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Processes and Outcomes: The Shape of Another Grant Wave, featuring HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative

Social and human service proposals are usually geared toward outcomes: you’re going to get a grant to provide after school services to at-risk youth, which will reduce the number of them who drop out of high school or get unfortunate tattoos they’ll later regret by 25%. To apply, you’re going to write a proposal based loosely on the same format discussed in “Project NUTRIA: A Study in Project Concept Development,” except you’re going to give academic enrichment and life skills training to at-risk youth instead of having them hunt nutria.

But you’ll sometimes face RFPs that don’t want you to provide direct services: they want you to improve your organization’s process, evaluate community needs, or otherwise do something to that effect. You’ll get RFPs that ask you to primarily engage in process: developing curricula, engaging in social change, running planning charettes, and so forth. Process grants are designed to further the organization’s capability—they might be for training staff, for coordinating development, or community engagement.

We’ve seen more of those RFPs lately. For example, the Promise Neighborhoods Program doesn’t require you to provide services—it requires you to evaluate your neighborhood and see what kinds of services it might need. The RFP is almost all needs section and very little project description.

This is also true of its more recent cousins. You can expect RFPs that emphasize things like “planning” to be mostly process oriented. This week’s Grant Alert e-newsletter, for example, contains the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative–Planning Grants, which certainly means “planning” as opposed to “implementation.”

In process grants, you should remember that activities, outcomes, and objectives are often all the same: you’re planning what to do later, not what’s going to happen now. Your “outcome” is whether you planned successfully. Part of your job, as a grant writer, is to realize which you’re doing. Outcome-oriented programs are far more common than process-oriented ones, but if you’re applying for a process-oriented program, don’t write it like you’re focused on outcomes. Sure, you might want to mention ultimate outcomes, but you primarily want to discuss the journey to get there.

EDIT: For another example, consider the USDA’s 2010 program, Hunger-Free Communities Grants:

There are two models of grants: planning and assessment grants and implementation grants. A community may only apply for one model of grant as part of this grant solicitation; however, those communities receiving a planning and assessment grant may apply for an implementation grant in a future year if additional funds are made available to continue this program.

The difference between this USDA RFP and many others is that this one makes explicit what many others assume the grant writer knows.