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!

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.