Friday, December 28, 2012

Fighting to Avoid Change

I had an evaluation contract recently to evaluate an organization's safe schools programs. My job was to evaluate the degree to which they were achieving their identified objectives and implementing their program as designed.

The bottom line is that they were neither achieving objectives nor implementing their program as designed. Every time the project director tried to do something she was supposed to do, she was foiled by upper administration. They said they wanted change, but they did everything in their power to stop change. So, the project director stayed busy doing other things - good things - while staying away from any controversy that might affect her job.

Halfway through their 4-year grant period, they were subject to a federal monitoring visit because of a clash between the grant's lead partners and the dysfunctional administration of the grantee (my client). I was asked to share results.  I did. I said they were neither achieving objectives nor implementing the program as designed.

Until that moment, I had no idea how far people would go to cover their tracks and avoid change. The administration rose up and started pointing at all the wonderful things they were doing. I made that the point that those activities were, indeed, wonderful, but they would not do a thing to get them closer to achieving their objectives. I also reminded them that they selected the activities that they put in their grant because they were evidence-based practices that would likely lead to positive changes in the areas targeted by their objectives.

Things got ugly. Soon, fingers started pointing at the evaluation as the culprit.  That perplexed me because the evaluation had no role in implementation at all.  How could it possibly be our fault that they were not doing what they had agreed to do?

But they were persistent and brutal.

They asked for (and were granted) permission to change some of their objectives to say simply that they were successful at doing what they were doing.

Six months later, when it came time to contract for another year, I declined and walked away. Clearly, the administration was more interested in avoiding change than making their schools any safer. I know that sounds harsh, and I know that those administrators would never, ever admit to such a thing.  Maybe they don't even realize what they are doing, but avoiding accountability is avoiding change and fighting to keep the status quo. I couldn't be part of that anymore.

The result?

They hired another evaluator, presumably one who they hope will tell them what they want to hear.

And now, at the end of the grant period, the schools are no safer than they were before the grant was written, nothing has really changed in the infrastructure of the organization that can reasonably be expected to make their schools safer, and there is even more gang activity (and it's more violent) in the community than there was before.

Millions of federal dollars were spent and nothing significant has changed.


Because it's human nature for people to avoid change and, if their jobs may be affected in any way, they will fight to avoid it. The status quo, the "way things have always been done," is a very powerful force. Clearly, throwing money at it is not the key to change. Don't get me wrong. Financial resources may be necessary for change, but they are not the most important part.

The most important part is buy-in, and not just the buy-in of your collaborative partners, although that is very important.  Often, the buy-in you need most to make anything real happen is on the part of people you didn't even think to bring to the table.

So, as you are thinking about applying for a collaborative grant, ask yourself, "If we get this grant, who could really sabotage our efforts and cause us to fail?" That is who also needs to be at the table from the beginning.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Communication Matters

We're installing some new phone lines at the office.  Actually, we're switching out a bunch of expensive ones for some less expensive analog lines.  Yes, some people are really going back to analog.

Anyway, I started the process last April., and here we are today - 8 months later - with a technician here hooking things up. Hopefully, everything will work properly. Normally, I would assume hat it would, but not this time.  Why?  Because communication has been so bad.

The different technicians only know about their piece of the project and they come from different companies.  The only person who apparently is supposed to know the whole project is a project coordinator who is conveniently unreachable today, the day when everything was supposed to be coming together.

Each technician asks me questions and I have no answers.  Has XYZ happened yet? I don't know. Who's bringing and installing the modem?  I have no clue.

I'm frustrated. Very frustrated.

It hit me a moment ago, though, that I have experienced this exact same feeling before. I have something to accomplish.  It's my responsibility. No one is going to do it for me. But I don't have all the information I need to make it happen.

This is exactly the same frustration I feel in my grant writing world when a client hasn't given me the information I need to complete their proposal. I want to do my job.  I really want to complete my task so I can move on to other things, but I'm stuck. I'm stuck waiting for someone else to do their job. They may not think it's that important, but it's important to me.  It's the one thing standing between me and success.

The lesson from this for me is that communication really does matter. When someone else needs information from me, I need to be mindful of that and respond accordingly.

We're all connected in many ways. Information flows between and among us and when it's flowing, things are good.  When it stops flowing, someone can't do their job and it's frustrating.

Let's all do our part to keep it flowing.


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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Resources for Safe Schools

In the aftermath of the school shooting in Connecticut, I thought it would be a good idea to share some safe school resources.  There are many out there. This is just a sampling.

The National Alliance for Safe Schools is a non-profit corporation founded in 1977 to provide resources, training, and expert advice on school safety.

California Department of Education Safe Schools Resources - This is the landing page for resources highlighted by the California Department of Education for Crisis Preparedness, Violence Prevention, and Safe School Environment.

Safe Schools/Healthy Students - This site is not only for SSS/HS grantees. It's a wonderful collection of resources for promoting a safe school environment. In response to the Newtown tragedy, a large collection of resources for helping children deal with tragedy have been posted on the home page.  Click on the "Resources" tab for resources targeted toward violence prevention and developing a safe school environment.

The National School Safety Center was founded by Presidential Mandate by Ronald Reagan in 1984 but it functions now as a non-profit organization devoted to the prevention of school crime and violence.

School Safety Partners has been supporting schools in developing community partnerships to prevent and respond to school violence since 2008.  Make sure your speakers are off or tuned down when you go to this site unless you want to hear the annoying little video that autoplays whenever the page is loaded.  It's not that there's anything wrong with the video, just that you may not everyone around you to hear it.

This should get you started.  I'll post more resources in the coming days.


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Monday, December 17, 2012

What Can You Say?

Our thoughts and prayers are with the town of Newtown as they continue to walk through the difficult days ahead. There really aren't words to express our sorrow for what they are all going through, and there is certainly no way to appropriately link the tragedy to a grant-related topic at this time. That will come later. For now, we'll mourn with them and look toward the furture.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Steps to Recovery

I'm not referring to another 12-step treatment program. No, I'm talking about the steps to recovering from a multi-grant deadline. Those deadlines are exhausting. Long hours, too much stress, not enough sleep - it can ruin even the best attitude.

I had one of those deadlines recently.  It left me exhausted and definitely in need of recovery.  Here are my steps for multi-grant recovery:

Step 1:  Walk away - Don't clean up your desk. Don't start the next project right away.  Just walk away.  Give yourself the time and space you'll need to recover.

Step 2: Reassess your health - If you haven't been eating well, start eating well.  Drink some water. Get some exercise.  You have probably been chained to your desk.  You need to move a bit, but first.....

Step 3: Get some sleep  - Remember what uninterrupted sleep is? Do you remember your last full night of sleep?  It was about a month ago, most likely.

Step 4: Reintroduce yourself to your family.  If they don't recognize you, don't be alarmed.  That is perfectly normal. As soon as you recapture control of the TV remote, it will come back to them.

Step 5: If you can, don't even think about work for a day or two (or more) - Give yourself a complete rest. Your brain has been working harder than any other part of you.  A full rest means giving yourself a break from thinking about grant stuff.

Step 6: Do something that you really enjoy.  If you like to read trashy romance novels, do it.  If you like to shop, go for it (within reason, of course). Give yourself the gift of time just for you since you gave up so much of your time recently to your work.

The point here is that some recovery is really necessary after an intense project. Remember, your career is a marathon, not a sprint.

What do you do to recovery after an intense deadline?


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Monday, September 17, 2012

My Desk

You can learn a lot about a person from her desk, and I'm not just talking about whether it's a neat desk or a messy desk. I'm talking about what is actually on the desk.

Here's what is on mine right at this moment:

  • Two cell phones charging - Personal and business phones, but my personal cell is used more for business than the business one.  Go figure.
  • Headset and microphone -To use with my Dragon Naturally Speaking software, which I can't use right now.
  • Flier and information for Dragon Naturally Speaking software - I downloaded version 12, but it won't install. Ugh.  Don't you hate it when that happens?
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers RFPs - Both the elementary/middle school and ASSETs versions, for California, if course. The FAQs are printed out, too. Together, they make a pile of paper about two inches thick, all of which must be read before I can move forward with the training workshops and actually grant writing I'll be doing. Come to think of it, I think I do just about as much reading as writing in my work. That was never mentioned to me before I started this journey.
  • An article a colleague printed for me called, "50 Grammatical Mistakes to Avoid." - I think I've already made about 6 in this post.  They are technically not necessarily mistakes, but bad writing habits to avoid. And I just indulged in three of them in that last sentence.
  • A pile of bills and insurance documents - No explanation is needed. Those are just no fun all around.
  • Paperwork for a couple of different evaluation projects - I keep telling myself that if I keep them on my desk I won't forget about them and I can work on them a little every day. Well, I don't forget about them, of course, but they end up just getting in the way when I'm trying to finish up other projects. Do I move them?  Of course not.
  • My notebooks - I have a notebook that I use for all my notes on all projects. I started doing this years ago when my memory started become a little less reliable than it used to be. When I change to a new notebook, I carry around the old and the new for awhile so I can refer to notes in the old one until I don't need to anymore.  Then the old one is stored with the other old notebooks. Right now, I'm still working from two.
  • A six inch high pile of scrap paper - Anything that is printed on only one side that I don't need anymore becomes scrap paper. 
  • Two half full bottles of water - I almost wrote half empty, but you know what that would say about me, right?
  • A pile of other business-related projects that are in-process - I won't tell you how many, but it's a lot.
  • A desk fan - There are times when I am warm, usually when no one else is, and the little fan comes in very handy. It's a "woman of certain age" thing.
  • Hand lotion - Because sometimes you just need it.
  • Two staplers -I have no idea why I have two staplers, but I do.
  • My 2012 Knitting Calendar - It's one of those perpetual calendars.  Each day has a new item to print, along with the pattern for it. Some of the patterns in it are really cute and I have already made a few.  As for some of the others, let me just say that just because something can be made, doesn't mean that it should be.
Beyond that, it's just pens, pencils, and miscellaneous other stationery supplies.

So, what does my desk say about me?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Keeping an Open Mind

I have had substantive conversations this week with three different potential new clients. They are all very different than any organization we have worked for in the past and they all need something from us that is slightly different than we have done in the past.

Five years ago, I might not have spoken with any of these folks because I was completely booked with clients who fit into the unique niche we had at the time.  Recently, though, we made a conscious decision to expand our reach a bit and to try some different things.  The economy had a small role in that decision, but it was mostly about the fact that I had burnout nipping at my heels and I was going to implode if I had to keep doing the same thing in the same way for another 20 years. I think some of you may be able to understand exactly what I'm talking about.

So, I've been saying 'yes' to conversations that I wouldn't have had before. Guess what has happened?  I've been having some extraordinary conversations with some extraordinary people who do extraordinary things.  And I can help them.

Keeping an open mind has opened a door to a completely new level of experience and business for us, and it has re-lit some of that fire that has been dampened by years of routine.

All I had to do was listen.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Teaching People to Fish

We're in the process of changing all sorts of things these days. The website will soon have a new, fresh look. Our online grant writing courses will soon have a whole new look and feel.Within a couple of weeks, we'll be offering webinars to help you with specific grants you may be writing. We'll also be expanding our review and critique services, with a focus on helping you become a better grant writer rather than doing it for you.

Why the changes?  Well, it has recently become apparent to me that I won't be here forever. I know that most of you probably knew that, but I was surprised. My health is fine, by the way.  This was more of an existential awareness. So, I've decided that instead of focusing on giving away fish (or selling fish) I'd rather teach people to fish. But I'm not talking about fish. I'm talking about grant writing.

Keep an eye out for the new changes to start rolling out, and if you have any ideas, please share them.

Fishing anyone?


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Monday, August 27, 2012

The Power of Subheadings

You have organized your proposal according to the scoring criteria as the RFP has required or suggested, but you find that you still have large blocks of text and you fear that some of your key points may be lost. There are several ways to highlight your key points.  You can use bold or italics. You can use text boxes or other graphics (if the formatting guidelines allow them). You can also use subheadings.

Subheadings are great way to highlight key points and develop more structure in the proposal. They also allow you to break up the text, which makes it easier to read. And remember, making it easier to read means that the readers will like you. That's a very good thing.

You can create subheadings for the sub-criteria in the scoring guidelines (and you should), but you can also add subheadings that target your key ideas or the core elements of your program design.

Subheadings - simple, but powerful.


Read more tips like this in 101 Tips for Aspiring Grant Writers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Grant Writers Are Not Magicians

Good grant writers can make a lot happen, but we're not magicians. I'm surprised  at how often I've been asked to step far beyond the grant writer role and work miracles within an organization. Here's a partial list of the things I've been asked to do:

  • Make up a program design when none exists.
  • Use language to make it look like an organization has been collaborating with other organizations for a long time when, in fact, it hasn't.
  • Write letters of support for partners to sign that "say what we need them to say," rather than what the partner really plans on doing.
  • Write about how the program will be integrated with other programs in the agency when the agency hasn't told me anything about other programs or how they plan to integrate them.
  • Make up in-kind contributions.
  • Put a budget together with no information about actual personnel costs or fringe benefits.
  • "Fudge" needs data to exaggerate the agency's need for the grant.
  • Read through thousands of pages of back up information with the expectation that I'll then have all I need to write a grant for the organization.
  • Take one grant application and "re-purpose" it for other grants at no additional charge because "it's basically the same thing."

Some of these things are unethical. Some are fraudulent. Others are just unrealistic.

Yes, I am the Grant Goddess, and yes, I can make miracles happen.

But that doesn't mean I should, or that I should be expected to in every circumstance.

Have you been asked to do anything unreasonable in your grant writing journey?


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Monday, August 20, 2012

6 Things to Do After the Grant Has Been Submitted

After a grant application has been submitted, it's tempting to just walk away from the project and relax. You've been dealing with intense stress for weeks and you finally crossed the finish line. You deserve a break, right?


But first there are some things you should take care of right away....

  1. Debrief the process.  Go through the entire process from start to finish and make notes about what went well and what didn't go so well. For those things that didn't go as well as you had hoped, what could you have done differently? What will you do differently next time? The longer you wait to do this, the more details you'll forget and less valuable the activity will be.
  2. Send a final copy of the full proposal to your client or Executive Director. As excited as you are to have the project finished, they are just as excited to see the final product. Making them wait until Monday could make them a little anxious, so just do it now.
  3. Confirm online submittal. If you submitted the grant online, be sure that you don't walk away from the project until confirmation has been received.
  4. Fax signature pages to the funder, if required. Some grants require online submittal, but then you have to fax in signed signature pages within 3 days.  Don't wait.  Do it right away. It's easy to forget about this when you have mentally moved on to another project.
  5. Gather up all documents related to the project and put them in one place.  This can be a separate pile on your desk to deal with later, if you'd like, or you can go through the process of filing everything away.  The point is that you don't want to leave your back-up materials scattered all over the place. If you're like most of us, you'll be starting your next project right away (or you have several going on at the time) and cleaning one up before you walk away from it will help you be more efficient as you move on to the others.
  6. Send thank you notes or email to the people who helped you with the process. This is important. I prefer to send a handwritten note when I can, but a heartfelt email is better than nothing. Acknowledging the help and support of others will ensure that you'll get their help the next time you need it. Oh, and it's also just the right thing to do.
Now you can take that well-deserved break.

What other things you do immediately after deadline?


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Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Story About Letters of Support

I was working on a grant for a client recently, and the grant called for the inclusion of some letters of support. As we were discussing it, the client asked if I would provide a template that her project partners could simply put on their letterhead and sign. I said, no, because templates are a bad idea. Rather than demonstrate collaboration and support they are actually a demonstration of the opposite.

Think about it.  If you really supported someone's effort, would you show it by signing a form letter that was exactly the same as 20 others or would you write one that spoke to your personal reasons for suporting the person?

Instead of providing a template, I developed some guidelines (in writing, of course) for the partners to follow when developing their letters.  It explained the purpose of the letters and what information should go in each of three paragraphs.  It also gave some examples of potential contributions to the project that they might not think about.

I've used similar guides in the past and the result was excellent letters of support.

Several times during the planning process,however, the client would ask me about a template. I repeated my response and provided yet another copy of the guidelines.

As the deadline approached, the letters started pouring in and they were.....identical. Instead of following my instructions, the client chose to have someone in her organization develop a template and distribute it to the partners.

Not only was it a template, but it was a bad template.  It did not include the specific information that the RFP said should be in each letter.  Apparently, the client didn't even read the guidelines because that information was all there.  We had even talked it through at one point early in the process, but that information apparently was lost as the process continued.

The client was paying a lot of money for an experienced and successful grant writer to write the proposal and guide her organization through the process, but she chose to ignore the advice they paid for. As a result, their application package ended up being substantially weaker than if they had followed the directions. They tried to save everyone some time, and the cost of that effort may be that they don't get the grant.

I guess that makes it a pretty expensive template.


Here's more information on writing good letters of support.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Passionate Grant Writing

I spend a lot of time focusing on technical details and teaching people how to develop technically correct and persuasive proposals. Those are important. But so is passion.

I read a proposal recently that was technically correct and it had all the right pieces, but I felt nothing. While the statistics showed great need for the grant, it didn't feel like there was a need.

Some of you may be thinking, "It's not about emotion, silly. Just give the facts and tell your story."

I disagree.  As long as there are human readers making decisions about the proposal, emotions play a role.

Here are the suggestions I make for putting enough passion in your proposal:

  1. The first page should be perfect. First impressions matter. Not only should the first page of the narrative be error-free, but it should convey something about your organization that goes beyond the numbers and makes the readers fans of your work. The readers should leave that first page already liking you.
  2. Tell your story like you care. If I were to ask you to tell me about the strengths and needs of your organization, I'm sure you would have plenty to say.  More importantly, I would get a definite feel for how your organization impacts the community and how important the services are. The readers should have no doubt that you care.
  3. Use descriptive language. Think about this sentence: "We will initiate a foot-stomping, in-the-media-spotlight, no-holds-barred cage match with poverty, racism, lack of opportunity, under-education, and a cycle of disenfranchisement among good people who just want a leg up to help their kids rise up." Okay, maybe it's a bit over the top, but it definitely conveys some passion, doesn't it? It also tells you something about the applicant, doesn't it? It gives you a definite image to think about, too. Maybe you won't go this far, but consider this sentence my personal effort to slap you out of the boring, lock-step grant language that you are probably used to seeing and using. That brings me to the next point.....
  4. Expand your use of language. You can't communicate the passion of a zealot using the language of an accountant. I have nothing against accountants, of course, but most would have trouble really expressing the pain of homelessness given the language they typically use. Think about how you would describe your need and your plans to a good friend, to a potential donor, to a newspaper reporter, to a potential employee. Make notes on the words and phrases you use.  Ask others who encounter your services to describe them.  Note the words and phrases they use, too.  Then use some of them.
  5. Read. The best way to expand your language is to read. I always advise people to read grant proposals and I'll continue to make that recommendation, but remember that there are good examples and bad examples. You should be reading many other things, too. The more diverse your reading is, the more diverse your language will be. And here's a hint you probably haven't considered.  If you're having trouble writing with passion, read some books about passion and romance. Don't focus on the plot or even the vocabulary, but on how the author builds the sense of passion and desire. I'm not saying that your grants should be written like romance novels, but that there is something we can learn from all genres. Finally.....
  6. Show some restraint.  Some people have trouble adding life to their writing, but others add too much. Too much flowery writing is simply annoying, and you know you should not annoy the readers. Expressing passion and commitment isn't about throwing out emotional phrases. It's much more nuanced than that. It's about conveying a mood, a feeling. There is such a thing as "too much."
Writing with passion is an advanced grant writing skill. It goes far beyond technical correctness and addressing all of the scoring criteria, but it can make the difference between success and failure.

What are your thoughts about writing with passion?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Objectives and Outputs and Outcomes...Oh My!

I have submitted three grants over the past two weeks. All three of them had me doing my Wizard of Oz dance when it came to the section for goals and objectives.  What is that?

Objectives and outputs and outcomes....oh my!

If that's not familiar to you, watch this and you'll understand.

Just like "lions and tigers and bears," objectives and outputs and outcomes can be scary, especially when you aren't clear on the difference is between them. Here's some help:

Objectives are your performance targets.  You can have implementation objectives that measure your level implementation (number of clients served, processes put in place, etc.) and outcome objectives that measure the results of your project (improved achievement, healthier clients, etc.).

Outputs and outcomes are very similar to the two different types of objectives. Outputs are similar to implementation objectives and outcomes are similar to outcome objectives. Outputs measure what you'll be doing (services provided, processes developed, and deliverables).  Outcomes measure the results of what you do.

And all of these are different than goals, which are broad statements of purpose and intention. Objectives, outputs, and outcomes are very specific, but goals are broad.

In other posts this week, we'll talk more about writing objectives and I'll share some examples of good and not-so-good objectives.


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Friday, March 30, 2012

First Grant of the Season

I just finished writing my first grant of the "season."  It was a 55-page proposal for an excellent program. I loved the client.  I loved the idea.

But writing it was like pulling teeth for me.

It happens to me every year.  There is something about that first big grant of the season that is a struggle for me. It must be something about the creative part of my brain that works part-time when it's not grant time.  When it's time for it to get back to full-time work (or more than full-time work), it drags its feet, whines, and rebels against all my attempts to impose any intellectual discipline.

Yes, it feels like my mind has a mind of its own.

After that first one, it's under my control again and the next grant goes well, as does the next one, and the next one, and so on until the end of the grant season.

Frankly, I don't know why it's so difficult, because I always win and end up with an excellent proposal.

I am the Grant Goddess, after all.  ;-)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When Is It Time to Let a Client Go?

If you're like me, you want to think that you can help everybody.  The truth, of course, is that you can't. That is true in life, and it's true in the world of grant writing and program evaluation, too.

I recently let a long time client go.  At the same time, I released about $70,000 in income they would have provided over the next year and half.


Because it was the right thing to do.

The bottom line is that when the relationship isn't helping the client anymore and it's making you crazy, it's time to step back. I reached that point with this client.

My contacts for the organization were not taking any of my suggestions (which is their prerogative, of course) and they were making really poor decisions that were not good for anyone, especially the youth served by that organization. There was so much infighting and backstabbing and lying within their organization that nothing got done and no one knew who to trust.

After working with them for 8 years in various capacities, I spent the last two years focused on my role with them and just trying to stay alive.

Just trying to stay alive.....seriously.  My health suffered. I wasn't sleeping. I had convinced myself that to walk away meant failure, and I just don't do failure. So I was banging my head against the wall until I realized that my work with them wasn't helping anyone.

Since they were ignoring my reports and advice, not letting me do my job (everyone's an expert, ya know), and I was literally sick from all the stress, it made no sense to continue the relationship.

Sure, that was a lot of money to walk away from, and it made me nervous, but money was not a good enough reason to stay. Money should never be the main reason for taking or keeping a consulting job.  It's about making a difference.  If you are not making a difference, what's the point?

Walking away wasn't easy.  I knew there would be gossip and speculation about what happened, and there was. I knew professional ethics wouldn't let me speak about the detail of what happened, and I didn't - even when I heard untrue rumors floating around. I also knew that there were some very bad things going on related to youth that I would not be able to even attempt to remedy if I walked away, but I had to. That was the really hard part.

So I walked away. What happened?  My health has improved dramatically.  I'm sleeping well again. I have time now to take on new clients who want to work with me, so I'm developing new relationships and my work is fun again and more fulfilling.

Oh yeah....and these new clients have just about replaced the income I lost from the old one, and it only took a couple of months. So my biggest fear - losing the income - was just a boogieman that couldn't survive in the light of reality.

The client hired another firm to handle the work.  Maybe that will work out really well for them.

Maybe the change I made will end up being better for everyone in the long run.

I learned a valuable lesson from this experience - walking away from a client when it's not good for anyone is not a failure. It's an opportunity to grow. Sometimes it's the only right thing to do.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Give Them What They Want

Do you know what grant readers want more than anything else?

They want to be convinced that you have a significant need, that you have a great plan to meet that need, and that you are capable of implementing that idea.  Yes, they want to be convinced. So, give them what they want.

I read a non-funded grant proposal written by someone else recently (the agency came to me for this year's submittal, hoping I'll be more successful). As I read the proposal, I noticed numerous technical problems with it like poorly written objectives, lack of baseline data, not much research documenting the effectiveness of the model (required), and a few other things. It was easy to see why it wasn't funded as it didn't effectively address all of the scoring criteria. All of those things are easy to fix.  They are the things we teach in Grant Writing 101: The Basics.

But that's not all that was wrong with it. It simply didn't make a convincing case.  It wasn't persuasive at all.  Even if all of the technical elements had been in place, I wouldn't want to fund that proposal.

Remember, grant readers are people and scoring guides are more subjective than you'd think.  If a reader really likes a proposal and wants to fund it, he can find a way if you have at least attempted to address all the criteria.  On the other hand, there are hundreds of ways a reader can nickle and dime a proposal's score when he doesn't want to fund it.

Of course, you know that I think you should nail the scoring criteria and make a compelling case for your project. Don't make the mistake of thinking that technical prowess is all that is needed.

Convince the readers that your idea is fabulous.

That's what they want.


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Monday, March 5, 2012

Plagiarism is a Big Deal

It pains me to say this, but college students aren't the only folks who plagiarize.  Grant writers do it, too. I know someone who plagiarized more than a few times by lifting my writing and putting it into grants she was "writing."

Practically speaking, every time she plagiarized from a grant that I had written, she committed fraud and she harmed my reputation.  Clients don't like it when they think they are paying for original work and they learn that they are getting a product that has been cut and pasted from someone else's document.

The worst part was that she didn't think it was a big deal.

But it is a big deal.

Plagiarism is fraud.

If someone made a widget and someone else stole that widget and then passed it off as his/her own, it would be clear to everyone that a theft had occurred. Theft of ideas and written work (even small portions of written work without proper attribution) is just as damaging, particularly to those of us who earn out living with our thoughts and writing. has some good information what does and does not constitute plagiarism and how it can be prevented.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

You're Old and You Write Too Much

Yes, someone actually said that to me. Well, not exactly. What I was told was that I need to think younger in order to market to a younger audience and that my blog posts should be shorter.  Short. Pithy. Fun.

Apparently, being myself is no longer the best way to succeed.

As for being old, I'm not quite sure when that happened.  Of course, I'm not elderly by any stretch, but I know what the person who said it meant. There was a time when I was the youngest and  smartest (or so I thought) person in the room.  Not anymore. And believe it or not, I find sometimes that I get stuck on old ideas or old ways of doing things ("It works; don't fix it.") just like the old folks I used to criticize did.  Ouch.

So, I'm actively trying to open my mind to new ideas and to "think young." The "think young" part isn't easy because my brain keeps chiming in with thoughts like, "That's messy!" or "That's not professional." I have to make myself push aside that first thought and take a new look.

As for writing too much, yeah, I'm guilty. I've always had the bad habit of writing more than anyone wanted to read. In elementary school, the other kids got minimum length requirements and the teachers always gave me maximum limits. I'm the writing equivalent of someone who talks too much, and no one likes the person who hogs the conversation.

So, I'll be more brief.

Starting now.


Want lots of grant writing tips?  Take a look at 101 Tips for Aspiring Grant Writers.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Losing My Wallet

I like to think I am a pretty organized person. I like knowing where to find things. I tend to put my keys and wallet in the same place each evening on the coffee table, and on the same place on my desk at the office every morning.

I find it is less stressful to know that I won’t have to search for them when I need them again. To my mind the less I have to think about things I can control, the more space in my head I’ll have for things I can’t control. I try to avoid creating problems, life gives  me enough problems  to solve.

Grant writers have to be organized because we deal with so much real and virtual paper. The stacks of documents, publications, emails, text messages, tweets, excel spreadsheets, graphics, and pictures can be overwhelming. They pile up so darned fast that important documents can get lost, overlooked, or mulch in an electronic compost pile if you aren’t careful.

I like to think of myself as an organized person but I still lose things and waste time looking for them. I don’t always follow a logical system for labeling and storing electronic files. Oh, I usually have a reason for where I put them, it’s just that I can’t always remember my reasoning 45 minutes after I have concluded my deliberations.

It doesn’t help that there are so many bloody disk drives on my computer, and CD disks, and flash drives, and external hard drives, and multiple computers! It's like having six coffee tables where I could put my keys and they were all identical; I would probably forget which coffee table I put my things on and have to scour each one before I left for work. That’s how it gets with :c and, :e and, :f and, :I drives; they all have storage and they all have folders and I forget where things are placed. That’s where I can get things horribly lost.

My systems for staying organized are imperfect and sometimes they get crisscrossed in my brain – especially when there’s a deadline.  Suddenly I’ll find that I am flinging my wallet onto the dresser in the bedroom or on the counter in the kitchen instead of the coffee table next to my Newsweek magazine that I won’t have time to read because I’ll spend fifteen minutes hunting for my wallet and cursing the ne’er-do-well who snuck in during the night to rob me.

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Graphic Credit - Chelsea Koetsveld

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fridays Are Good

It’s Friday and I find that this is the BEST day among the days of the week. Below are some reasons that I prefer Fridays to all other days.


Similarities & Differences
Saturday is almost as good as Friday, but not quite. Friday is better because you get to anticipate Saturday, and you don’t have to mow the lawn or pick up dog poop. On Friday you can even stay out late and not worry about it.  Saturday night just isn’t as free-wheeling as Friday night because you know you have to answer to God on Sunday morning.
Sunday just can’t compete on an anticipation scale with Friday because nobody anticipates Monday with joy unless they’re retired and have renamed all the days Saturday (quite annoying), or they’re on vacation and leaving Monday for somewhere far from the office and the lawn mower like Honolulu or Tibet. On Sunday there’s church to attend so there’s a timeline to live within which makes it more like a work day, but it’s a soft deadline and after revisiting my sins of the week, Sunday is almost as free as Saturday but there’s a subtle sadness that Monday is lurking.
Monday, ugh…feeling ill.
Tuesday is almost invisible, sort of like a 49 year old movie starlet who thinks a surgical makeover will make her look young and appealing.  Tuesday tries hard to get recognized by having elections on it so it gets star-spangled bunting, but the effect is like the collagen lip implants of the starlet that make her lips look less like lips and more like the rubber rafts that people use to float down the Grand Canyon. It takes a lot of lipstick and rouge to dress up Tuesday but there's no changing the fact that it's a long way from Friday. Only politicians and people named Morrie like Tuesdays.
Wednesday is known as hump day, a word tossed about crudely by ruffians in places like Santa Monica to allude to procreation. Hump also describes physical protrusions like the one on the back of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and to lumps of asphalt in parking lots that threaten to tear out the undercarriage of your car. There’s nothing fun about a hump.
Thursday is almost as invisible as Tuesdays. The day does have the advantage of anticipating Friday which recommends it as perhaps the 4th best day of the week. Aside from being “Friday Eve”, the only other thing that makes Thursday worth keeping on the calendar is Thanksgiving but that’s really trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Perhaps it would be best if we moved Thanksgiving to Friday or Saturday, who are we kidding?

Hundreds of sample grants, sample grant sections, ebooks, and more are available at

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Brain Science of Grant Clients

Sometimes a grant writer is faced with an agency which has a Threshold Guardian beyond whom no man, woman, nor beast with an RFP shall pass. This can be explained by brain research about the left and right side of the brain.

The Threshold Guardians are usually Left Brainers. Left Brainers are hostile toward grants because they detest them more than an unbalanced checkbook. They may even experience a phobia about grant writers, because of their association with grants, causing them to dart furtively into maintenance closets.

I think of these grant-phobic-types as Left Brainers because the real reason they’re rankled by grants has nothing to do with the potential good a grant may do; they abhor grants because grants add uncertainty and complexity to their work lives in areas they need to control; that is, keeping the x’s and o’s in the right columns; and dotting all the I’s; crossing all of the T’s; and getting out the door promptly at quitting time. These functions give a Left Brainer pleasure and a reason to get out of bed; a way to maintain control; and the means to draw small boxes around their jobs or the missions of their organizations.

On the other side of the client brain types are grant champions, those charming and beautiful, grant loving people whom I lovingly refer to as Right Brainers. These are the big picture dreamer types who can accommodate the new ideas, change, and creativity that grants produce. Right Brainers express earnest intentions to willingly accept the extra drudge work that a grant entails; the accounting, the personnel functions, the labeling of equipment; and the cooperative planning. Right Brainers understand that extra work goes hand-in-hand with making things happen (as opposed to maintaining the status quo), which is what grant lovers are all about. The Right Brainers are entrepreneurial grant people.

To be fair, not all Left Brainers are entirely grant-phobic; but I believe a scientific study would reveal that grant phobia is in direct proportion to a person's level of activity on the right side of their brain. I’ve never met a Right Brainer that didn’t love a good grant (although a few shouldn't be running a carnival booth much less a grant program, but that’s another post entirely).

Left Brain grant misanthropes wear striped pajamas and block your path with crossed swords while Right Brainers welcome you in and offer you tea and shortbread (and contracts); so preferring Right Brainers is a No-Brainer for a working grant writer.

For further reference on the difference between Left and Right Brain functions, see below:

Description of the Left-Hemisphere Functions
Constantly monitors our sequential, ongoing behavior
Responsible for awareness of time, sequence, details, and order
Responsible for auditory receptive and verbal expressive strengths
Specializes in words, logic, analytical thinking, reading, and writing
Responsible for boundaries and knowing right from wrong
Knows and respects rules and deadlines

Description of the Right-Hemisphere Functions
Alerts us to novelty; tells us when someone is lying or making a joke
Specializes in understanding the whole picture
Specializes in music, art, visual-spatial and/or visual-motor activities
Helps us form mental images when we read and/or converse
Responsible for intuitive and emotional responses.
Helps us to form and maintain relationships
(Connell, Diane, Left Brain/Right Brain: Pathways To Reach Every Learneraccessed 1/24/12)

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Photo Credit: Attilio Lombardo

Friday, January 20, 2012

Silent Fraud in Federal Grant Evaluations Costs Billions

I'm stuck in a very difficult position with one of my evaluation clients right now. I have a report due very soon and there are some poor outcomes to report and some whistle blowing that needs to be done. This is the very reason why this particular program requires that all grantees hire independent external evaluators.  Many federal programs have the same requirement.  It's an effort to ensure that grantees don't fudge their evaluation results to make themselves look better and worthy of continued funding.

The problem is that most external evaluators are not independent.  In fact, they are very dependent on the grantees for their livelihood.  Sure, they aren't employees of the grantees; they are usually independent contractors, but bias is inherently built into the relationship by the very people who want to ensure an unbiased evaluation - the funders.

The problem: Grantees have the freedom to fire evaluators who say things that they don't want to hear and hire someone else who will be more amenable to telling the story the way the grantee wants it told. And in this time of economic hardship and massive budget cuts impacting almost every organization in the country, grantees have a powerful incentive to look good at all costs just to keep the dollars flowing.

Sure, you can say that an evaluator with integrity will tell the truth anyway, and I agree with you to some extent.  Unfortunately, in today's economy jobs are hard to come by and independent contractors have to do everything they can to get and keep jobs, so many are faced with this ethical conundrum at a time when they will pay a very high price for their integrity. They are faced with biting the hand that feeds them, and hoping that the hand doesn't bite back.

And for every honest evaluator who stands her ground, there are 20 unscrupulous ones ready and willing to step in and say whatever the client wants to hear.

And it's not just about the integrity of the evaluator in that situation or keeping that job. The grant world is a fairly small one and word spreads.  No one wants the reputation of being someone who isn't afraid to make their client look bad.  It makes you a hero among evaluators and funders, but it also makes you untouchable to clients, and they are the folks who make the hiring decisions.

Here's another problem:  Many external evaluators write the federal performance reports for their clients.  In many ways this makes sense because they are the ones most familiar with the data and in the best position to describe and report the outcomes. However, performance reports technically are the responsibility of the grantee and they are submitted by the grantee as their statement of progress. In a performance report, the grantee has every right to change what the evaluator writes to align it with their own perspective. So, even if the evaluator has the integrity to tell the ugly truth, the funder won't see it, unless of course the grantee doesn't read their own report before it is submitted which is an unfortunate, but very common, practice..

Unlike performance reports, evaluation reports cannot be tampered with by the grantee, but the evaluator has to deal with the first problem I described - biting the hand that feeds them.

So here I sit, staring at some data that tell a very unflattering story. I'll write the performance report that tells the truth and the client will get very upset and change it before they submit it. Then we'll have some tension in our professional relationship, which I'll spend the next 5 months trying to repair before the decision about contracting with me next year has to be made.

Yes, my friends, these are your tax dollars at work. It's a corrupt system. Because performance reports are used by the federal government to make decisions about continuation funding, lying in performance reports constitutes fraud, but everyone looks away.  Looking away is the only way the corrupt system can continue.

In a time when banks and big businesses are being vilified for their fiscal practices, this fraud - which amounts to billions of dollars a year - goes unexamined and continues to thrive in every corner of the country.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Link Between Creativity and Time

You may think that you "work best under a deadline," but there is actually a negative correlation between time pressure and creativity.

This video illustrates it beautifully!

Just a little more time makes a big difference when it comes to creativity.


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Monday, January 16, 2012

After the Deadline

All you want to do after a deadline is collapse, think about nothing, and catch up on some of the sleep you lost over the previous week, but before you check out completely there are a few things you should do.
  1. Take a few moments to reflect on what went well and what didn't go so well.  Is there anything you need to change for next time? Evaluate your own work and the overall process. Take notes so you can review your thoughts as you start the next project.  As tempting as it is to wait and do this another day, don't.  You'll forget some of the detail of what happened and you may end up repeating your mistakes.
  2. Prepare a copy of the final document, as submitted, for your client or others in the organization. Someone is eager to see a copy of the final product.  It will be easier to pull it together and transmit it now than it will be later. Prepare both final PDF copies and hard copies.
  3. Gather up your notes and research materials.  Ideally, you'll organize and file them right away, but at least pull them all together in a pile that you can deal with later.  Otherwise, you may lose some of the things you really want to save as they get shuffled aside randomly when you start the next project.
  4. Prepare your next To Do list.  Time is valuable.  If you don't leave your desk or office until you have developed a list of what you'll be doing next, it will be easier for you to hit the ground running when you come back refreshed.
Take a look at A Writer's Journey, a blog about life as a writer.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

How NOT To Do It

I usually like to publish positive tips for improving your grant writing skills, but every now and then I come across such a great example of what not to do that I can't help but share it.

21st Century Community Learning Center grants were due earlier this week.  A little over two months ago, I approached one of my longstanding clients about writing one.  The reply was a cool, "No, we've got people who can handle this one."  I replied as I always do to when a client declines my services.  I wished them luck and reminded them that if they need any help or would just like me to do a quick read (free of charge, of course) and give some feedback before they submitted the grant, I would be glad to help. I was assured that they wouldn't need my help.

Then I let it go.

I moved on with that grant with contracts I acquired with two other clients.  Everything progressed as expected.

Then, at 3:00 p.m. on deadline day (proposals had to be received by the funding agency by 5:00 p.m.) I got a call from someone representing that client who wanted their login and password for the online system so they could upload their proposal.

First of all, I didn't have their login and password for that particular system. If I'd had it, I would have provided it immediately. The other problem, though, is that this online system was a little strange. Applicants were required to complete a lot of forms online and submit them online.  Then, they needed to print some of them for signatures, and then combine those forms with the grant narrative and attachments and submit the hard copy to the funding source.  The whole package was not to be uploaded at all.

That meant that once these folks found a login and password, they would have to get those forms filled out, print some of them, gather more signatures, assemble their whole package, and hand deliver it to the funding source.  It would take them 30-40 minutes to get there to deliver the package.

I don't know how it turned out, but it's pretty likely they missed the deadline.

What's the big takeaway lesson here?

If you are submitting a grant through any electronic system, acquiring a login and password and checking out the system and submittal procedures is one of the first things you should be doing, not the last.

These folks fell into the trap of focusing on the preparation of the narrative, rather than seeing the entire process. It's a mistake that may have cost them half a million dollars.

Try reading A Writer's Journey and Sexy Grant Writers for more tips, hints, and even laughs.

What to see some examples of successful grant proposals to help you improve your grant writing skills?  Visit Grant Samples.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Setting Your Grant Writing Goals for 2012

"You must know for which harbor you are headed 
if you are to catch the right wind to take you there..."
~ Seneca

I'm not really a fan of New Year's resolutions (even though I have made a few), but I'm a big fan of goal setting.  Why? Because setting a goal gives me a specific target to shoot for, rather than a general direction that is nebulous and probably impossible to achieve..

Here's an example:

Go west this year.
Get to San Francisco by January 30, 2012.

Which of those two is more helpful for my day to day planning and more likely to actually get me to San Francisco?

Right.  The more specific one.  The goal.

So, what are your grant writing goals for 2012?

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Develop a realistic writing timeline for each project, and stick to it. This week, develop a sample that you can use as a template.
  • Read at least 2 grant samples each week to improve your skill by taking in the successful grant writing of others. 
  • Acquire at least 5 new clients between today and June 30, 2012.
  • Reach out and develop professional relationships with at least 3 other grant writers this year.
  • Read The Grant Goddess Speaks... every day (or at least once a week), either on line or on your Kindle (Ok, that might be a little self serving on my part, but it really will help you be a better grant writer).
Once you have selected a goal or goals (no more than three), write them down.  Write them down where you can see them every day. Yes, every day.

Next, develop a brief action plan for achieving each goal.  What are the actions you plan to take each day, week, or month to make that goal a reality? Having the goal is critical, but having a plan to achieve it is just as important.

Using the example I gave above, I can look at my goal of getting to San Francisco by January 30, 2012 as often as I want, but I also need to make sure the care is in good working order.  I need to get gas, plan a route, schedule the trip, etc. If I don't do those things, I'll be sitting at home later wondering why I never got to San Francisco.

So, what are your grant writing goals for this year?


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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.