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President Obama Announces That “Now is the Time to Stop Gun Violence.” It is?

In response to the recent Sandy Hook massacre, the Obama Administration has launched a marketing and legislative campaign called “Now is the time—to do something about gun violence” (if the website doesn’t load quickly or properly, download the .pdf from us), but the most interesting parts of the plan for nonprofit and public agencies are likely to be the least discussed in the media. Presumably the proposals to ban high-capacity magazines and mandate background checks on gun buyers will generate the usual responses on news sites and Facebook, but there’s also a section devoted to “Making schools safer” and “Increasing access to mental health services”—both of which mean money, as we predicted in “Sandy Hook School Shootings Tragedy Likely to Lead to New Grant Opportunities for School Security, After School and Mental Health Project Concepts.”

Though you won’t find most of this information emphasized in the major media coverage, a lot of the money will go to school districts and police departments. For example, “Now is the time” proposes a bunch of money for schools, including:

  • “Congress should provide $30 million of one-time grants to states to help their school districts develop and implement emergency management plan.”
  • “The Administration is proposing a new, $50 million initiative to help 8,000 more schools train their teachers and other school staff to implement [safety] strategies.”
  • “The Administration is calling for a new initiative, Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), to provide this training and set up systems to provide [mental health] referrals.”
  • “Congress should provide $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety, conflict resolution programs, and other school-based violence prevention strategies.”

Not all of these programs will necessarily be funded, but they’re the kinds of programs that are hard to oppose:* Democrats in Congress and the Obama Administration will argue that voting against whatever bills get cooked up are votes against kids and cops, both of whom poll well.

These programs are also cheap (by Congressional standards), which makes them politically palatable. Discussing the political possibilities for gun safety rules is beyond the scope of this blog, but there is a chance that Congress will attempt to separate the grant programs from the gun safety rules.

In addition to grants for school districts, the Community-Oriented Policing Services Program (COPS) will “provid[e] a preference for grant applications that support school resource officers.” Plus, many of the schools that submit proposals to “a new Comprehensive School Safety program,” will also need letters of support from police departments (and the sub-contracts that often go with those letters), because the program

will help school districts hire staff and make other critical investments in school safety. The program will give $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire school resource officers, school psychologists, social workers, and counselors.

At one point, there was a variant of COPS that was designed specifically for School Resource Officers (“SROs” in the trade); we wrote a couple of them years ago, but the program disappeared and apparently isn’t remembered by the White House staffers who wrote the the Plan.

(A word on COPS: Not all departments love COPS grants, because almost all police departments are unionized, making it very difficult to lay off cops if or when money streams dry up. If you hire a cop for three years, you’ve got her for thirty. As a result, most departments, regardless of what they say about making sure their application will supplement, not supplant, existing officers, only hire cops who they already wanted to hire. Or they use the money to re-hire cops who’ve already been laid off).

Taken together, this suite of proposals should get cities, school districts, police departments, and their nonprofit partners thinking about how they’ll respond when RFPs start hitting the streets.

EDIT: Smart applicants to these kinds of programs should also be thinking about the kinds of language they want to use in proposals for programs that are designed to address contentious issues, because linguistic framing can be an important aspect of proposal success. To see one example of linguistic framing, read Molly Ball’s “Don’t Call It ‘Gun Control’,” which is about the failure of the term “gun control” in the political and marketing arenas. We’ve written about such issues tangentially, in “What to do When Research Indicates Your Approach is Unlikely to Succeed: Part I of a Case Study on the Community-Based Abstinence Education Program RFP,” but the topic as a whole might merit a post of its own.

* Programs that are “hard to oppose” tend to be attached to large-scale Federal efforts, even if you don’t read about them in newspapers; in 2009, for example, Isaac wrote “Looking at the Stimulus Bill from a Grant Writer’s Perspective,” which mentions how the Stimulus Bill was lit up with ornaments for construction spending, COPS, YouthBuild, PHAs, NSP, and other programs.

Congresspeople like to include discretionary grants in larger bills because the Congressperson can then go home and announce that they got millions of dollars for cause X. From the Federal point of view, this money doesn’t mean a lot but does give them some political cover. From an applicant’s point of view, however, programs like these offer a way to fund activities that simply wouldn’t be funded otherwise, or that would have to come from more important funding streams.

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Gun Violence and Grants: Echos of Sandy Hook in Philadelphia and Chicago

I recently wrote about the likely impact of the tragic Sandy Hook shooting on grant making and seeking, which is why this CNN piece about ongoing gun violence in inner-city Philadelphia and Chicago in the context of Sandy Hook resonated with me.

Unlike the sudden impact of Sandy Hook, which captured the nation’s attention and created a focused debate on gun violence, the thousands of poor black and brown youth and young adults who are shot every year in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago barely perturb our collective consciousness. One can speculate on complex issues of class, race and media incompetence that may be the cause of this curious and enervating dichotomy, but my task as a blogger is simpler: what does this mean for the world of grants?

It means that there is wealth of grant opportunities in communities affected by gun violence, whether it be the random act of an apparent madman in an affluent exurb or the everyday grind of a generation coming up lying bleeding on the streets of disadvantaged neighborhoods. The CNN article discusses one such effort, the Cradle to Grave program of Temple University Hospital.

Cradle to Grave uses a scared straight in which mostly African American and low-income youth are invited into the hospital to hear trauma staff talk about what happens to a shooting victim and see the trauma teams in action. The visit culminates with a visit to the hospital morgue.

This is a great example of applying an existing project concept, “scared straight,” to a persistent problem and shows how program development should work. The Cradle to Grave program seems to have significant funding from such funders as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation, as well as sufficiently good PR to get on CNN.

This project concept, or ones like it, could be replicated in your community in part by tying them into larger trends and media narratives. Alert nonprofits will be able to write more compelling proposals when they find a way to connect local issues to national debates.

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Sandy Hook School Shootings Tragedy Likely to Lead to New Grant Opportunities for School Security, After School and Mental Health Project Concepts

The recent tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT will likely lead to new grant opportunities in school safety, safer facilities, and safety training, as well as mental health and at-risk youth services. It is a sad reality that shocking events often result in new grant programs and increased funding for existing programs, largely because politicians are chronically infected with “do something disease.” Even when the “something” will not necessarily change the dynamic leading to the problem, people feel better when something is being done and politicians are more than happy to oblige.

In the area of gun violence, we last saw this basic phenomenon following the Columbine School School Massacre in 1999. This was the first of what turned out to be a so-far unending series of similar school-based mass shootings. Most Americans were stunned by Columbine, particularly since it occurred in an upper-middle-class community with few obvious social problems facing youth.

Nonetheless, two teens decided to attack their peers because, as Dave Cullen describes in Columbine, one was a violent sociopath and the other was essentially in his thrall. Suddenly, it became clear that more or less all American youth were “at-risk” and the grant floodgates opened for nonprofits and schools interested in trying new approaches to reaching kids, even middle and upper middle class kids, with a variety of approaches.

The 21 Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program was one beneficiary of the national debate following Columbine. Funding for the 21st CCLC program, which was new at the time, was dramatically increased following Columbine. Even more importantly for many applicants, the Department of Education became very interested in funding 21st CCLC projects in relatively affluent areas, so much so that a special funding category for “suburban” schools was established.

While it later evolved to have an academic enrichment focus, the original idea behind the 21st CCLC program was essentially to keep kids in the school setting longer each day. The concept was to provide a safe place for them after school, while making sure they didn’t have enough unsupervised free time to build bombs and steal guns to bring back to school the next day. When the program was block granted to the states about seven years ago, a veneer of academic support was emphasized to both glam up the program and respond to the No Child Left Behind Act’s academic requirements.

We’ve written dozens of funded 21st CCLC grant proposals over the years, including one for a very affluent school district in Colorado not too far from Columbine. Yes, we shamelessly invoked Columbine in this proposal, as well as in other 21st CCLC and other at-risk youth proposals—particularly for projects in middle and middle upper class communities. We continue to do so, but now will add Sandy Hook as another example that even affluent kids face a daunting gantlet* of problems that make them at-risk and in need of wraparound supportive services.** This doesn’t diminish the enormity of the tragedy, but it does provide context and a salient example that reviewers will recognize.

In addition to 21st CCLC, many other federal and state grant programs were created after Columbine to fund such project concepts as hardened school security systems, disaster planning, school resource officers (cops that work in schools) and the like. When Congress returns in January, I expect to see new funding emerge for school safety and at-risk youth programs.

This is because there is a qualitative difference between Sandy Hook and other recent school shootings–in this case, not only were the victims from affluent families, but they were also mostly children. Citizens will demand action and about the only politically neutral and easy action governments can take is to expand funding for services that might help prevent other similar tragedies. “Politically neutral and easy” leaves aside the political minefield of more stringent gun control laws, a subject which is beyond the scope of this post and this blog.

If your nonprofit is concerned with these issues and has the capacity to make a local difference, use your holiday downtime to get your staff and board members together to brainstorm an innovative project concepts that might be relevant to upcoming grant opportunities. As Rahm Emanuel famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”***

* Free proposal phrase here. I know you think it should be daunting “gauntlet,” but that would make it a challenging glove. The word you’re looking for is gantlet. EDIT: Actually, as this commenter points out, either has become correct.

** Another free proposal phrase here.

*** It’s also possible that we’ll start to see changes in the mental health system, since so many shooters have been involved with the mental health system prior to committing their crimes. As Liza Long writes in Thinking the Unthinkable, “When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime.” That needs to change.