Tag Archives: Tools

Tools continued: Be careful when you buy from Amazon

As a follow-up to our last post about tools we use, we’ll offer a cautionary note about buying equipment from Amazon. I’ve had several bad experiences with Amazon and we now only purchase generic items and books from Amazon. We try to buy from the manufacturer, because Amazon often ships fake or counterfeit items; the problem has been widely reported, but Amazon appears not to have done much about it. Slate has written about the plague of cheap knockoffs on Amazon. Buy from Amazon’s third-party sellers at your own peril.

If you do buy from Amazon, try to buy products fulfilled directly by Amazon, since that will at least facilitate the complaint/return process. Avoid third-party sellers, which are more likely to ship fake and/or used stuff with complex or nonexistent return policies. For example, I’m fond of fountain pens and tried to buy a Montegrappa NeroUno Linea Fountain Pen from two separate third-party sellers on Amazon.* The first turned to not actually have the pen; I waited a week for a pen that never arrived, then cancelled and bought from another Amazon third-party seller, but that seller sent an obviously used pen in a damaged box. Like Apple, Montegrappa has elaborate product packaging that is fun to open—and also makes used or damaged products obvious.

That pen went back and I eventually bought one from a reputable online pen seller. Recently, I ordered another item from an Amazon third-party seller; it was obviously counterfeit. I’m still trying to resolve the issue, so I’ll keep details on the down low for now. Significantly, however, Amazon’s front-line customer service people read from scripts when confronted with damaged/wrong/possibly fake items. They’re impenetrable and unhelpful.

Amazon also seems to forbid reviews that include words like “fake” or “counterfeit,” and I couldn’t find any system that Amazon uses to police this practice. But Amazon doesn’t control the whole world yet, and it doesn’t control this blog, so we’re issuing the warning here. We won’t buy any computers, computer parts, or computer accessories from Amazon because of these problems. Many Apple products, for example, that Amazon sells are fakes.

We’re adjusting behavior more generally and now prefer buying from the original manufacturer, if possible.


* Jake likes extra-fine Sailor 1911 pens (the link goes to one of the only American sellers), which are made in Japan, or Sakura Pigma Micron pens, which are also made in Japan (Japan seems to have strong pen game). He also covets a Pad & Quill messenger bag, but because he uses an iMac as a primary computer his bag isn’t that important.

Tools of the trade, updated: What a grant writer should have

Nine years ago I wrote “Tools of the Trade—What a Grant Writer Should Have.” Since then we’ve written several other posts about our adventures in hardware and software upgrades. Readers like stories about tools, so we keep writing updated versions.

By far our biggest “tools” upgrades in recent years has been a shift from shrink-wrapped software to cloud-based software. We now use:

  • QuickBooks Online replaced QuickBooks Pro and is the standard accounting package for small business bookkeeping. You’ll still need a bookkeeper or someone who understands the mysteries of double-entry bookkeeping to use QB Online effectively, or you will quickly turn to drink—QB remains unfriendly to the uninitiated.
  • Gusto HR, formerly known as Zen Payroll, is far better than the local payroll service company we once used. Gusto is very user friendly and handles the myriad of federal, state, and local requirements deftly. Most importantly, it produces payroll on-time, which makes for happy employees. Additionally, we have employees in two states, and Gusto integrates both state reporting systems with the federal system flawlessly. It’s less expensive than traditional services like ADP, as well as being more fun and hipper to use. Gusto has a complex setup process, but that’s true of all payroll systems.
  • Highrise is a great Customer Relations Management (CRM) solution for small businesses. We use HR to track inquiries, clients, and vendors. It’s enables collecting all contact info, emails, notes, etc., in one place that accessible from any device by authorized team members. Jake wishes for an ultra-fast HR desktop system, however, because logging into the website in the heat of a new client pitch can be too much slower than entering the client’s data into Textmate, then copying into Highrise later.
  • Dropbox is a terrific system for file sharing. It’s easy to set up folder sharing permissions, including temporary shared folders for clients. Synchronization happens near-instantaneously and ensures that any one of us can access any work file immediately and seamlessly.
  • Adobe Acrobat Pro DC has a better interface than Acrobat Pro 9, which we used for many years. This version is a subscription service, which means Adobe is going to draw blood money out of you every month until the end of time. Eventually, this version will end up costing far more than conventional versions used to.
  • MS Office 365 is another subscription service. Both Adobe and MS, however, price their subscriptions so much lower than the download versions that one is really forced into the subscription model, whether you like it or not.

Most proposals today are uploaded rather than submitted on paper, so we’re less dependent on printers/copiers and have jettisoned complex printer hardware. Some of our clients still like to fax, so faxing remains important. We use an HP LaserJet Pro MFP M521DN, hydra-headed printer/copier/fax, which is easy to configure and very reliable.

Our back-up printer is a Xerox Phaser 6280 color laser, which uses expensive supplies but produces good color prints.

We also use a Fujitsu ScanSnap IX500 Scanner. It’s the best small officer scanner on the market.

For phones, we’ve finally wrangled Ooma Office system into functioning. After much tribulation, I was eventually able to get Ooma to fax properly through the HP LaserJet MFP. Ooma also now sells IP phones and sold us proprietary versions of the Cisco 504G. Ooma claims you have to buy IP phones directly from Ooma or they won’t interface with the Ooma black box. I use the phone with a Jabra Pro 9740 bluetooth headset and Jabra GN1000 handset lifter. The phone system works well enough and costs about one-third what land lines did. Telcos don’t want to provide land line service and have priced land lines so high as to make the transition to VoIP inevitable.

With respect to computers, we use a mix of recent iMacs and MacBook Pros. By now PC hardware is boring and pretty much any PC made in the last couple years will work fine. Windows and MacOS are more alike than different; if Microsoft ever makes Office for Linux, that operating system will become viable for grant writers. You can see a picture of Jake’s desk on his blog, but the short version is that he uses a 27″ iMac much like mine. We like the Dell 24″ UltraSharp Monitor as a side monitor, but monitors of that size are now so cheap that pretty much any one will work.

EDIT: See also the second part of this post, “Tools continued: Be careful when you buy from Amazon.”

A Great, Quiet Keyboard: The Matias Quiet Pro

Faithful readers will know that those of us who toil in the grant writing fields at Seliger + Associates are very picky about our office equipment. As writers, we’re particularly fussy about keyboards. Unlike U2, I finally found what I’m looking for, as least with respect to (free proposal phrase here) to keyboards. It’s the Matias Quiet Pro. Here it is, in black and silver Mac livery:

Matias Tactile Pro Quiet

For those of you still computing in the dark ages, this gem is also appropriately available for PCs in funereal black.

Over the years, I went through about a dozen keyboards, all of which were mushy, clunky, ugly or all three—like this old-world Apple keyboard. About five years ago, based on the sage wisdom of Jake*, I looked for a mechanical keyboard. Unlike the typical cheap PC keyboards—which have a membrane system underneath all the keys, or rubber domes that grow brittle with age—mechanical keyboards have individual switches under each individual key. There are various kinds of switches, analogous to different quark flavors, but all mechanical keyboards provide a solid clicking sensation when you type. For those of us who spend hours typing, this is sublime. And, unlike membrane and rubber-dome keyboards, mechanical keyboards are durable.

Five years ago I bought a Matias Tactile Pro, on which I clicked away happily until I dumped a cup of coffee on it last week. Not surprisingly, the Tactile Pro gacked, particularly the spacebar. So I used a trusty butter knife** to pop off the spacebar, which ruined the keyboard. The Matias website, however, showed that they’ve produced new models, including the exquisite Quite Pro.

The main problem with using mechanical keyboards, like the Tactile Pro, is noise. They sound like a popcorn maker. Since I usually wear too-cool-for-school Parrot Zik bluetooth noise canceling headphones listening to music at high volume when I write, and since I don’t share an office, this wasn’t much of a problem.

The exception is when I was wearing my Jabra Soundtube wireless telephone headset to scope projects with clients and they wondered why there’s a machine gun sound in the background, despite the fact that I’m based in Santa Monica and not Afghanistan.

The Quiet Pro somehow solves the noise problem, yielding a satisfying tactile feel, without loud clicks. This is easily the best keyboard I’ve ever had. Matias is also a terrific company. Headquartered in the Great Frozen North of Canada, their tech support and responsiveness are first rate. When you call, a live, friendly and interested person answers, which is a rare experience with computer products.

A couple of years into my original Tactile Pro usage, I got a stuck key. I called Matias, and a replacement keyboard was sent overnight, even though the official one-year warranty period had expired (try that with Apple). Last week, when I told the Matias rep about the spilled coffee/butter knife fiasco, I got a chuckle and a 25% loyalty discount on the new Quiet Pro. Matias is great. Joe Bob says check it out.


* Jake should really not be trusted for keyboard advice, since he uses an extremely odd and alien-looking bowl-shaped keyboard called a “Kinesis Advantage“. Watching Jake type on this device is disturbing and possibly a crime against humanity. Of course, he also has a standing desk and wears Vibram Fivefingers shoes, which are equally disturbing (to those of us with conventional minds), or, to be charitable, eccentric.

** I keep a butter knife in a pencil cup on my desk for such purposes. It was purloined by a college roommate of mine about 43 years ago. He was a busboy at the long-closed ritzy Flame Room at the flagship Radisson Hotel next to Dayton’s Department Store in Downtown Minneapolis. As a poor kid growing up in Minneapolis, I never went to the Flame Room, home of the “Golden Strings,” but I treasure this small remembrance, which is embossed with “Flame Room.” If I had only stayed roommates with this guy, I’d probably have had a service for eight, as he boosted silverware for all of his starving college buddies.

Google Faster than Grants.Gov — Finding the Capital Fund Education and Training Community Facilities Program and the FY 2011 Recovery Implementation Fund

Here's what real search looks likeWhile researching this week’s e-mail Grant Alert newsletter, I needed to find out more about the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) FY 2011 Recovery Implementation Fund. I searched for it on Grants.gov, which kept hanging instead of returning information.

But there’s a way around this: you can restrict Google searches to a single domain. If you want to search for a term, just type in the search term followed by site:http://grants.gov, or whatever site you need. So I tried “Recovery Implementation Fund site:grants.gov,” which immediately found the funding announcement.

If whoever is running Grants.gov had half a brain, they’d use a Google custom search (or one from Bing, Yahoo, or the other major search engine) instead of whatever lousy in-house search tool they’re using. But this presupposes that the brain trust at Grants.gov would care. They don’t because they publish RFPs but don’t respond to RFPs, so why would they care about those of us who are looking for RFPs? Customer service doesn’t matter if customers don’t matter.

The same thing happened with the the Capital Fund Education and Training Community Facilities Program, and Google again came to the rescue. If you’re struggling with a Grants.gov search—or a search of any janky site—use this technique to get around it. It’s also helpful at local or state government sites that contain useful data that you can’t easily otherwise find; Google is often smarter than the designers of such government websites.

The Nonprofit Blog Carnival is Here: Tell Us About Your Tools

We’re hosting October’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which means that we’re inviting you (the reader and possibly writer) to contribute posts about the tools you use in your life working for a nonprofit. What hardware, software, items, or techniques have made your life substantially better, easier, or more interesting? We (and others) want to know; think of this prompt as being like Cool Tools, but for nonprofits.

Submit your links here, send an e-mail to me at seliger@editingandwriting.com, or send a note to the carnival address: nonprofitcarnival@gmail.com.

You can interpret the topic as broadly or as narrowly as you choose. We’ve written about this previously from a grant writer’s perspective—see, for example, Tools of the Trade—What a Grant Writer Should Have and Tools and Organizing Organizations: How to Wrangle Information and Databases for Grant Writers—but want to hear what others are doing and how they’re doing it. If you have a post that you think is valuable but doesn’t fit with the theme, let us know and we may include it anyway.

If you don’t have a blog but still want to contribute, leave a comment on this post.

You can see an example of a previous carnival on Katy’a Nonprofit Marketing Blog; I like her definition of what this is about: “I should explain the carnival is simply a monthly roundup of themed blog posts hosted by various bloggers in the nonprofit world.” Right. It’s supposed to be a fun, easy way for nonprofits and others to share thoughts and ideas. We hope to hear yours no later than October 25.

Tools, Grant Writing, and Small Businesses: How to Buy a Phone System

When Seliger + Associates moved its intergalactic headquarters to Tucson, we also decided to buy a new phone system under the assumption that prices were relatively low and hiring someone to set up our old system again would prove sufficiently difficult and expensive to justify buying a new one.

Doing so is harder than it looks—just like buying a copy machine, which I explained at the link. Most of us, if we’ve worked in institutions or large business, are used to having a phone magically appear on our desks. But if we’re suddenly in a group of, say, five or ten, someone has to buy the phone system. This time around, that person was me.

There are a few basic strategies that small organizations can use for phones these days: (1) they can use their existing cell/mobile/home phones, (2) they can use Internet lines through outfits like Vonage, Skype, and Google Voice, (3) they can buy a Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) “box” through companies like Digium, or (4) they can buy a box that works with copper lines through Nortel, Avaya, and the like.

One of the biggest problems is simply understanding the difference among these approaches. Another is understanding the differences between a) the manufacturers of these systems and b) the vendors who actually sell / install them.

We ultimately went with option 4 and purchased an Avaya system that runs through plain old telephone system (POTS) lines. We did so largely because it’s probably the most reliable. In addition, we previously owned an ancient Avaya system and already had the mandatory, very expensive proprietary handsets. Here are the issues with the first three alternatives:

1) It’s tempting for small businesses and nonprofits to use personal phones as their primary business lines as well. Don’t do that if you can avoid it; if you don’t believe me, go read Personal Phone Numbers For Business, Yeah That Was A Mistake… on BigStartups.com. A quote:

[T]hrough the magic of the Internet and networked computer systems, contact information tends to get syndicated to dozens of places when it is first entered. Often it does not get updated when the original source does.

Once you start using personal numbers for business, it’ll be hard to stop. That’s one reason to get an 800 number if you’re facing customers: it will be portable wherever you might move. Our 800 number—800-540-8906, for those of you wondering—has followed Seliger + Associates from northern California to Seattle to Tucson. If you use personal numbers, people will also be able to figure out that you’re primarily using cell phones, and you’ll look unprofessional or amateurish. Also, do you really want to field fevered phone calls from crazed clients at 3:00 A.M.?

2) Consumer VoIP outfits like Vonage, Skype, and Google Voice have problems of their own. Vonage customer service is notoriously terrible. Skype is okay, especially for international calls, but doesn’t transfer calls from receptionist areas to back areas easily, doesn’t have professional voicemail (as far as I know), and has no real customer service when something breaks. Google Voice requires existing phone lines. All of these problems can be overcome, but if the overriding goal is never to have to think about phones, this isn’t the way to go.

3) Outfits like Digium are okay, and its vendors sell boxes that sit somewhere in your office. You plug existing landlines in or set them up boxes with Internet access. These systems are slightly less expensive than the solution we went with, but it was harder to find vendors for this, and we didn’t want to have the same points of failure for Internet access and phones. In other words, even if there is a power outage that takes down Internet service, we still have an option, since phone systems using POTS lines like Avaya will still produce a dial tone at the point where the POTS lines go into the Avaya box.

That left us with copper providers.

Phone systems have a zillion features; look at some of them here, although beware that the link goes to a vendor website. As I said earlier, perhaps the hardest part of dealing with phones involves finding out who sells them: the big manufacturers are Avaya, Nortel, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Mitel. The best way to start getting prices is by searching for “Avaya Vendor,” “Nortel Vendor,” and so on in Google. Then call the manufacturer to find a local vendor. These pages are probably going to be hard to navigate and understand. Once you have a list of resellers, you’ll have to call each one for a quote. Some manufacturers have multiple vendors in your area. You’ll need to know things like:

* How many lines you want.
* How many handsets you need.
* How far you might need your system to expand—will you need four lines, or forty?
* How many voicemail boxes do you need?
* The number of technicians and/or service people the vendor has, along with their location.
* The cost of a 36 month lease, a 60 month lease, and whether it’s a regular lease or a “fair market value” lease.
* The bottom line cost of outright purchasing a system.
* Installation fees.
* The warranty.
* Timing—when can it be installed?

Once you start asking these questions, you’ll be inundated with information and quotes that are hard to compare. You should build a spreadsheet in Excel or another spreadsheet program. Mine has about 30 rows and 12 columns. In addition, almost all of this has to be done by phone: that’s why it will probably take at least a full day of work just to get bids, understand the systems you’re dealing with, and figure out who the vendors in your area are.

If you’ve read this, however, you at least have a place to start and know a few of the questions you’ll want to ask. Perhaps the best thing you can do is ask a lot of questions of your local vendors and preface those questions with, “I’ve never done this before, so explain the choices in terms a novice can understand.” (You can also ask questions in the comments section of this post.) Like car dealers, some vendors will try to upsell you, or tell you that you need more of a system than you think you do. By the same token, as with car dealers, patience and fortitude might be the difference of thousands of dollars. Like a car, you will live with your small business phone system for years, so take the time to get it right.

Tools and Organizing Organizations: How to Wrangle Information and Databases for Grant Writers

Once you have a sufficiently large agency with concomitantly large grant writing needs and multiple funding sources, you’re going to start facing problems of scale. This means a single person is going to find managing all the efforts of the agency steadily harder, and that single person will eventually be overwhelmed. If you’re big enough, you’ll probably need to hire a programmer to roll out a custom database front-end or install a wiki for you; if you’re big, but not quite that big, a white board and calendar would suffice.

This post comes in response GWC reader Joe Orozco’s queries. He’s the Associate Grants Manager for Youth Service America in Washington D.C. and wrote to ask:

I am a huge fan of your blog and wonder if you might use it to discuss database options for grant writers. Here in my current position I prepare proposals for different departments in our office, and with folks not fans of MS Access, I am forced to use large unwieldy spreadsheets. What database or organization strategy do you use to separate and maintain data for different grants by client, or in my case, department? Thank you in advance for any information you can provide. Please do keep up the excellent work on Grant Writing Confidential.

We’re very susceptible to flattery, so we appreciate the compliments. Even better than that, he asks interesting and unusual questions, which we also like to get.

Isaac initially wrote back to say:

I assume you are interested in proposal preparation data issues, not grant management. If so, the short answer is to dump your PC and go to Macs. Mac OS X 10.5 (or “Leopard”) has a built in feature called Spotlight, which can instantly find anything on your hard drive. All you need to do is remember key words. Thus, no need to catalogue proposal info in a database. We still have a couple of old PCs and use Access for mailing lists and the like, but not for proposal management. If you are good at file management and organize proposal writing assignments into folders, and get a Mac, your life will be much easier. FYI, about six years ago, we tried to use Access for grant preparation data management and gave up. To do so, you will need a database programmer to set up the databases for you. Of course, the programmer will know nothing about grant writing, so this won’t help either.

For old school management techniques, let me take you back to 1978 when I had a job like yours. In the days before computers, I used a huge white board to track proposal status, along with a slotted accordion file sorter that sat on top of a horizontal file cabinet for paper files, and a phone sheet to track conversations. I have feeling this would work as well for you today and it did for me all those years ago.

But I wasn’t so sure this would meet the desired needs, so I suggested:

To coordinate what 20 people need, I’m not sure how I would run a database. You could probably install Apache and search tools on a single machine and turn it into a local server, but that might be overkill. For a relatively small group using a LAN, attaching a Drobo (http://drobo.com/), auto-mounting it on your computer, naming folders in a way that makes sense, and indexing like Spotlight might be ideal. But that’s just my imagination at work.

Joe replied:

Unfortunately, I am tied to a PC environment here. Spotlight does indeed sound like what I may be looking for, but to expand a little on my previous correspondence, each program in our office pursues different grant opportunities depending on the specific nature of their work. I am currently using a spreadsheet to break down information by department and their respective funders. I’m not as interested in other people having the capacity to find information. I just need something less cumbersome than a spreadsheet to keep track of various reporting calendars. I decided to write to you, because I was a fan of your tools of the trade blog post. Everything from the type of office chair to several monitors was covered, and I am hopeful that a bone will be thrown to us lowly PC users who cannot take advantage of the wonderfulness that appears to be Spotlight.

Also, on a minor unrelated point, what kind of blogging tool do you use in your web site? I like the way you’ve seamlessly integrated your blog into the scheme of your web site!

I replied to pieces:

You’re probably already aware of Apple’s Boot Camp and programs like Parallels, but if not, one or both might or might help solve your problems. As far as tools go, Isaac and Kathy are in the midst of a planned move to Tucson, so another post on copy machines and phones will probably go up in the next month, since I’ve been tasked with researching them. This is more fun than reading the Federal Register religiously, but that the comparison comes up might say something about it.

And, as for the blog:

We’re on WordPress, primarily because I began using WordPress to write The Story’s Story and so was familiar with it. Adhost, a business ISP, hosts all our sites and actually has seliger.com on a different machine than https://seliger.com, but a link goes from the latter to the former and I customized our theme to make the blog and regular site look similar. If you’re thinking about starting a blog and can’t afford Adhost—who have been very, very good and reliable over the years we’ve used them—consider Laughing Squid. I’ve heard good things about them.

Microsoft Access

Joe did mention Access in his original e-mail. No one actually likes Microsoft Access, but there is one big advantage to it: it’s the worst desktop database system except for all the others. Like democracy, it’s the least bad choice, unless FileMaker Pro has dramatically improved since version 8. If he still wanted to use Access, a competent database person could probably tie it to a website relatively quickly, easily, and cheaply.

Networked Drobo and Spotlight

If Joe was going to coordinate everything on a local machine or using the Drobo suggested above, Spotlight might do the trick. We do love Spotlight, but even it isn’t perfect; if you have a vast array of data, you might get inundated, and it still doesn’t have boolean commands from the default Spotlight prompt (So you can’t type “Youthbuild -California -Wisconsin”, for example, and get every Youthbuild proposal that doesn’t mention those two states. This can help refine queries.)

Calendars and Whiteboards

One other useful technique is a big calendar on which you write upcoming deadlines for programs. For the program itself, write the letter of intent (LOI; if necessary) and final deadline on the board, then set up subsidiary deadlines: this is when we need a go/no go decision; this is when we need a first draft; this is when we need the budget; this is when we need letters of support; and so forth.

The calendar will quickly fill up, but if you’re in a single, central location you can’t miss the deadlines looming down on you. You don’t have to check a webpage. It’s all in front of you, and if Steve walks by, you can grab him, point to the upcoming HRSA deadline and ask him where the hell those letters of support are. If Jessica wants to apply for a Dept. of Justice (DOJ) program, she can come by, pick up a marker, and decide where the deadlines should go, and you’ll be looking at each other and the board rather than a computer screen.

If you’re a giant organization with hundreds of people who need to review and edit applications, you’ll outgrow these tools. But if that’s the case, you’ll also want to hire dedicated IT people or technical consultants to set up these kinds of systems, because such systems are inherently complex and have lots of small user-interface issues that aren’t going to be easy to solve. But for most of us, some combination of a Spotlight-like system, a whiteboard, institutional memory, a subscription to the Seliger Funding Report, and a calendar will probably suffice.

If Joe writes back to say what, if anything, he’s done, I’ll post his experiences as an edit to this post.

Tools of the Trade—What a Grant Writer Should Have

A budding grant writer who is enrolled in a Nonprofit Management Masters program recently e-mailed me to ask if she should spend $4,000 on grant writing classes. Regular readers know how little I think of grant writing training, so I advised her to take some undergrad courses in English composition/journalism and spend her $4k on a good computer and comfortable chair instead. In addition to being infinitely more useful than grant writing classes, she’ll also enjoy them for activities other than grant writing. This led me to think about the useful tools a grant writer should have, including:

1. A great computer. After years of frustration with Windows, Jake converted the rest of us to Macs about 18 months ago and they’ve mostly been a pleasure. Mac OS X has two particularly helpful features for grant writers: “Spotlight” and “Time Machine.” If I’m writing a proposal about gang violence in Dubuque, typing keywords in Spotlight lets me easily find an article on my hard drive from the Dubuque Picayune Press about gangs that I saved two years ago. If I manage to muck up a current proposal file, Time Machine lets me go back to yesterday’s version to recover it. Trying to do these tasks in Windows XP is so difficult that having a bottle of Scotch handy is a good idea if you try, although Windows Vista is supposed to have improved the search experience.

As to which model is best, I prefer the Mac Pro because it is easy to add multiple video cards—meaning you can also attach lots of monitors. I use three and might add a fourth if I can find a good rack system. You’re thinking that I must imagine myself as Tom Cruise flipping images across displays in Minority Report,, but it is actually very handy to have multiple monitors because I can arrange relevant data on all of them by having the proposal I’m writing on my 23″ primary screen, a file from the client on the 20″ screen to the right and a pertinent website on the 19″ screen to the left. The fourth monitor would show the RFP. Avoiding opening and closing windows saves time and, for a grant writer, time is literally money. Jake prefers his 24″ iMac, which only accepts one additional monitor, but looks oh so elegant on his desktop. He can also have two windows open simultaneously:

Others like the MacBook Pro, but I’ve never liked writing on a laptop, unless forced to on a plane.* Grant writers who travel should be aware that a MacBook or MacBook Pro is easier to use in coach class because both hinge at the bottom, as opposed to most laptops, which hinge at the top. You have a somewhat better chance of using it when the large person in front of you drops their seat back into your lap.

2. A comfortable chair. Grant writers spend much of their lives sitting, so don’t skimp on the chair. Jake and I like the Aeron Chair, Herman Miller’s gift to those of us trapped in offices but dreaming of working on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise. Others prefer the Steelcase Leap Chair, but whatever you get, make sure its adjustable and makes you want to sit in it for 12 hours a day when under deadline pressure. Slashdot recently had a long discussion of the relative merits of various chairs, and the differences might not seem important—but if you spend endless hours in your chair, the value of a good one quickly becomes apparent.

3. Sound system and headphones. I like to write wearing headphones, as listening to Nelly rap “Midwest Swing” at high volume gets me in the mood for writing a proposal about East St. Louis, which I have to do as soon as I finish this post. There is no substitute for Bose QuietComfort 3 Noise Canceling Headphones, which also come in handy on planes. When everyone has left the office, you can fling off the headphones and listen using Bose Companion 3 Computer Speakers.

4. A large desk with an ergonomic keyboard holder. Any desk will do, as long as it has lots of space for papers, books, pictures of kids, empty diet coke cans, etc. But don’t forget to attach a high quality adjustable keyboard tray. We love Humanscale trays, which can be attached to most any flat top desk. Spend $20 on the desk and $300 on the keyboard tray and your wrists will thank you.

5. Desk stuff. Jake likes annoying, noisy, clicky keyboards with great tactile feel, but the rest of us are happy with Apple wireless models. Although it is no long necessary to have a stack of reference books (e.g.,dictionary, thesaurus, etc.), a copy of Write Right! and On Writing Well isn’t a bad idea. A ruler, handheld calculator, lots of post-in notes, assorted desk jewelry to play with, a message pad, speaker phone, cell phone with Bluetooth earpiece lots of markers and pens are nice accessories.

6. A window. Writing grant proposals is too confining a task to do so without a view of something. Just make sure there’s a blind, so you can shut it when you find yourself daydreaming.

7. Companion. Personally, I like a dog nearby to pet when I pause to take a break (I know, there could be a bad pun here). Our faithful Golden Retriever, Matzo the Wonder Dog, was our constant office companion until she laid down her burden last winter, but she was often in a festive mood:

We now have Odette, a frisky seven month old Golden Retriever puppy, who keeps us laughing with her office antics:

About $4,000 should set up a first class grant writer’s office. It is not necessary to have one, but it is nice. When we started 15 years ago, we used hand-me-down desks, $5 chairs and PCs bartered for grant writing services. If you have a bit of money, however, the grant writing experience can be made vaguely enjoyable with good tools. After all, we are nothing more than wordsmiths and any craftsperson can make due with what they have, but a good set of tools helps speed the job and make it more pleasant.


*I’ve never understood why TV shows and movies always show writers using laptops, a lá Carrie in “Sex and the City.” If there are any writers out there who actually use laptops everyday, I’d like to hear from them.