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Hurricane Sandy and the Election Combine to Blow Away the RFPs

Dedicated readers of our e-mail grant newsletter have probably noticed how slender it’s been over the last four weeks. The newsletter isn’t slender because we’re reluctant to share grant opportunities with you—it’s slender because federal and state governments haven’t been issuing very many RFPs, and they’ve been issuing even fewer interesting RFPs of the sort that nonprofit and public agencies are likely to apply for. Whatever the merits of, say, the Tunisia Community College Scholarship Program or Research Using Biosamples from Selected Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Studies, they’re undeniably specialized programs that are unlikely to interest the vast majority of our subscribers.

Like any good grant Kremlinologists, we have to admit that we don’t know everything and can only make reasonable inferences based on limited data. With that caveat in mind, our best guess about the RFP drought is that DC has been hit with two major punches: Hurricane Sandy and the election. The former hasn’t done too much damage to Washington itself, but preparing for it set the city back by a couple of days, and the Northeast corridor still hasn’t recovered. The situation is sufficiently bad that deadlines are also being extended because of the chaos in the Northeast. The Race To The Top—District (RTTT-D) program, for example, had its deadline extended, but at first the Department of Education didn’t give a new deadline. The actual extension dates—Nov. 2 for everyone else and Nov. 7 for those affected by Sandy—took a couple of days.

The election shouldn’t directly impact the grant cycle, but it does because DC is a company town, and everyone in the town is waiting to see what’s going to happen at the top. Although the civil service employees who actually run grant competitions won’t be directly affected by the winners and losers of Tuesday’s elections, their political appointee masters will be, and the tenor of what’s happening in each department may change. As a result, it’s not infrequent to see this kind of federal torpor right before an election, and that, we think, is why you’ve seen such thin newsletters recently. Not to worry, though, because there should be a “storm surge” of RFPs when the bureaucracy rises from its election lassitude.

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) Appears at Last

Subscribers to the Seliger Funding Report saw that the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) is this week’s featured grant. The program is significant and worth examining for a few reasons, including the massive amount of money available (nearly $2 billion) and how it illustrates some of the problems with disseminating and spending stimulus money in a timely manner.

The idea behind the stimulus funding is that it’s supposed to happen quickly. Last December, Isaac wrote a post on the subject:

Our client has been going to endless meetings to discuss the NSP program and is still waiting around for the amended action plans to be approved. […]

This sad tale of woe does not make me optimistic about the really big stimulus programs that will emerge from Congress shortly. While it will be Fat City for grant writers and lots of grants will be available for frisky nonprofit and public agencies, don’t expect the funds to fix many problems.

It’s now six months later, and the RFP has finally hit the street. The deadline is July 17, which is sweet for the agencies applying but not so good on the timeliness front. Once awards are made, contracts are signed, and programs begin operating in earnest, it could well be December again. Isaac also quoted a Wall Street Journal article from December that’s as timely today as it was then, which should demonstrate the sense of urgency emanating from HUD.

Another point: HUD has apparently abandoned You won’t find the actual RFP on—you’ll only find a link to Even then, the RFP is still difficult to find because you’ll find a giant scrolling banner, a link to a press release, and a news story about NSP, which is why we always include links, like the the one in the first paragraph of this post, that go straight to the RFP. In addition, HUD will only accept paper submissions:

Deadline for Receipt of Application: July 17, 2009. Applications must be received via paper submission to the Robert C. Weaver HUD Headquarters building by 5:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. […]

Timely submission shall be evidenced via a delivery service receipt or a postal receipt with date and time stamp indicating that the application was delivered to a carrier service at least 48 hours prior to the application deadline…

Those of you with a sense of history and irony will find this amusing because was among the first (if not the first) agencies to require submissions. That HUD won’t even accept them anymore might tell you something about the problems we’ve discussed extensively.

Finally, this application is an example of HUD going both ways with funding distribution: some NSP funds are being passed through to states and counties via block grant, as described in Getting Your Piece of the Infrastructure Pie: A How-To Guide for the Perplexed, while this program notice says that “NSP2 funds will be awarded through competitions whose eligible applicants include states, units of general local government, nonprofits, and consortia of nonprofits. Any applicant may apply with a for-profit entity as its partner.” Sounds good to us!

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Studio Executives, Starlets, and Funding: Part II

In Part I of “Studio Executives, Starlets, and Funding,” I began by responding to a commenter who said:

<blockquote>I cannot shake the observation that to get a grant you must tell people with the money what they want to hear […] But there seems to be no objective criteria by which these grants are awarded […]</blockquote>

Today I’ll mostly deal with the second part.

You’ll sometimes find objective criteria and sometimes not. The former usually corresponds to government grants and the latter more often to foundation/corporate giving sources. The thing is, you can’t generalize the myriad of funders in the grant universe. Most federal grants will have points and criteria, and the more diligently you work to fulfill those criteria the better off you’ll be. I just looked at our email grant newsletter and found the “Smaller Learning Communities Program.”

Follow that link to “V. Application Review Information,” where you’ll find a list of criteria with point values. The agencies with the most points get funding. With most Federal, state, and local government grants, some number of proposals will be funded; it’s not like the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, which doesn’t give awards if the judges consider no novel or story collection worthy.

If the funder says they’re offering $500,000 for after school supportive services, and you want to provide prison rehabilitation and drug abuse reentry services to adult offenders, you’ve got the wrong funding source. Sometimes there’s a middle ground—if you want to provide bilingual education, you might apply to my hypothetical program by saying you’re going to deliver after school supportive services in two languages to at-risk youth. Now you’ve told the funding source what they want to hear and you’ve done what you want, so barring other considerations you’re at least in the running to be funded.

Contrast that with most foundation sources: they often give broad guidelines, you submit proposals, wait, and hope for a phone call or letter. You seldom get point lists, but you’ll often get guidelines. If they say they only fund in Cupertino, San Francisco, and Northern California, and you’re in San Diego, you’ve at the very least discovered that the funder is unlikely to be interested in you. If you want to raise your probability of being funded, look for funders who are interested in San Diego.

But it’s their money, it’s a free country, and as long as a foundation distributes 5% of its assets to something vaguely charitable each year they can do what they want, including violating their own guidelines. More often than not, the best you’ll be able to do is submit a complete and technically accurate proposal written to the best of your ability with whatever attachments and paperwork they ask for. If they want a two-page letter, don’t send them an eight-page proposal, and the same if the reverse is true. I keep repeating the phrase “complete and technically accurate proposal” for a reason: people who do it are more likely to get funded than not, and you can rage against the opacity of funding sources if you want to, but probably won’t get you funded. Note how “probably” creeps into my post.

Do whatever you can to increase the probability of your application being reviewed favorably. Chances are, if you follow the snarky golden rule (“He who has the gold makes the rules”), you’re more likely to be funded. After all, he who has the gold makes the rules. But even if you follow the rules, you might not be funded. That’s just how it goes, and if you accept that and keep applying and working at what you’re doing, you’ll eventually succeed.

But nobody knows anything, including me. Good luck.

(COMING ATTRACTION: Make sure you apply to programs you actually want to run! See it in theaters and on this website soon!)