Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our Favorite Clients

We do a lot of grant writing and program evaluation work with many different kinds of clients. Many are schools and school districts. Others are non-profit organizations, county agencies, or municipalities. In spite of their many differences, they also have many things in common, including a commitment to the constituencies they serve.

I was involved in a phone conference a while ago with a potential new partner. It was an interview of sorts. They were interviewing me and I was interviewing them - which is the way it should go when you are considering establishing a new business relationship. One of the questions they asked me was, "What are the characteristics of your favorite clients?"

Wow. What a great question! I didn't have to hesitate at all. In fact, I could immediately give an example of one of my favorite clients who happens to be a mutual acquaintance. Then I started to explain why that client ranks among my favorites.

Here are the characteristics of our favorite clients:
  • They have a clear vision. I really love folks who come to me with a clear vision of who they are, where they are going, and even an idea of how they plan to get there. The conversation starts with a great idea they have to meet an identified need for their organization. They have already charted out their ideas and they have at least the beginnings of a solid program design already in place. Let's contrast this with people who come to me with a simple, "We need money" attitude. They usually have only the seed of an idea, if that. And they rarely have a vision. What they have is a desperation for cash. That rarely is enough to be successful securing grant funding, and it is almost never enough to successfully implement an effective program.
  • They are very well-organized. In the grant writing process, there is a certain amount of data gathering that takes place. My favorite clients have excellent data systems and clearly understood responsibilities so it's easy to get the information we need quickly.
  • They understand that they have an important role to play in the grant writing process. They do not expect that since they have hired a grant writer, they are off the hook. Not only do they know there will be some work for them to do, but they want to be involved in the process.
  • They make time for their part in the grant writing process. My favorite clients make sure that, when we have am impending deadline, I am the call they take - no matter what. They allocate the time it takes to help me get the job done. And they don't complain about it.
  • They assign a contact person to work with me directly on the project. My least favorite clients don't assign a single contact person; they want me to communicate directly with four or five high level administrators - all of whom are usually too busy to really focus on the project. A single contact person makes it easier on everyone.
  • They are flexible. When we start a grant writing process, we establish a timeline. About half of the time, something happens to pull us off the timeline. Sometimes the client isn't able to get us all the data on time. Sometimes we have several projects going at once and we fall a day or two behind. of course, we always stay on track to meet the final deadline, but our favorite clients remain flexible and don't freak out if a draft shows up on Tuesday morning, rather than Monday afternoon - especially when the ultimate deadline is more than a week away.
  • They treat us as professional partners in the project. While we are really good at the actual grant writing work, our favorite clients understand that our real value to them comes in our experience - as grant writers and experts in education and social services. They are respectful of our experience and our time.
  • They have high expectations. This goes along with treating us as professionals. They expect good quality work and they are willing to call us out if we do not performs appropriately, for whatever reason (a rare occurrence). I have the utmost respect for those who expect excellence.
  • They take care of the business side of our business arrangement. They do what it takes to get a contractual agreement written and approved. They ensure that we are paid in a timely manner. Conversely, our least favorite clients never have time to get the contract taken care of and, after the grant is submitted, they seem to forget that we did anything for them that requires payment.
For any of our clients who are reading this, I hope you are smiling because you know you are our favorite. Yeah, you know who you are.

Some Thoughts on Change from the Grant Coach

“Just because we cannot see clearly the end of the road, that is no reason for not setting out on the essential journey. On the contrary, great change dominates the world and unless we move with change we will become its victims.”  (John F. Kennedy)

Try these 3 ways to embrace change:

1)      Be open to new experiences.

2)      Look for a way to use your words that lead to a more positive outlook on change. Instead of saying “if we don’t make these changes, we’ll be unable to compete in the new market,” try “when we make these changes, no competitor will be able to touch us.”

3)      Minimize the fear of change by limiting the routines in your daily life. The more routines you have, the harder it is to make grasp opportunities for change.

For more wisdom from our certified coach, MaryEllen Bergh, become a member at

A Few Words from the Coach About Focus

The Coach's Corner section of the member site is full of inspiration and wisdom from certified coach, MaryEllen Bergh. She'll also be sharing some of it here for everyone. If you want more, learn about becoming a member.

For now, here's what the Grant Coach has to say about Focus:

In the movie “UP”, a pack of dogs are viciously approaching our heroes – teeth bared, eyes   focused and fixed on their goal. All of a sudden, there’s a shout, “Squirrel!” The dogs suddenly lose sight of our heroes and run excitedly in all directions, falling upon one another in their frenzy to find the squirrel.

How do you discriminate between distractions that contribute to your creative process or those that have you chasing squirrels?

Try these 3 ways to stay focused:

1)      Eliminate distractions. Turn off the phone, close the door, close email, stay away from squirrels.

2)      Quickly picture what you want to achieve. Stay with it for a couple of minutes to truly experience the feeling. The start your writing or other project.

3)      Take a short walk. Before you return, think of two things that you want to accomplish when you return.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Online Charity Links Donors and Teachers

Have you ever wondered how you can donate some money to a school and know that it really gets into the hands of a teacher doing good work with kids? can help.

Teachers across America post about a classroom project and what they need to make it happen.  requests include everything from microscopes to instruments. Donors go to the site, pick a project that interests them, and donate through a secure link. Donors get a cost report showing how their money was spent, pictures of the project in action, and a thank you note from the teacher.  Donors who give over $100 may also get thank you notes from students.

You can give any amount (as little as $1.00 or as much as...well, millions of dollars!) and know that your cash is making a difference for youth.  The folks at call it "citizen philanthropy."  I call it a great way to make a difference.

Oh, I almost forgot.  If you're a teacher looking for some supplies to make a classroom project work, visit the site, sign up, and enter your project. Then come back here to and we'll help you get the word out to prospective donors.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tips for Preparing for the Upcoming Grant Season

You know you need to write some grants this year for your organization and you're itching to get started, but there are no applications out right now. What should you do? Isn't there some way to get started and avoid the last minute grant writing rush?

Yes. And No. There will always be a rush to the deadline as you try to assemble complicated applications with less than 4 to 6 weeks between announcement and deadline, all while still trying to do your regular job. However, there are some things you can do to get ahead of the curve a little and make your job easier.

1) Pull together your needs data and get it organized. Take a look at available survey results for your agency, and quantitative data documenting the number of people you served in the last year and, most importantly, the outcomes documented for those clients. Don't wait for an application to be out; look at your data now, get it organized, and determine what it's telling you.

2) Write your brief needs statement. If you draft out a page or two describing your agency's need (documented by data, of course), you can easily modify it to fit a formal application.

3) Prepare all of the additional materials you need for an application. If you manage a non-profit agency, prepare your agency budget, develop an updated list of board members, and make sure your IRS letter documenting your non-profit status is handy. Consider putting together a single file that has all of these documents in one place so you'll be ready when an application is released.

4) Develop a plan to consult and the websites of funders to which you hope to apply. Assign someone in your agency (maybe it's you!) to regularly check for funding releases. Check your online sources at least once each week, more often if an application release is imminent.

U.S. Department of Education Funding Forecast

About three weeks ago, the new funding forecast from the U.S. Department of Education was released. The forecast outlines the discretionary grant competitions the Department plans to fund for the coming year. It is not a legal document and it changes throughout the year, but it is extremely valuable if you want an idea of what grants might be coming your way and when they might be due.

As I mentioned, it's not always accurate. For example, last week the forecast said the application notice for the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grant would be out on December 15th. It wasn't. Now, it simply says, "TBD" for information on when the application will be available. So, you have to keep checking back for the latest information. By the way, the latest information will be available at the Department's website or on anyway, but the forecast is still effective as an early planning tool.

And don't forget, the official notice of grant applications, rules, and funding criteria will be published in the Federal Register.

CA's Education Reform Stalled in the Senate

Bill SBX5 1 stalled in the Assembly Education Committee while alternative Bill ABX5 8 moves forward to the Assembly Floor.

A major education reform package aimed at reforming California Education Code to align with the Federal education reform mandates of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) failed to gain approval of the California Assembly Education Subcommittee.

Both SBX5 1 (Romero) and ABX5 8 (Brownley) would make key changes to California Education laws making the state eligible to apply for some of the nearly 4 billion dollars in ARRA funding through the Race to the Top (RTTT) program. The key differences in the bill reported by the SF Chronicle is the elimination of a strong parent choice component in SBX5 1 that would have allowed parents of children in Program Improvement schools to move their child to any school, anywhere in the state; and stronger regulations imposed on Charter Schools in ABX5 8.

ABX5 8 may be voted on today in special session. If approved, the bill would be sent to the Senate for confirmation. California has only until January 19th to submit grant for the first round of RTTT funding. Not all states will receive RTTT funding and it is a one-time grant to the states so there is a sense of urgency to get a “hat in the ring” before the money runs out.

Proponents of SBX5 1 denounced the elimination of parental choice and the imposition of regulations on Charter Schools concerned that the Assembly form of the bill makes California less competitive in the RTTT competition.

The Grant Goddess will continue watching this one for you!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

ASES Weekend Programs Bill AB 983 Dies in Committee

Loyal readers of the Grant Goddess blog! We’re busy working on a brand new web site that will include information about pertinent legislation. Here’s a little sample of what’s coming.

ASES Weekend Programs Bill AB 983 Dies in Committee

What a long, strange trip it was for Assembly Bill 983 that died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner authored the bill in February 2009 to help school districts use their After School Education and Safety program (ASES) grant to run programs on weekends as well as during the weekdays.

Many school districts that receive this funding have trouble using all the funding with after school weekday programming. Since many of these schools are located in neighborhoods where a weekend program would help keep kids out of trouble, it was a logical and cost-free solution.

But, not all of the Senators agreed that it was cost free because school districts that didn’t use their ASES funding had to return the unused dollars back to the state budget. The Senators labeled it a “cost pressure bill” because schools would use more of the money already granted leaving less to return to the state budget.

Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill the year before because in his opinion weekends didn’t fit the intent of the Prop 49 original legislation (that created ASES). In my experience, weekends typically do begin after school lets out on Friday...

After passing successfully through the Assembly, and the Senate Education Committee, AB 983 died in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

But the odyssey of AB 983 didn’t end there. Assemblywoman Skinner was suddenly pressed into action to author a recycling bill that would have added a redemption value to currently un-taxed beverage containers over 16 oz. in size including juice containers. So the education language was stripped out of AB 983 and an attempt was made to reuse the bill as a vehicle with an entirely new purpose.

This process failed and the “bottle” bill was re-authored and submitted as Senate Bill 402 passing both the Assembly and Senate, and subsequently vetoed by the Governor. Governor Schwarzenegger in his veto cited the bill placed too much burden on citizens already suffering in the bad economy and that the existing retainer fee fund has made large loans to the General Fund leaving no money to expand the program at this time.

Bottom line is that AB 983 failed to pass in any form and ASES grant recipients still cannot use the grant money for weekend programs. But, for what it’s worth, they can still buy large bottles of juice without a container redemption fee.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Working with a Grant Writer

Today's BlogTalkRadio Tips from the Grant Goddess show will focus on Working with a Grant Writer. We will be discussing how to know if a grant writer is right for you, what to look for when hiring a grant writer, what should be included in the contract, and what services you can expect from a grant writer.

Join us today online at 3:00 p.m. (Pacific) to hear the show LIVE. During the live broadcast, you can call in with your questions or comments.

If you can make it to the live broadcast, you can access the archived version from here on our blog, or by going to our show page at BlogTalkRadio.

Click here to read some quick tips about working with a grant writer.

The radio show will cover many more tips than those you can read on the website, so plan on taking 30 minutes to listen to the broadcast.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Grant Goddess? Hello? Hello?

O.k., I am sure that you are smart enough to notice the big gap in posts between June and now. No, I haven't been on a cruise for the last several months. I have been busy, busy, busy writing and working. I have been spending a lot of my time exploring other social networking options as vehicles for getting information to all of you (Facebook, etc.).

There are so many options these days that it's almost overwhelming, isn't it?

In any event, we're back here.....after all of our searching and exploration, it has become clear that this is the place to focus on for sharing our information.

So, feel free to follow us on Twitter or Facebook, but but the website and the blog (right here) will be the place to come for your grant-related information.

Write to the RFA or the Rubric?

This is an interesting question - should you address your narrative to the RFA instructions or the scoring rubric (if one is provided for you)?

The best answer, of course, is both. But what if the instructions in the RFA (that's Request for Applications) and the scoring rubric differ?

I participated in a grant competition this summer in which the funder put out the word that they knew the instructions and the scoring rubric did not match, and that even though the readers would be instructed to use the scoring rubric to make their decisions, they wanted the applicants to follow the instructions in the RFP. the scoring rubric was just provided for our information. Huh?

Here's my advice (and what I did for that competition over the summer):

Follow the instructions. However, make sure you also address everything in the scoring rubric. Unless the scoring rubric and the instructions give you opposite instructions (usually, if they don't match, it's the case that one just leaves out criteria that are included in the other), you'll have nothing to worry about if you write to both.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Real Payoff

I was at a school board meeting last week and I watched a presentation made my some elementary school students. They were sharing videos they had made through their participation in the GenYES program, funded through an Enhancing education Through Technology (EETT) grant. Theie videos were all about the Lifelong Guidelines and Life Skills they had learned through their schools’ participation in another grant program – Partnerships in Character Education.

Several years ago, I was involved with the writing of both of those grant applications, and over the past few years I have served as the evaluator for both of those programs.

As I watched those students make their presentation, I kept thinking back to a few years ago when we were working on those grant applications. Each one started as a vision, an idea. Those ideas were put together in a grant application and here we are, years later, seeing some of those ideas come to life.

Yeah, I get paid for the grant writing and program evaluation services I provide, but this is the real payoff.

I wish that anyone who doubts that grant writing is a creative endeavor could have been there that night to see the proof that’s actually very creative. It can really change the world around you.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Our Favorite Clients - Revisited

If you are new to The Grant Goddess Speaks you may not have had time to go through the archives (see the archive directory on the bar to the right) to find some of the helpful and interesting posts from the past.

Some are worth re-visiting, and I will re-post or link to an archived post from time to time just to give our newcomers a chance to see some of what came before (and why it is such a good idea to browse the archives every now and then). This also gives our long-time readers a chance to reminisce or catch something they may have missed the first time around.

Today's oldie but goodie is Our Favorite Clients.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Resource: The Foundation Center

The Foundation Center website is full of valuable information for individual and non-profit grant seekers. In addition to giving access to The Foundation Directory (both paper and online versions), the site gives you access to a plethora of online training opportunities. Some of them are offered for a fee, but some a totally free.

You can also sign up for a number of very valuable free email newsletters that will send even more grant seeking and grant writing resources directly to your inbox.

Take a few minutes to explore this valuable resource.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Another End of Year Grant Management Tip

I had a conference call earlier this week with all of the people in a local school district involved with the evaluation of a program I evaluate for that district. The purpose of the conference call was to debrief the evaluation process for the year. I asked all of the participants to share what they thought went well for the evaluation process this year, and what they thought could be improved for next year.

I got some excellent feedback that has helped point the direction for some evaluation modifications for next year. And all I had to do was ask.

Consider asking the people who are involved with the grants that you manage to give you some feedback on the year. Not only do people really appreciate being asked to share their opinion, but you just may learn something that will make the difference between success and failure for the coming year.

Are You a Giver?

Many local non-profit organizations are really hurting right now. Many private foundation sources are giving less than usual, and some have even stopped giving at all for awhile as they regroup after the drastic downturn of the stock market took its toll on their resources. Federal stimulus funds are not really helping non-profits directly (there are a few exceptions to this, but very few), and individual donors have also been giving less than in the past.

I don’t know anyone who is really flush right now – everyone seems to be feeling the economic pinch. Individuals often think that because they can’t give much at this time, that they shouldn’t give at all. They think that $20 won’t really help, or that if they give a little they will be pressured to give more. This is just not the case.

As more people lose their jobs and social service agencies cut back on the services they offer, the only things standing between many of your neighbors and hunger, desperation, and homelessness is the cadre pf non-profit organizations in your community. They need your help now more than ever.

And every dollar matters.

So, take a moment to reflect on all that you have and how grateful you are for the roof over your head, the car you’re driving, and/or the food that will be served at your table tonight. Then write a check to a non-profit in your community. Any amount is fine. What matters is that you care enough to stop and do it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

End of Year Grant Management Tips

If you are managing a grant program, there are some things you should be doing at the ed of the year to close out the year well and prepare for the next year. Take a few moments to read this article about End of Year Grant Management Tips.

Tips for Preparing Grants with Short Deadlines

In a perfect world, you would have months to prepare a quality grant application for a large federal competition. Wake up now. This is the real world, and if you have 30 days, you are way ahead of the norm.

In many cases, by the time you get approval to submit a proposal, you may have 2 or 3 weeks until the deadline. Under those conditions, submitting a quality application can seem impossible, but it’s not. Here are some tips to help you make it through a big application with a short timeline.

1. Read the instructions completely – before you do anything else. If you have followed my grant writing advice on this blog, the website, twitter, or my BlogTalkRadio show, it seems like you hear me say the say thing over and over again – read and follow the instructions. It’s always important, but when you have little time between when you start the process and when the grant is due, it’s even more important to read the instructions thoroughly from the start. Every day matters, and you really don’t want to find out three days before the deadline that you need letters of support or that the Intent to Apply (due three weeks ago) was required. Trust me on this. Take the time to read the whole RFP start to finish before you do anything else.

2. Make a list of information you’ll need from partners as you are reading the RFP or very soon afterward. Your partners will be able to respond to your needs more quickly if you give them a checklist that they can easily follow. When you have 30-45 days to work, you can develop that list collaboratively, but with a deadline of 2 weeks or less, you simply don’t have the time.

3. Get the partners together quickly to agree on a program design. You can do this through an in-person meeting or a conference call, but assemble as many of the project partners as quickly as possible so you can reach agreement quickly on a project design.

4. If letters of support or Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) are needed, start gathering the as soon as you have decided on a program design. In a normal grant development process, you have the luxury of developing the narrative first, but when the process is accelerated, you need to develop narrative and gather letters concurrently.

5. Develop a budget and the program design at the same meeting, if possible. People usually want to walk away from the program design meeting to work on the budget later, but it will be very helpful to you if you are able to agree on the budget – at least in general terms – at the same time that you talk about the project design. Try putting up some butcher paper and sketching the budget as the design conversation progresses.

Preparing a large grant application in 2 weeks or less can be a challenge. These tips can help make the task a little easier.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sweeping Grant Funds Into General Fund Budgets

Something unusual is happening this year as a result of the fiscal situation being faced by organizations across the county. I have experienced it directly as it has affected school districts in California. I suspect it has also affected folks in other states.

Here's what happened here in the Golden State....

School districts received permission to "sweep" funds from a whole bunch of categorical programs into their general budgets to allow for maximum flexibility in the use of those funds during this period of fiscal hardship. It sounds OK so far, huh? The concept sold to school districts, school boards, and their communities around the state is that the former system of categorical funding was inefficient and based on state and federal priorities, rather than local priorities (which, for the most part, is true).

The new rule would allow local districts to establish their own priorities and lump all that money together to be spent in a way that supports local needs. Sounds great.

Except for one thing.

Some state competitive grant programs were lumped in with that list of categorical funds that could be swept.

Schools that had worked hard to pull community partners together, plan programs, write successful grant proposals, and implement successful programs came to work one day this spring only to learn that their school district administrators had chosen to sweep those funds out from under them mid-year so the money could be used to help back fill the overall district budget deficit.

Even worse, in some school districts, district administrators have begun sweeping grant funds for programs that are not allowed to be swept, conveniently assuming that it will all be forgiven later because of the hardships that most public agencies are facing now.

Originally, this new "sweeping" rule required that districts hold public hearings to get input from the public on whether these funds should be swept or not and, if so, how the money should best be spent.....but that all was changed at some point, allowing district administrators to make these decisions behind closed doors. The decisions get approved at school board meetings without clear public notice (hasn't the generic term "budget modifications" (or something like it) been on every school board agenda for months now?).

So, what's wrong with this?

I won't even talk about how crazy it is to sweep money saying that the district has other priorities when the district said in the grant applications themselves that the plans in the grants were district priorities.

Aside from the whole issue of making major decisions about changing how public money is spent without a meaningful opportunity for the public to comment, this practice damages relationships with community partners and discourages innovation in education. Here's how.....

One of these programs that is being swept is the School Community Violence Prevention (SCVP) program (and this is only one example, there are others). When a district applied for these funds on behalf of a school, it was required to pull together a community partnership. That partnership had to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment and design a plan to leverage community resources to address a particular school-related violence issue. Local police departments, probation departments, mental health agencies, non-profit organizations, educators, and parents all came to the table in good faith to help the schools develop a plan for the school community that could address the problem.

Now the funds are being swept without any consultation with the community partners who made it possible for the district to get the money in the first place.

It's disrespectful. It represents an animal-like dog-eat-dog approach to dealing with tough problems. It's just wrong.

But there's more.

One of the problems we have in education is that people who need money to implement creative solutions to tough problems in the schools have to apply for competitive grants to do so. It's hard work, taken on by busy and dedicated professionals who simply don't have the time to do it....but they do it anyway. Most others in the field don't make the time. They lament the problems, and try to keep sticking their fingers in the holes in the dam hoping that their temporary solutions may work. They shake their heads at those who go the extra mile and pursue additional funding.

Now they - the ones who were not innovative, the ones who didn't take the extra time or make the effort - lose very little in the budget debacle , while the innovators are essentially punished for their innovation.

The chilling effect on the whole system is that this single "sweeping" action will discourage innovation in the future at a time when our youth most need people who are willing to do things differently, to step out of "business as usual" and implement evidence-based programs that really work. The system is rewarding "falling in line and letting the folks at the district office handle it" (by the way, how scary is THAT????), while those who were actually doing it, and making a difference for kids, are punished.

And yes, it's happening in my own community, too, and I'm just sick about it.

The worst part about this is that it's happening under the radar and whenever educators speak up about it, they are told to sit down and be quiet - that it's all justified because of the budget crisis.

I strongly disagree. I completely understand that times are tough and school boards have very tough decisions to make. Programs and services have to be cut. As a small business owner, I have felt the shake of the economic earthquake. I know how hard it is to lay people off. As an individual and a parent, I know what it feels like to have to cut back and to not be able to give my kids as much as I could last year. It's hard. It hurts. But we teach children that it's not OK do wrong things just because you are desperate. Stealing is wrong, even if you don't have enough money to pay the mortgage.

The freedom to sweep these fund also means that school boards have the right to choose NOT to sweep them.

At minimum, our school boards need to ask harder questions, demand that the community be heard on the topic (in a meaningful way, with reasonable publicized notice). Then, if our elected and trusted officials choose to make the decision to do this, at least it has been made properly - not in a back room by people who were never elected by the public and who did not participate in the community process that brought the funds to the district to begin with.

Our elected officials should expect and demand more from those who work for us. We all should.

Is this the longest grant season ever, or what?

I was chatting with some folks back in January about the potential for this year's grant writing season and, at that time, none of us really knew what was going to happen. Would the poor economy cause the grant business to dry up? Would there be more grants than usual because of the availability of federal stimulus money?

I was pleasantly surprised early in the season when so many grants appeared so early. We were submitting federal education and DOJ grants in January, which is a little early, compared to most years. A little bit of stimulus money appeared in the form of discretionary grants, but not much. The season slowed a little in April (I even released the temporary help that I hired for the season) and we thought it was over.

Then came the second wave of releases, and now we're working on projects that are due in June. A lot of them.

By June I'm usually cleaning off my desk and planning some vacation time (when I'm not at a Giants game, anyway).

This year is a little different. The season keeps going, and going, and going.......which is, of course, really good news. It's great news for me and my staff. It's also really good news for any of you who were a little busy worried about things in your organization to get a jump on the grant season this year.

There are still some really good opportunities out there.

Get busy!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

FY 09 Recovery Act Grant Opportunities

Wow! The federal Recovery Act has created a whole bunch of grant opportunities. Take a look at the FY 09 Recovery Act page of to see the new grants that have become available.

Don't just search by agency; look at all of the opportunities.

And don't wait! I know you're busy right now. We are all busy these days, but these deadlines are approaching quickly, and if you wait, you'll miss out. Trouble

If you have been trying to upload a grant to within the last several days, you have been frustrated. As many of us predicted, the servers went down when over 27,000 agencies tried to upload applications at the same time.

Overall, activity of all kinds has doubled in the past several months, straining the already glitchy system to a breaking point.

The blog says that everything is fixed now, but please be aware that the warnings to start early with your uploads (not waiting until the last day) are more important than ever.

Also, you should know that several federal agencies have reverted to their old electronic grants submittal formats, stepping away from for now, until they can be sure the glitches are all worked out.

What does this mean for YOU? You may need to register all over again on a new system that you haven't used recently. Here are our tips for success in this interesting period of many opportunities and much competition:

  • Read the directions very carefully on any grant you are considering. Pay attention to submittal instructions.
  • If a new or different electronic submittal process is included in the RFP, register early.
  • Set your own deadline of about 3 days before the actual grant deadline so you can be sure you resolve any submittal issues with plenty of time to spare.
  • Most importantly, don't let this unprecedented windfall of special grant opportunities pass you by! Don't just search my agency for opportunities. Look at all of the available FY 09 Recovery Act grants. You will probably find one or more that is a perfect fit for your community in an unexpected category.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Current Federal Grant Opportunities

Today at 3:00 p.m. PST, Tips from the Grant Goddess on BlogTalkRadio will focus on Current Federal Grant Opportunities.

In this episode, the Grant Goddess will review several current federal grant opportunities for schools, school districts, and social service non-profit agencies. She will discuss the key features and requirements of each opportunity, her tips for success, and some things to consider in making the decision if each opportunity is right for you. You won't want to miss this one!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Trust the Grant Writing Process

Grant writing really is a process. Well, to be more specific, I should say that good grant writing is a process. Sometimes we have to condense the process a bit because of time limitations, but the process is still there....and it's still important.

Sometimes I'll work with people - usually new clients - who want to skip the process and have us just take a few ideas from them and make up the rest. The problem is that not only is that not very ethical, but we've been doing this a long time, and we know what works.

We talk about need first, and how we can document that need. Then we talk about research, and how best to meet those identified needs. We talk about input from constituents, and demonstration of collaborative support, and personnel, and management, and budget.....and we discuss it in a particular order because we know how the grant development conversation flows best.

I hate it when people tell me to "trust the process." It usually means that they don't want me to think, or question, and I always have to think and question. It's my nature. But when it comes to grant writing, and working with a professional grant writing, my best advice for you the process.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Top Five Mistakes of Novice Grant Writers

If you missed today's BlogTalkRadio show about The Top Five Mistakes Made by Novice Grant Writers, you can click here to access the archived version of the show, as well as other archived episodes of Tips from the Grant Goddess.

If you would like to read about some of the issues we highlighted in the radio show, go to our Hubpage on the same topic.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How Competitive is TOO Competitive?

There is a Request for Proposals (RFP) out right now for a Partnerships in Character Education Program (PCEP) grant. It's a research grant that funds implementation of a character education program and research documenting the success of the program in meeting established goals.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education expects to fund only two new programs this year. The question I am often asked is this:

Given how much time and effort goes into planning and developing a high quality federal grant proposal, is it really worth it to throw your hat in the ring when only two grants will be awarded nationally?

I'll admit, the availability of funds for only two awards is extremely competitive. However, I encourage folks not to shy away from an opportunity that is right for you just because of the competitiveness. But how competitive is too competitive?

Here are some thoughts to help you decide if a competitive situation is worth your time to apply:
  • Don't go for it unless the grant is really a good fit for you. If you would have to pull your collaborative partners (and maybe even people in your own organization) along to convince them to implement a new program, you may want to let this opportunity go. So, how do you know if it's the right fit? If it's something that you and your partners have already talked about doing, it may be a good fit for you. If every condition in the RFP is acceptable to your organization, and you already have a plan, it may be a good fit for you.
  • Make sure you have plenty of time. While you can be successful with federal grants when you put them together on a very short timeline, that's not the best situation for those that are highly competitive. If you expect to have a real chance at being funded, you'll need to submit a very high quality proposal. That can usually not be done in one or two weeks. If you have over 30 days to put it together, you may have a chance.
  • Check out the funding priorities and be sure you can address them. If the grant has an absolute priority, you must address it in order to be eligible for funding. If the grant has any competitive priorities, you should definitely be able to address them in a competitive situation. Let's take PCEP as an example. There is a competitive priority to implement an experimental or quasi-experimental evaluation design. You can get up to 20 extra points for an experimental design and up to 10 extra points for a quasi-experimental evaluation design. If you were not planning to implement an evaluation design that is at least quasi-experimental, don't bother applying. Should you apply if you can't get those extra points for the difference between a quasi-experimental and experimental design? It depends. I would recommend it only if you think you could put together a very high quality proposal that has the potential of getting all the available points. Everything must be completely in order and very well planned because you're starting with a disadvantage.
What about an invitational priority (a program priority with no explicit competitive advantage)? If you want to be competitive, address it. Period.

So, don't be afraid of highly competitive RFPs, but tread carefully.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How Can You Be A Better Writer? (Part 2)

Good writers are also avid readers. Be a reader. That's what I wrote about in Part 1 of "How Can You Be A Better Writer?"

My next suggestion for becoming a better writer is also very simple:


Write something.
Write anything.
Write often.

Thinking about writing won't make you a better writer. You have to actually write.

Ideally, you'll also reflect on what you have written and learn from it. It will also help to have a critical friend review your work and offer feedback. But you can't do those things until you sit down and write something.

Starting a blog is a great way to get yourself writing. Pick a topic that interests you and get started.

Consider writing some articles that you publish in professional journals or online. Start with one. Don't get bogged down in all of the detail about where to submit it and how many topics you can think of to write about. Just write.

Another idea to get you writing is to write some mini-grants for a local school or non-profit organization. If you need some help getting started, listen to my radio show on Getting Started with Mini-Grants.

There are many tips and tricks for effective writing that you can use to help you. Some of those can be found in this blog. Still, those tips and tricks will only help you if you actually start writing.

Improvement in writing happens over time. Be patient with yourself. Celebrate small victories along the way - like a compliment on your writing, a funded mini-grant, a published article.

Remember, writing is a craft. It's part art and part skill. Both the skill and the art are developed over time.

Monday, January 5, 2009

How Can You Be A Better Writer? (Part 1)

I often have conversations with people say they wish they were better writers. They usually speak as if writing were a talent that you either have or you don't. While I think it's true that some people have more of a natural gift than others, the core skills of writing in general, and grant writing in particular, can be learned and improved over time. Of course, as with most things that don't come easy, people usually just want to be better without putting in the time, effort, and work.

I have also been asked if there are any shortcuts. Well, I don't think you can get around the time part of the time-effort equation, and there has to be some effort involved, too, but I do have some suggestions for anyone who is on a journey to be a better writer.

Be forewarned - these are bigger picture suggestions, not technical suggestions like always proofread your work, use spell-check, take a class, etc., although I certainly think those are good ideas and important things to do if you are serious about improving your writing.

Here's the most important thing you can do to be a better writer.....

Be a reader.

I don't know anyone who is (or was) a good writer who isn't (or wasn't) also an avid reader. Everything you read teaches you something - about language, grammar, vocabulary. The beauty of it is that you don't necessarily realize it at the time.

And don't limit yourself to reading only within the genre that you write. Read anything and everything that interests you. Grant writing is ultimately about telling a story. Your grant writing skill can be greatly enhanced by reading fiction, as well as non-fiction.

Here's the list of what I have read within the last 7 days:
  • Cross County (a novel by James Patterson)
  • Today Matters (inspirational nonfiction by John Maxwell)
  • The Holy Bible
  • The Daily Democrat (our local newspaper)
  • The Christian Science Monitor (a much better source for national and international news than our local paper, and it comes to my mailbox five days a week, which I really like)
  • The Wall Street Journal (I get it every day, but don't read it every day)
  • Many different internet blogs (I have about 15 favorites that I subscribe to....I read several every day, and the rest I review once a week or so)
  • Various websites of interest
  • 2 grant Requests for Proposals (RFPs)

This list doesn't even count all the email, regular mail, and catalogs I looked through this week. Also, I didn't read any magazines this week, but I usually do.

I read something for pleasure every day. I read something for inspiration every day. I read something for my own ongoing education every day. When all three of those come together in the same piece of reading, I get to experience pure joy.

The typical response when a share a list like this is that I must have lots of time on my hands. That makes me laugh. I try to remember what a good friend of mine told me long ago, "We make time for those things (and people) that are important to us." It's easy to see what you really value by examining how you spend your time. If you don't think your values are being accurately reflected in how you send your time, it's time for a change, don't you think?

The other issue with time is this ---I don't read all of those things every day and in large blocks of time. I prefer to read novels when I have a block of time of an hour or more, but all the other things I read I can (and do) read in smaller snippets of time - 5 minutes here, 20 minutes there. My favorite time to read is late in the evening after everyone has gone to bed, but I'll read wherever and whenever I can. If I find that I am not reading as much as I want to, I'll block out and schedule a period of time every day to do a certain type of reading. I keep it scheduled until it becomes a habit.

So, if you want to be a better writer, the first step is to become a reader.

Of course, reading is not all there is to becoming a better writer. Continue to Part 2 for the rest of the story. . .

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Value of Readers' Comments

One of the things I do when I start preparing to re-write a grant that was unsuccessful in the past is pull out the readers' comments to review the opinions of the original readers who did not score the proposal well enough for funding. The plan is always to update any demographic information, be sure that the proposal is compliant with the requirements of the current RFP, and make any necessary modifications to the proposal based on the readers' comments.

Unfortunately, it's not always that easy. Here's why:
  • The readers' comments are often contradictory. It is not uncommon for two readers to have completely different views of a particular issue in a grant. I can't tell you how many times I have seen something listed as a strength by one reader and as a weakness by another reader.
  • The readers' comments are sometimes biased. There are times when a reader's bias against a particular approach or curriculum is clear from his comments. If you are using an evidence-based program and it's clear that you happened to get reader who just doesn't like that program, there's nothing you can do.
  • The readers' comments are sometimes just flat wrong. There have been many times where I have seen a reader comment that something was left out of a proposal when the review of the proposal shows that it was not omitted. I try to keep in mind that not all readers read every proposal as carefully as they should, and that a proposal read at the end of the day will not be read as closely as one read early in they day, but it still annoys me when a comment is simply incorrect.

In spite of these issues with readers' comments, I still do my best to get what I can out of them.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of the readers' comments:

  1. Check your ego at the door. It's hard not to be defensive when someone else is critiquing your work, but if you want to be successful, you must be able to view the comments as objectively as possible. Don't assume bias from the outset. Tell yourself that you are going to learn something from the comments to make the proposal, or your writing in general, better, and then look for what you can learn.
  2. Hear what is being communicated regardless of what was said. For example, if a reader says that I left something out of a proposal, and I review the proposal and find that this is not true, I am convinced that the lesson for me should be that the issue the reader was unable to find was not presented clearly or prominently enough. I carefully review the original proposal again. Did I make the point in question clearly, or did I offer it in passing? Would the proposal be stronger if I repeat or re-state that point? Would it be stronger if I italicize or bold the point? The point the reader is making is not necessarily that the point in question was not in the proposal (even though that's what he said), but that it wasn't presented prominently and clearly enough for the reader to catch it.
  3. Use your best judgement. Review the comments. Honestly try to assess if you believe it is a valid issue that merits a change in your proposal. If so, make a change. If not, let it go. I am particularly critical of comments that come from only one reader. If something was clear to the other two readers, I'll make it a bit stronger if I can, but sometimes it's juts worth rolling the dice that you'll get three reasonable readers next time - especially if the first two readers scored your proposal very highly.
  4. Get someone else's opinion. Sometimes it is just too difficult to step away from your own work enough to see the comments clearly without being too defensive. If that's the case, ask someone you trust who does not have a vested interest in the proposal to review both the comments and the proposal for you. That person's opinion may make everything much more clear for you.

About Creative Resources & Research

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Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.