Friday, July 30, 2010

Joining the Internet "Land Rush!"

We've been really busy with creating a presence on the Web; and, it’s a fascinating environment to work in.  The way that people are rushing in makes me think a little bit of the movie Oklahoma about the land rush where pioneers are in their buggies waiting for some guy to shoot off a gun so they can all race out into the plains to stake a claim, grab some prime property.

The virtual (Internet) land rush is still on today and I wonder if some day into the future, we all might reminisce about what could have been if we had just staked out some electronic ground for ourselves and held on tight to it.

One of the lessons I’ve learned is that finding a good domain isn’t easy.  If you think of practically anything in the world that is a one word term for something, it’s long gone.  Long, long gone, or, it could be up for sale fetching thousands of dollars when the right entrepreneur comes along to buy it.

Of course buying a piece of property isn’t the same thing as making it fertile and productive.  That is of course the real work of the Internet, that’s where the true gold lies.  And there’s lots of miners, i.e., programmers and engineers working like slaves to their computer to find the next big thing, or even the next moderate thing, some program, application, or web site they can sell off to Google or Yahoo and retire at thirty.

It’s fascinating to become involved - a bit of a blur - and have just enough knowledge to see a little of what is possible on the Internet.  The scene is a flashback to what California must have been like during the gold rush.  Lots of people with dollar signs in their eyeballs buying the tools and rushing forth to do the work, hoping to strike it rich with sweat, effort, and a lot of luck.  Maybe like California's Sam Brannan during the Gold Rush, the business geniuses today are mostly in the tool-selling business.

Most of those chasing their fortune will never get rich off the net; many instead will have to be satisfied at age 50 to be employed and making a living.  I bet they’ll be wondering how they missed the last ten big opportunities that filled someone else’s pockets with gold.  Many more of us will wonder how we missed the opportunities that opened up right before our eyes.

We’re working a lot on our web site.  We’re creating and delivering online resources and online training.  Creating good content is the part we know how to do, getting people who want it to find it is the trickier part!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SIG Schools Part II – What part does student poverty or affluence play in school performance?

This is the second in a multi-part series about the schools eligible to apply for some of the “Race to the Top”/ “School Improvement Grant (SIG)” funding provided through President Obama’s Education program via the Federal Department of Education.  Race to the Top is the key effort by the administration to raise achievement in America ’s underperforming schools.

In California, SIG funding is targeted at the lowest achieving schools identified as Tier I and Tier II schools, those falling into the bottom 5% in terms of achievement.  As mentioned in part I of this series, our company assisted one school district complete and application for the SIG and we helped another district by reviewing their grant before it was submitted.

Because of our work, we are curious about whether Tier I schools have similar characteristics other than low achievement.  We have undertaken this analysis of publicly available data about the Tier I schools first identified by the California Superintendent of Schools in a press release.

There are 136 schools identified in Tier 1.  Our first question is: Where are these schools and is their location predictive of student achievement levels?  Are these schools located in impoverished counties?

If we examine the income levels of the counties where these schools are located, we find that 67 of the Tier 1 schools are in counties with per capita incomes below the state median while 69 of the schools are located in counties where per capita income is above the state median.  When the median household income is examined, a similar picture emerges with 65 of the schools located in counties where household income falls below the state median and 71 schools are located in counties with household incomes above the median. 

If child lives in a wealthy county like Alameda County, which has the highest per capita income in the state at $44,962, and the third highest average household income at $71,306, how is it that some of the schools are ranking within the bottom 5% and why is it that a wealthy county like Alameda requires additional federal funding to raise student achievement?

County wealth does not appear to be predictive of whether a school will be underperforming or not.  Perhaps county income levels are not a fine enough measurement to use, so let’s zoom in on a school-by-school level.

One accessible form of public data on the economic circumstances of families at a school is the percentage of students for qualifying for the Federal free and reduced price lunch program (FRPL).  Families must apply for this program and they qualify by showing evidence of financial need.

We gathered Free/Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) data on the 136 Tier I schools as well as on 136 of the schools identified by the state in 2010 as “Distinguished Schools”.  The Distinguished schools were selected for comparison in this series were chosen according to several criteria, 1) the school was in a school district that also had Tier I schools, 2) the school was from the same county as some of the Tier 1 schools, 3) where neither condition 1, or 2 could be met, they were randomly chosen from the same region of the state.  Whenever possible, we matched 1:1 using criteria 1 and 2 before using criteria 3.

The results show that on average, 84.1% of students in the SIG Schools qualify for FRPL and in the Distinguished Schools 49.1% of student qualify for FRPL.  This significant discrepancy in the poverty levels between children at Distinguished Schools and those at Tier I schools is striking and may provide one clue to understanding the discrepancy in achievement levels.

What immediate becomes clear, though, is that there are holes in the argument that FRPL is a good indicator for low achievement. Among the group of Distinguished Schools used for comparison, there are 45 schools with significant percentages of students that qualify for FRPL (60%+).  Clearly, there is more to understand than the economic status of the families who send their children to a school.

These are difficult and complicated questions, but the level of investment being made by the taxpayer in these Tier I schools requires that they be asked and answered.  Clearly there is an economic discrepancy between Tier I schools and Distinguished schools.  We will examine other discrepancies in Part III of our SIG series.


Read all of the first post in this series: Low Performing Schools - SIG Schools Series, Part I

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Be a Professional (Pro)

Some advice from Expert Grant Writer, Derek Link on being a professional:

I was given sage advice as a young man, "Whatever you do in life, be a Pro, because there are so few Pro's". Like much advice I’ve received in life, it was given without asking; but this once I was happy to receive it. I was on a balcony, outside a classroom where I was taking a class for my Master’s, taking a break. The instructor’s elderly husband had come along with her for some reason and was also enjoying the afternoon sunshine outside the room with me, and we were chatting.

He was a successful man; although, the details of his success I’ve long forgotten. He saw an opportunity in our conversation about the class I was engaged in to share a wisp of wisdom with me.

“Be a garbage man,” he said, “Be anything you want to be, but be a Pro at it”. Be a professional. I thought a lot about that conversation over the past 25 years or so that have gone by and I’ve tried hard to live my work life as a Pro. I haven’t always succeeded, I’ll admit. At times I get lazy, distracted, unmotivated, timid, or dissatisfied; and it is at those times that I merely plug along at my work. When I merely plug along, I am never doing my best work.

To be a Pro means the following to me:
  1. Be honest (with discretion)
  2. Show Up (always and on time)
  3. Work until the job is done right
  4. Be brave enough to take risks
  5. Constantly grow and seek opportunities to improve
  6. Attend to the details
  7. Be well-groomed and well spoken
  8. Keep petty personal events private without being cold
  9. Be supportive of the growth of others
  10. Contribute positively to the professional climate
  11. Be loyal
  12. Be helpful
There are likely components I am forgetting to mention in here but these are the first twelve that come to mind and which - when I live by them – have served me well in my career. Please feel free to comment and add other ideas to the list.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

A Real Life Parable about Data and Hearing What You Want to Hear Regardless of What Has Been Said

A school district contracted with a research firm to conduct a telephone survey of local residents to determine if there was enough support for a parcel tax measure to move forward with it. The research firm was paid over $18,000 to conduct the telephone survey over a five day period. A total of 400 surveys/interviews were conducted and factored into the results. Fifty-five percent (55%) of those surveyed said they would support the measure, which falls short of the two-thirds required for the measure to pass, so the school board chose to abandon the measure at this time.

The survey also revealed that "only 14 percent of those surveyed think the district is doing a good job of providing high quality education or preparing students for a job," and 60% of those surveyed believe that overall management of the district is poor.  Sixty-four percent (64%) believe that the district is doing a poor to only fair job of managing public funds.


Now, there are many things about this whole process that I could discuss, from the fact that $18,000 is an exorbitant fee to pay for a telephone survey of 400 residents (yes, many reputable research firms, including my own, would do an excellent job for much less) to the fact that the district had other no-cost and low-cost ways of getting pretty close to the same information, but I'm going to focus on the response to the survey results.

Just about anyone I have discussed this with says something like, "Wow. It's pretty clear that folks in that town think the school district is doing a lousy job. The public doesn't trust them with their money."

Interestingly, though, that's not what the school superintendent got out of those results. Here's what the local newspaper had to say about that: "She was interested to learn that, based on the survey, the community most valued tutoring for students, curriculum that uses science and technology, and more opportunities for students to take advanced classes."  And then the superintendent was quoted, "We need to continue to help kids that need extra help, continue to challenge kids that need more (rigor), and we need to do that with current technology."


While all of that may be true, it seems to me that the real message to get is that the community doesn't trust the school district and thinks it's doing a lousy job.  That's what needs to be addressed.

We could debate the value of spending a lot of money on data gathering efforts.  As an evaluator, I'm a believer in investing in data collection to help you demonstrate the value of your programs and evaluate their effectiveness so you can improve them. The questions that comes up is always, "How much money is too much to spend for evaluation and data collection?"

But even that is not the moral to this story. 

The moral to this story is this:  If you're going to spend anything on conducting a survey, be willing to really listen and hear what people are saying.  If you're not going to learn from what has been said, even a dime is too much to pay for the information.


Click here for a free webinar on Tips for Conducting Focus Group Interviews.

Click here to access two free webinars on the Basics of Program Evaluation.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Federal Government Grant Priorities.....Whose Priorities?

I was scanning the grant opportunities at this morning, and I noticed something that I have noticed for years, but today it struck me a bit differently. I'm accustomed to seeing hundreds of grant opportunities that don't apply to my clients.  Many are amusing (I've posted on Facebook about competitions for funds to save particular obscure animal species, etc.) and some are just incomprehensible. However, at a time when our economy is in trouble and people are suffering, some of the federal grant priorities seem just wrong.

Non-profit organizations that are often the last line of support for our most needy citizens are struggling for every dime these days, yet here are just a few of the hundreds of things that the government is choosing to fund instead:

Inventory of Cave Dwelling Animals in Wet Caves Grant - I think we could just go with last year's inventory numbers, don't you?

Azerbaijan New Media Project - This is $4,000,000 to support the development of new media and online communities in Azerbaijan. Supposedly it will help with the distribution of US aide there.

Establishing a Global System of Regional Wildlife Networks: Providing Support for Central American Wildlife - Wildlife here are so well protected that we have extra cash to be protecting wildlife in Central America?

Mexican Spotted Owl Grant - This announcement lists only "Mexican Spotted Owl" in the full description of the project.  Are we buying a Mexican spotted owl?  Several? Are we protecting it? Feeding it? Whatever we are doing to it, is it more important than $280,000 worth of food for the homeless?

Youth Empowerment Program in Kenya - $14,000,000 for this one, folks. I guess all of the youth in the US are empowered and well-educated, so it's time to move on the youth of Kenya.

Decentralization Enabling Environment - I find this one to be particularly ironic. This grant provides $2,000,000 to a nongovernmental agency in Honduras to help develop the "environment necessary for decentralization of government services to the local level in order to better respond to citizen needs." At a time when local organizations in the U.S. that do this very thing are suffering and the U.S. is going through a dramatic centralization of services and resources, we're giving money to another country to do the opposite.

MERIDA Small Grant Program for Community Youth at Risk - This one is for community-based programs for at-risk youth in Panama. See my comment above about the Youth Empowerment Program in Kenya.

Please don't misunderstand.  I am sure that there is some value in each of these programs. What kind of human being would I be if I didn't think doing something to or with Mexican Spotted Owls was important or that we shouldn't have an accurate inventory of wet cave dwelling animals?

Even so, I think we need to do a much better job of prioritizing.  Every family knows that you can't have everything. Some things that you think are important have to be put aside or postponed until you can afford them in favor of funding things that are much more important.

As for the grants I just cited (and the hundreds of others like them), just whose priorities are those, anyway?


Click here to access two free webinars on the Basics of Program Evaluation.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How Positive Writing Makes a Better Grant

Yesterday on my Twitter account (Grant_Writer if you want to follow me) I received a tweet from someone I won’t name and the gist of the tweet was that this person was watching a single Mom struggling on a teacher’s salary to put a child through college – “sigh”.

Well, I thought this warped perspective must have some relevance or I wouldn’t have been meant to see it. Before pondering the significance of this to grant writing, I replied to the person’s tweet something to the effect that the person is indeed fortunate to be “struggling” with a “salary” (of any kind in this economy) and a “child in college” (what a great burden). Life could be so much worse.

Grants must be written from a perspective of abundance and positive energy. While there may well be some difficult circumstances that caused the grant to be needed, like extremely low reading levels among 4th grade students, or hunger and homelessness, or whatever the need may be, the reader wants to hear about the hope the grant provides for overcoming those circumstances. The reader wants to believe that your grant will resolve those issues, and that you are confident and competent to accomplish the objectives.

Writing that presents a “woe-is-me” attitude simply makes me want to jump off a bridge. I may well sympathize with the needs presented, and usually this is the strongest section of even a bad grant because most everyone can point out what’s wrong. But pointing out what is right that will lead to a positive outcome is the key.

Take my twitter “followee” as an example. This person could have tweeted something like, “So proud of my friend putting her child through college on a teacher’s salary-hurrah!” - Or – “My friend’s struggle to put her child through college on a teacher’s salary will pay off! She’s my hero!”

It’s all in the perspective, so choose to write grant narratives in a positive tone, one that promotes your energy, that clearly illustrates your fresh ideas, and that forcefully expresses confidence in your competent ability to overcome the current reality and create a better tomorrow!

By Non-Profit Consultant and Expert Grant Writer Derek Link


Check out some grant samples at .

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Happily Slogging On!

Here are some thoughts from Non-Profit Consultant and Expert Grant Writer, Derek Link, on focus and perseverance:

Doing something difficult is always a trial of wills. You must enforce your will over the task, and over all other competing tasks. You must make a commitment that the task at hand is the one that matters most, and devote your focus on it entirely through the inevitably arduous march toward completion.

I’ve experienced this happy slog over and over in my life. Fortunately I got good advice about the slog along the way, and actually before I even began my first one (the university). I had a wonderful teacher in high school named Norm Barker. He was an architecture teacher and a terrifically talented person. He could do anything with his hands. I admired him because of those skills, and he was actually in my neighborhood so I got to see some of his handiwork first hand. He rebuilt a 1961 Porsche from paint to engine to upholstery, he built his own stereo speakers, he took an old wood-burning pot-bellied stove that he’d found in a field and welded up all the bullet holes and recast the missing parts and it was a thing of beauty when he finished.

What Mr. Barker taught me, in addition to some drafting skills, was that dedication to an endeavor produced good results. I recall that he was inspiring me to become an architect at one point as a student and he showed me a list of the courses at Cal Poly I’d need to take to become an architect. I remarked to him that I wasn’t good at math (truth be told, in high school I didn’t do my homework which mostly accounted for my poor math scores). He told me a valuable thing that sustained me throughout my Bachelor’s and my Master’s degrees: Mr. Barker said, “Derek, there’s nothing you can’t get through for one semester”. BRILLIANT ADVICE, Mr. Barker.

So, this is a long bird-walk to get to my topic of the Happy Slog. When you are in the midst of writing a grant and you’re feeling like you’ll never slog through it, just keep Mr. Barker’s advice in mind (with a little twist) “There’s nothing you can’t get through in three (fill in your deadline) weeks.” The deadline will come and go, so keep your mind focused and ignore all the competing distractions that are bound to come your way.

Slog on grant writers, slog on!


Monday, July 19, 2010

Grant Writing - Five Last Minute Things to Check

In the grant writing process, the final hours are the most stressful. That’s the time when you are conducting your final checks to make sure you have included everything that needs to be included, labeled everything correctly, corrected all errors, calculated everything correctly, and followed the instructions to the letter. It is also one of the most dangerous periods of the grant writing process because it’s easy to miss things in the rush to finish.

Here are a few last minute things to watch out for:
  1. Re-check all information on required forms. Go through all of the required forms, line by line, to make sure you entered the information correctly. It’s not uncommon to think that completing forms is so simple that you lose focus, and it’s easy to transpose numbers in phone numbers or enter email addresses or tax ID numbers incorrectly.
  2. Check all budget numbers – then check them again. Just like on your taxes, math errors are among the most common when completing grant application budgets.
  3. Review the program requirements and make sure they are all addressed (and labeled) in your narrative. If the program you are applying for has absolute and competitive preference priorities, be sure you have addressed them all and labeled your responses as such. Remember, you don’t want the readers to have any trouble at all finding your responses to program requirements.
  4. Fill in all blanks in your narrative. Sometimes people leave blanks in the narrative for page references or things they plan on filling in later. If you don’t go back through specifically looking for them, it’s easy to miss them.
  5. If you are submitting your grant electronically, open each section and to make sure the files are attached properly before you submit. I may be paranoid, but I always like to take one last look at every document before I click that “submit” button, just to be sure that the file I intended to attach is actually the one that was attached.
Successful grant writing is all about details. Taking a few extra minutes at the end of the grant writing process to check a few important details can make all the difference.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Grant Writing Deadline Purgatory

I'm floating in grant writing deadline purgatory right now.  Actually, I'm not totally in grant writing purgatory. I am skating on the edges of it, but I'm close enough to see it, inhale the stale smell of it, and feel its panic.

When you are fully engulfed in grant writing deadline purgatory, you have done most of what you can do to complete a grant proposal, but you are stopped from fully completing it due to some situation beyond your control.  Unfortunately, the situation gremlins that can keep you in purgatory are numerous.  You may be waiting for a client or some stakeholder to get you some last minute feedback on the narrative.  You might be waiting for some final letters of support or signatures on a Memorandum of Understanding. You may be waiting for someone to clarify some budget issues for you. Sometimes, you're all ready to submit, but the online electronic portal for submittal is down and you are waiting for it to go live again.

When you're in grant writing deadline purgatory, you hover.  You try to find something to do with yourself.  You watch the clock. You wonder why you ever got into this line of work. You speculate on what life would be like if you were a mail carrier or flight attendant, or you fantasize about what all the people on the outside (outside your office incarceration) are doing.  You wait.

Today, as I said, I am skating on the edges of grant writing deadline purgatory.  I have three grants due Monday that are in various stages of completion. Two are in some level of deadline purgatory, and I'm waiting for others.  The third won't be in purgatory until tomorrow, so there's still plenty I can do today.


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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grant Writing is like a Bicycle Built for Two

So this morning I am walking to the coffee shop to drink coffee and use free wifi when a guy pedals past me on a bicycle built for two .…alone.
My first thought was that his girlfriend may be lying somewhere scratched and angry up the road but when I didn’t find her I began to feel sorry for the guy.
I wondered to myself if this wasn’t some sort of e-harmony  experiment gone awry.  Their online disclosures may have missed his fantasy for whisking her away on his bicycle; perhaps she had balked and rebuked his penchant for pedantic pedaling.
In any case, my mind soon turned to grant writing, as it frequently does, and I thought about clients I’ve had who after learning about the bicycle built for two that we needed to pedal together in order to get the work of the grant done, had similarly balked at sharing the load.
Completing a grant application successfully is a partnership between the writer and the client not unlike riding a bicycle built for two.  The client should steer the process to make sure that the grant goes where they want it to go.  They also need to pedal along with the writer -  there’s work for both to do.
So long as both parties pedal hard and long, the bike will take them to the desired destination: grant submission and with a little good fortune, full funding!
So writers and clients need to jump on that bicycle together, pedal hard, and steer well.  Don’t leave your grant writer sweating and pedaling along solo or the grant may not reach its destination successfully.  The writer, like the solitary guy on his bike this morning, may get tired, and let’s face it, the journey is more enjoyable with someone to chat with along the way.
By Derek Link, Non-Profit Consultant and Expert Grant Writer
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Grant Writing - Don't Chase the Money

You have seen this here before - Chase your dream (your vision, your mission), not the money.  I know it sounds counter-intuitive to you, especially if you are a non-profit executive or school administrator who is just trying to keep your programs alive, but it's important.  Not only is a focus on the money rather than your mission the surest way to get pulled off-track with your work, but most savvy funders can see right through the ruse. You end up doing more work for less return.

It just makes more sense to stay focused on your mission than  to keep trying to fit the square peg of the funding source in front of you into the round hole that is your organization's mission-driven need.

No matter how hard I try to educate my clients, I saw it again last week,  As I met with a client to discuss the details about a grant the said they wanted to pursue, it became obvious that this grant opportunity is not aligned with the organization's current priorities.  Yes, they could go for it.  They might even get it, but then they'd have to implement a program that is not aligned with where they say they want to go.....and all this for a couple of million dollars that they wouldn't be allowed to spend on what they really need anyway..

Let's say you need $100 to get to New York next month for a family reunion and someone offered to give you $200, but only if you would go to Santa Cruz next month. Would you take it?  Only if you really wanted to go to Santa Cruz instead of New York anyway. If not, you'd probably be focused enough to know that spending next month in Santa Cruz would take you off track from your plan to get to New York for the family reunion and you wouldn't take that deal.  You'd keep looking for someone who could help you get to New York.

You should keep the same level of focus with your grant research. Keep your mission and vision front and center, and look for the funding sources to help you get there.


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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Grant Writing with Authority (Cite Your Sources)

Have you ever been reading a narrative in which someone states something as fact and you wonder to yourself, “How do they know that?”

That is not a question that a grant writer wants the grant readers to be asking. It’s important to cite sources of data and research and do it using the proper format. Yes, readers care about the sources, and they care that the grant writer takes the time to properly record the source material for facts and resources that are presented.

There are different ways to cite different materials and sources so it’s valuable to have a resource for finding the proper format. I did a quick Google search in researching this post and I came up with a very nice table giving formats for everything from books to online sources. The article by Steve Volk of Oberlin College  provides a nice compilation of citation styles and there is even a link in the article to another online source.

Here are some good reasons why citing sources adds authority to grant writing:
  1. It helps the reader connect to the grant narrative, especially if they hold the source/research author in high esteem (so be sure to use the best sources).
  2. It helps the grant reader see that the program plan is based on research and not a pipe dream.
  3. It helps the reader understand that the design is based on the most current research.
An effective grant is one that presents a believable plan to the reader even though the grant is for a new program that does not exist yet. This often means that the program is one that someone has implemented before and that is modified for a new location and unique circumstances. Telling the reader that the program is based on successful models that have been validated by research adds strength to the program design and builds confidence in its feasibility. Citing relevant sources and research is part of the glue that holds the program together in the minds of the readers and will raise the scores and the likelihood of an award.

By:  Derek Link, Non-profit Consultant and Expert Grant Writer
Need to see a successful grant sample to get a good idea of how to best present your proposal?  Check out

Friday, July 9, 2010

Low Performing Schools - SIG School Series, Part I

Something important is happening in education and you’re paying a lot of for it. A brand new school reform program is about to commence and $416 million of your tax money is footing the bill in California alone.

This new Educational Reform Effort is entitled the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program authorized under Section 1003(g)  of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the money is allocated from the United States Department of Education to state departments of education throughout the country. Because most of our work is in California, we’ll be talking about how it plays out in California. The California Department of Education (CDE) administers the grant competition in California and makes a final allocation of the funding.

On June 24, 2010, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell  announced in a news release  that the Federal Government had approved California’s application for SIG funding to reform 188 of the persistently lowest achieving schools in the state. These schools are to be reformed using one of four models:
  • Turnaround Model: The LEA undertakes a series of major school improvement actions, including replacing the principal and rehiring no more than 50 percent of the school's staff; adopting a new governance structure; and implementing an instructional program that is research-based and vertically aligned from one grade to the next, as well as aligned with California's adopted content standards.
  • Restart Model: The LEA converts a school or closes and reopens a school under a charter school operator; a charter management organization; or an education management organization that has been selected through a locally determined, rigorous review process, using state educational agency provided guidance. A restart model school must enroll, within the grades it serves, any former student who wishes to attend the school.
  • School Closure Model: The LEA closes a school and enrolls the students who attended that school in other schools in the LEA that are higher achieving. These other schools should be within reasonable proximity to the closed school and may include charter schools or new schools for which achievement data are not yet available.
  • Transformation Model: The LEA implements a series of required school improvement strategies, including replacing the principal who led the school prior to implementation of the transformation model, and increasing instructional time.
(Source – California Department of Education: News Release, “State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Announces California Wins Federal Funding to Turn Around Persistently Lowest-Achieving Schools”, 6/24/10)

In the interest of full disclosure, we at Creative Resources and Research worked with one school district to develop its grant application and we helped another school district by reviewing its application for them to fine-tune it.

Over the years, after working with hundreds of schools attempting to complete school improvement and reform processes, we have been fascinated (and often frustrated) at the frightening level of dysfunction within low performing schools and districts. Working closely with a couple of districts applying for SIG funds, we started wondering about the other eligible schools.

Where are these schools? Do all of the schools share common characteristics? These questions led to more interesting questions such as, are there factors revealed in non-academic data that might have important implications for school reform? How do these lowest performing schools compare with schools at the other end of the performance spectrum? How different are the lowest performing schools from those 450 or so “Distinguished”  schools? What are the similarities and differences between these two groups and what might those differences tell us is important in terms of reforming California schools? What needs to change at the lowest performing schools to turn the Persistently Lowest Performing Schools into “Distinguished” schools?

This series of posts about SIG will seek answers to some of these questions or at least to pose new questions that require further research and examination. Our next post in the series will be “Who Are the Lowest Performing Schools?”


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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Grant Writing Mistakes to Avoid

The list of grant writing mistakes to avoid could be longer than the list of tips to do it right because there are so many ways to slip up, particularly when writing large and complex government grants. Here's a quick list of a few mistakes to avoid that have come up lately:

Mistake #1: Not reading everything in the RFP.  This may seem like a no-brainer to you, but you would be surprised how often people don't read everything. Reading everything in the RFP is so important that you should do it no matter how many times you have written a particular category of grant.  Things change.  Yes, they really do. I'm working on a grant project right now that has undergone some major modifications.  The RFP is full of brand new detail, websites to visit, and assessments to review.  Calling it complex would be a bit of an understatement. It would be a huge mistake not to read absolutely everything.

Mistake #2: Not participating in the informational conference calls and webinars. About 50% of the time, there is nothing shared on the informational call that is not also in the RFP; however, half the time, some valuable detail is shared that will give you a competitive advantage.  Ok, ok, I know.  That's not supposed to be the way it works.  Everything you need to apply is supposed to be included in the Federal Register announcement and the RFP, but that's just not the way it works. I know an organization that was denied funding because they did not comply with a restriction that was explained in the informational webinar and not in the RFP.  It's still in appeal, but it would have been a lot easier just to participate in the webinar.

Mistake #3: Not using the checklist provided in the RFP.  This is such a common mistake, that many funding agencies now require that you include the checklist in your application.  It's their way of making sure that you have actually looked at the checklist.  Using the checklist helps you be sure not to leave required pieces out of your application.  It won't help you with the quality of the narrative response (follow the scoring criteria for that), but it will help you submit all the required documents in the right order.

Mistake #4:  Waiting until the last minute to call with your questions. This requires some advance planning. You can call to ask questions, but the representative from the funding agency will usually not answer the phone, and he/she may not return your call in a timely manner.  If you have waited until the last day to ask a critical question, you'll be out of luck. 

Mistake #5: Not reading the FAQs or supplemental information suggested in the RFP. This is related to mistake #1 (above), but often people do not think that the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are really part of the RFP, so they don't read them.  Some agencies publish the FAQs separately.  They can contain some very valuable clarifying information.  The same is true of supplemental information referred to in the RFA.  Sometimes the website the funder is pointing you to really is just for extra information that you don't need or may already know, but from time to time those references include critical information that will make the difference between success and failure.

Mistake #6:  Including needs that you don't plan on addressing in the project.  It's really easy to get carried away providing all sorts of information about how needy your organization is, but you need to be sure that you target your needs section toward the project at hand.  If you identify a need, then your project to address that need (at least in part).  Remember, all of the sections of your proposal need to be connected - from needs, to goals and objectives, to design, to management, to evaluation, to budget.


Related Posts:

Five Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Grant Objectives

How Can the Grant You Just Finished Help Make You a Better Writer?

Lessons Learned from Failure

Top 10 Lessons I Learned from My Grant Writing Mentor

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Avenues to Grant Writing Success

Of all the things I’ve done for a living, grant writing is the most challenging. Oh, I’ve flipped hamburgers at McDonalds through the great Big Mac rush of ’74, I’ve put out forest fires during the summer of the great Marble Cone fire in ’77. Why, I’ve even planted flower bulbs for the frenetically manic Ms. Taylor (all names have been changed to protect the innocent).

But grant writing, my friends, demands concentration beyond correcting alternating tulip bulb colors to accent the curtains in a crazy woman’s parlor window (she was inspired by Monet no less). Grant writing is an intense and detail-oriented craft that combines fact with planning to create a sort of future-based fiction.

So, how do you learn to be a good grant writer? If becoming a grant writer is your goal, then I suggest these avenues to that end.

Avenue OneTake a class from an expert grant writer like Veronica Robbins . An experienced grant writer can give you a head start by sharing tips an secrets of the craft that will save you learning them on your own.

Avenue Two – As I’ve recommended before, I suggest you read some grants. You can either volunteer as a reader in a grant competition, or you can get some sample grants to read in your spare time.

Avenue Three – Start your own blog and begin to write on it as frequently as you can. Writing is a skill and a skill takes practice to perfect. And don’t be surprised if your writing is never perfect, but practice is the only road that will take you closer.

I wish you well in your travels and on the road to becoming a grant writer. Grant writing is a tough and rewarding job in which you’ll meet lots of interesting people. You get to help energetic people find money for brilliant ideas!

By: Derek Link, grant writer and non-profit consultant

Would you like access to the largest collection of grant writing and grant seeking resources on the web?  Become a member at!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Reflections on Freedom

It's hard for me to celebrate Independence Day without taking some time to reflect about the powerful impact of freedom on my life - both personally and professionally. I think many of us take it for granted.  We don't understand that are millions of people across the globe who don't have the freedom that we enjoy here in America and several other nations.

As a woman, I am particularly grateful for the blessings of liberty.  There are places in the world today where women are legally treated as property, where the education of a woman (either at all or beyond basic literacy) is forbidden, and where a woman's ability to think and reason is not recognized or accepted.

As a writer, I recognize that I enjoy the benefits of freedom every day.  My writing is not censored and, for the most part, I write without fear of serious repercussion of any kind.  Of course, I need to be responsible about how I use my gift or I will experience some unpleasant consequences, but the government doesn't tell me what I can write and what I can't.  I don't have to worry about my livelihood being threatened because I write something that offends a government official, and I don't have to worry about my life or the lives of my family being in danger because of what I have to say in print.

As a Christian, I am blessed daily with the right to worship freely, to gather with other believers, and to publicly profess my faith if I choose (or to keep it myself, if I prefer). There are still places in the world where freedom of worship is not accepted. Christians are persecuted today as they were two thousand years ago, but not me.  I am among the fortunate ones.

The question that strikes me, though, is "What are we doing with this amazing gift of freedom?"  We have the right to speak out against (verbally and in writing) the injustices around us, but we often don't.  We have the right to practice our faith openly, yet many choose not to.

Many of our Founding Fathers risked their lives practicing these rights.  They were that important to them. And no discussion of our freedoms is complete without remembering and respecting the sacrifice of the many thousands of men and women over the years who have died defending them.  What did they die for?  My right to play Farmville? 

Don't we cheapen their sacrifice if we don't exercise our freedom in a way that helps others and makes the world a better place? Many before us feared for their lives.  Many of us fear ridicule or social consequences if we use our freedom to speak up for what is right, to defend others (particularly those who cannot defend themselves). I think it is one of our responsibilities to do so....or we'll eventually lose it.  This is especially true in a time when political discourse has commonly degenerated into meaningless arguments and more and more people are content to be supported by the efforts of others rather than to earn their own way.

Yes, you may have the freedom to do nothing, but exercising that freedom in that way may result in your children having far fewer liberties than you so.  Can you live with that?

So, happy Independence Day!  How are you going to celebrate your freedom?


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Grant Writing is a Team Sport

Nobody likes to work alone more than I do. Don't get me wrong.  It's not that I don't enjoy the company of others or the intellectual stimulation that only comes with working with others, but I love the feeling of getting into "the zone" when I'm writing, and that simply doesn't happen when there are other people around interrupting the work.  OK, they may call it "offering ideas," but when you're deep into the writing, it feels like an interruption.

That said, it's important to remember that grant writing is not a solo sport - it's a team sport. Even if you are self-employed and you have no support staff, your client is part of your team.  He or she has information that you need to get the work done.  If you are the executive director of a non-profit organization who does all the grant writing for your organization, you may feel like you're flying solo in the grant writing process, but you're not.  You have a team of folks who all have bits and pieces of what you need to complete the task and do it well.

This means that all of us lone wolves (or prima donnas, depending on your perspective) need to remember what we learned in kindergarten - that it is very important to know how to work and play well with others.

I have had some clients who apparently never learned that.  They either act like the playground bully, shouting orders and demands, or they play off alone in their own sandbox and then wonder later why I couldn't read their minds.

You can call it working together, or teamwork, or collaboration, but the reality is that you can't do it well alone.  You need others to help you get to your goal.  The more you recognize that and embrace that, the more successful you'll be.

Related Posts:

The Importance of Networking

Our Favorite Clients

When Partnerships Go Bad


If you really want some help with your grant writing, consider becoming a member of!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Grant Writing Made Easy

We make everything easy these days. Microwave ovens made cooking easy. GPS relieved men from stopping to ask for directions after getting hopelessly lost. Some cars parallel park all by themselves. Debit cards all but replaced checks making it easier to get and spend money.

Most of our lives is so much easier now; it’s about time to make grant writing easy too. Here are ten ideas to make your grant writing easy. Don’t skip a step or you’re going to make your writing hard again!
  1. Hire a grant writer; but, if you’re still determined to write the grant yourself, proceed to steps 2 – 9.
  2. Get a really-really comfortable chair because you’re going to be there a while.
  3. Get a second screen for your computer so you can have multiple documents open at once and still see at least two of them.
  4. Get extra ink and paper for your printer so you don’t have to run to Office Max in the middle of production.
  5. Get a grant outline or write your own.
  6. Get one or two grant samples at to read before you start to write.
  7. Push the DND button on your phone (that’s “Do Not Disturb”) and let the answering machine handle the calls from sales people and neighbors wondering why your lights were on until 3 AM.
  8. Hit crtl-S every few minutes to save the work so you don’t experience the Prozac-inducing experience of a frozen computer and lost narrative.
  9. Highlight in yellow the areas you need more information about so you don’t forget to go back to them and highlight in green items that you need to remember to put into the budget.
  10. Plan ahead on how you are delivering the finished grant so you aren’t driving it like a maniac to beat a deadline at the last moment.
Even following all of the steps above aren’t guaranteed to make your grant writing easy. When you are writing grants you will find that some narratives just flow easily from your mind while others will cause writer’s block and even the most comfy chair won’t unblock you. If you are really looking for the easy button on grant writing, it’s hiring a professional to do it for you!

This post was written by non-profit consultant and expert grant writer, Derek Link.
Want mroe grant writing tips?  Check out our free webinars or sign up for an online seminar or course at our Online Leanring Center.  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Deadlines are Like Burritos

Most people work better with a deadline. I find that not having a deadline only means that I re-prioritize my work so that tasks with a deadline get pushed to the front of the list while the tasks without a deadline are always getting pushed aside. Some of those no-deadline tasks are years old. Like the blue spray paint and sand paper I bought two years ago to refinish some folding wooden chairs – which, to date are not sanded or blue.

We recently had a grant with a published deadline, and then - about 72 hours before the deadline - the agency declared that the deadline was being extended indefinitely, but would be reset sooner than later. So naturally, right after breathing a sigh of relief, panic set in.

Having no deadline for a grant is unnatural. It’s like a burrito without a tortilla. A tortilla wraps up all the ingredients together nice and neat, like a deadline wraps all the work up together. A grant without a deadline is just a tostada. It’s a pile of lettuce, cheese, meat, guacamole, sour cream, and salsa, all piled up on your desk. What do you do with it? There’s simply no neat, easy way to finish it.

A grant without a deadline is just a mess. It’s narrative that’s never going to be finished because writing is never done anyway. It’s a budget that’s going to be constantly tinkered with because the more you change the narrative, the more you’ll have to change the budget. And, it’s all going to get pushed aside anyway by other emerging deadlines.

I like having a deadline. It gives you something to wrap up your project in, like a canole shell; but I guess I shouldn’t mix my grant-as-food metaphors.


Related posts from non-profit consultant and expert grant writer, Derek Link:

Grants Are Like Box Lunches

Some Grants Are Like Peanut Butter

Grants Are Like Sausage

Grants Are Like Donuts


Don't Forget! You can learn grant writing online at our Online Learning Center.


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.