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 is....trust 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.