the 150,000 murders in the U.S. between 9/11 and the end of 2010, Islamic extremism accounted for fewer than three dozen.” My favorite question when I hear people discussing the contemporary impact of terrorism is this: About how many Americans die in car accidents every year? If they don’t know the answer, they probably aren’t all that serious about evaluating real dangers and priorities.

* Coping with parents in prison.

* “Efforts to Curb Social Spending Face Resistance.”

* “The Real Estate Deal That Could Change the Future of Everything:” letting local people invest small amounts in local projects. The barriers are primarily regulatory.

* “Study: Porn stars aren’t ‘damaged:’ A report finds adult actresses are happier than the rest of us — and that being naked might lead to self-esteem.” This leads to the obvious question: Why do these stereotypes persist?

* Immigrants lead plunge in U.S. birth rate. This is actually a bigger problem than many people realize.

* “Cirque du Soleil’s extravagant ‘Iris’ will close Jan. 19.” We wrote a funded $4 million HUD UDAG about ten years ago for the parking for the theater component of this mixed use project in Hollywood for the now-defunct Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency. It wasn’t a very well designed project then and still isn’t.

* Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur–How to Publish a Book describes what I’m going to be doing and what you might be thinking about doing.

* Awesome: Soaring Rents Drive a Boom in Apartments.

* “Michigan Goes Right-to-Work.” As Yglesias says, “It’s only going to have a modest impact in the short-term, but far and away the biggest economic news of the week from a long-term perspective has got to be Michigan’s rather sudden transformation into a right-to-work state.”

* If Peter Thiel And Garry Kasparov Are Right, Then We’re In Trouble. I pre-ordered their book, The Blueprint.

* Related to the above link: “Teach U.S. kids to write code.” I would add, however, that we should teach it better than we teach, say, English, math and physics.

* My favorite recent weird RFP is the Black Duck Joint Venture Competitive Grant Program (BDJV). There are grants up to $120,000 and up to four available awards.

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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Offender Reentry Program and Prisoner Re-entry Initiative

In an August 24 blog post, we wrote:

Today, an organization that once worked solely on homeless issues might expand its area of expertise to related areas, like affordable housing, prisoner reentry, or foster care emancipation. The latter problem has gained some traction in recent years as various levels of government have come to realize that few 17-year-olds are ready to be self-supporting the moment they turn 18, resulting in in crime, drug use, and prostitution[…]

Now SAMHSA has released the FY 2009 Offender Reentry Program, with $8.2M available and grants to $400,000 per year; in 2008, the Prisoner Re-entry Initiative Grants was released. This is the kind of grant wave that smart agencies in tangential areas will attend to. I can only say: “Cowabunga—surf’s up!”

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Surfing the Grant Waves: How to Deal with Social and Funding Wind Shifts

In Mordecai Richler’s hilarious novel Barney’s Version, a discussion arises:

“We’ve got a problem this year. There’s been a decline in the number of anti-Semitic outrages.”
“Yeah. Isn’t that a shame,” I said.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m against anti-Semitism. But every time some asshole daubs a swastika on a synagogue wall or knocks over a stone in one of our cemeteries, our guys get so nervous they phone me with pledges.”

In some ways, the worse things are, the better they are for nonprofits, because funding is likely to follow the broad contours of social issues. For example, before the Columbine shooting, the vast majority of money for at-risk youth and after school programs targeted inner cities. A few years later, money began appearing for suburban and rural schools, the thinking being that now all teenagers were at risk simply by virtue of being teenagers. A case in point is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which emerged around the time of Columbine; we’ve written at least a dozen or so funded grants, mostly in non-inner city areas. In fact, one funded 21st CCLC grant we wrote served Aspen, CO—an area not usually seen as a hotbed of social needs.

It’s not even clear that the conventional wisdom of the rationale behind the programs, which attacked the conventional wisdom of what was supposedly behind the shootings, was correct, as argues here. But for grant writing purposes, that’s less important than noticing the direction of the grant winds. If you were a suburban school district trying to fund, say, an art programs, and you read the Federal Register, you might’ve noticed new funding or shifts in emphasis. You could’ve combined your art program with nominal academic support, thus widening your program focus enough to make a plausible applicant for the 21st CCLC program and thus getting the money to carry out your central purpose: art.

This isn’t to say that you should fraudulently misrepresent what you do, because you shouldn’t, or that it’s necessary to change your program’s purpose haphazardly; you want to notice the wind but not necessarily be driven by it. Nonetheless, smart nonprofits find ways of getting the grant funds they need by shackling one idea to another, more fundable idea, particularly if “fundable” means a live RFP is on the street. Sometimes clients have ideas for programs they want to run that can be made vastly more fundable with relatively minor tweaks. We often suggest and execute those tweaks.

It’s not uncommon for nonprofits to shift their focus with time, funding, and opportunities. This will correlate to some extent with the general media landscape. To use another trend, homeless programs were more prevalent in the late 80s and early 90s. Today, an organization that once worked solely on homeless issues might expand its area of expertise to related areas, like affordable housing, prisoner reentry, or foster care emancipation. The latter problem has gained some traction in recent years as various levels of government have come to realize that few 17-year-olds are ready to be self-supporting the moment they turn 18, resulting in in crime, drug use, and prostitution as common outcomes among this population, as depicted in Charles Bock’s novel Beautiful Children.

Finally, organizations that pursue grants in other areas should remember that administrative funds from one area might end up subsidizing another; this commonly happens with service contracts, such as substance abuse treatment and foster care and can also occur with grants. In the near future, Isaac is going to describe how and why to acquire a Federally Approved Cost Allocation Plan and resulting Indirect Cost Rate, which is a great way to secure general purpose administrative funds to support multi-program operations. By pursuing grants related to your nominal field of expertise, you can in effect diversify and avoid major problems if there’s a decline in your version of the number of anti-Semitic outrages. Don’t put all your investments in a single stock, and don’t invest all your grant writing and service energy in a single cause, lest you discover that specialization has led you to an evolutionary dead end.