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?

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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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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.