SHOW ME THE GRANT MONEY!
Retool your gray matter with JONATHAN O'BRIEN and win more grant money!
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02/03/09
Notes to a screenwriter
Filed under: GENERAL
Posted by: Jon @ 6:04 am

Occasionally in my blogdom, I’m going to share with you correspondence I have with grantwriters and screenwriters and writers of all types. Why here? Because it’s all about storytelling. Some of these thoughts could just as easily apply to a proposal’s program design.

By about page 40 I completely understood why your feedback on this and your other scripts has been mixed. I can hear people saying, “I liked it but….” As always, I’ll try to explain the “but…”

First, your characters are excellent; brilliantly conceived, well drawn and executed vividly. Nothing but high marks there.

Second, your dialogue is also excellent; subtle, a balance of humor and drama and irony and enough of a flavor of the dialect to make it appear authentic. I would go so far as to say that your dialogue easily stands up to that of most professional scripts. No doubt.

The research and atmosphere of your script also gets high marks; essential for a period piece but to not stop the script and make a history lesson out of the thing is a tough task and you pulled it off.

But where your script falls - actually never gets to its feet - is in the basic storytelling aspect. You have all the ingredients of a story but not the recipe for mixing it all together and telling it. In that sense, it was a very frustrating read. For example, with the superbly drawn young mother character who we care most about, you constantly cut away from her and don’t come back to her plight for pages. All basic storytelling stuff. Another example, there’s no sense of who (i.e., the one person) the story is about. Basic storytelling stuff. The story never really takes time to let us get inside the heads and hearts of the character. Back to the young mother again. In the first sequence she burns the body of her dead baby. As a parent, I know that would send me to the edge of suicide, that I couldn’t function, that I would be dying a slow death from the inside. But there’s none of that in the script. She does her deed and moves onto the next sequence - seemingly unphased by what happens prior. Basic storytelling stuff. In the first sequence there’s blindingly fast crosscuts between the burning of the baby and the burning of the building. That fails your story in two ways. It never allows the reader to latch onto a character and two it portrays you as a writer crying out, “This is how my script should be directed and edited.” While that may not be your intent, it read like it was your purpose.

Basic storytelling: Allowing the audience to see the story unfold through the eyes of the main character. The focus should be on simple structure, while letting the emotions of the story and the depths of the character bring complexity to the story.

This is something you’re going to have to really study and work on if you want to be seriously considered. Break down a classic movie - HIGH NOON for instance - and pay attention to how a majority of the scenes contain and are about the main character. Note that some of the supporting players who were actually nominated for awards in that story, had very few scenes without the main character. Had very few scenes period. Study BRAVEHEART. Break it down. You’ll be surprised at how simply the stories unfold.

This will probably come as a shock to you as most of us assume we know how to tell a story. But, trust me, that’s not true. We all like and appreciate and are mesmerized by a good story - but that’s because we’re on the receiving end. And the good ones make it look simple. As writers, are brains are cluttered with so many vital details and story points. But few are the writers who have a mechanism to declutter when it’s time to tell the story. Those are the ones that break through. The rest of us are left puzzling “why don’t they like my writing?” That’s because most of us can see our story in the theater of our minds but haven’t learned the ability to tell that story to others.

It’s the battle of a lifetime. Welcome to the Lifetime Pass.

Jon

My new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE, applies the FUNdamental principles of storytelling and screenwriting to the program design and grant writing process. Check it out at www.SandyPointInk.com.

16087 comments
02/01/09
Grants and Success Rates - Part 2
Filed under: GENERAL, GRANT WRITING CAREER
Posted by: Jon @ 7:39 am

So, just between you, me and this blog — do the math. Not the defense contractor type, but honest math. Calculate your success rate into a percentage — the number of grants (full proposals, not letters) won divided by the number of grants written.

If the grant writing business were to establish the equivalent of a Mendoza line, I believe it would be the 50% mark.

So, if what you just HONESTLY totaled up came out to less than 50%, you’re doing something wrong. And I think I know what.
But more about that in my book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the success rate and grant writers who flaunt it in front of clients and workshop attendees. It’s misleading and it doesn’t take into account extenuating circumstances that go far beyond the grant writer’s control. And, frankly, too many grant writers fabricate — or as they say in Hollywood, “re-imagine” — their success rate to impress potential clients, get more work and charge higher rates.

Some grant writers will tally a positive response to a one-page letter of inquiry to a foundation into their success rate, even though they might not win the grant that follows as a result of that. On the other hand, it’s not ALWAYS the grant writer’s fault that an agency doesn’t win a grant, yet that writer’s success rate will always suffer.

And now I can hear your muttering, “Yeah right, spoken like a true grant writer — and probably one who ‘re-imagines’ his own success rate.” Well, for your information, my actual, honest success rate is — no, never mind, it doesn’t matter. Besides, there are too many other indicators of a grant writer’s worthiness and ability.

To me, a better way to judge a grant writer’s track record is to compare the ratio of the client’s total expenditures for a grant writer’s services over a period of time - say, one year — to how much was earned for that client.

Let’s take my last year with one client for an example. I wrote 18 proposals for them. Ten were state grants, six were federal and two were requests to foundations. It was a loooong year. Seven of those were due within a ten day period! But that’s another chapter…in my psychotherapy journal. Of those, we’ve received news about 16. Thirteen of those 16 were funded. Although three months have passed since the announcement deadline, we’re still waiting to hear about the other three (that too is another chapter in itself). Thirteen out of 16 comes out to a success rate of 81%.

However, more telling, I think, is the fact that the client’s expenditure of $60,000 that year resulted in approximately $13 million dollars worth of grants (some lasting as many as four years). In other words, for every $1 of expenditures in professional grant writing services they earned back approximately $216 dollars. If I were in charge of hiring a grant writer, I’d prefer to know a writer’s more verifiable E-to-E ratio rather than their more inflatable and less verifiable success rate.

Oh, and by the way, my overall lifetime success rate is approximately 75%. Honest. So there. Want to know how I do. Check out RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE at www.sandypointink.com.

3888 comments
01/30/09
Grants and Success Rates
Filed under: GENERAL, GRANT WRITING CAREER
Posted by: Jon @ 2:35 am

I talk to a lot of people who write a lot of grants but don’t necessarily win a lot of grants. That’s like saying we talk to a lot of major league baseball hitters who get a lot of at-bats but don’t necessarily get many hits. It goes with the territory. Three hits out of every ten at bats in the majors and a player is signing autographs on one hundred dollar bills at the All-Star game. Two hits out of ten and the ex-player is studying for the Post Office workers exam.

Baseball has what is called the Mendoza line, that unofficial benchmark (a .200 average) where if a player’s average is above that mark they keep him in the big leagues. If it’s below that mark. . .well, then it’s time to go back down to the minor leagues . . .or play for the Dodgers.

Grant writers have the equivalent of a batting average — a success rate — usually expressed in terms of a percentage. But asking a grant writer about their success rate is like asking a car salesman how business is (couldn’t be better) or a fading movie star how many of his movies were hits (all of them were in Europe, of course) — optimism is blended with reality quicker than coffee and sugar on New Year’s morning. So how do you judge a grant writer’s success? More in the next blog.

Meanwhile check out my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PLANNIING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANTS.

74043 comments
01/28/09
Grants for Libraries - Thinking Outside the Bookshelves Part 4
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN, GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 6:27 am

Q. What are the three things grant applicants can do to better their chances of receiving funding?

A. Compartmentalize. Be specific. Avoid asking for general funds to do general things or operational tasks. View your agency like a department store and asks for grant funds to support the efforts of one of those departments. Grants are about requesting a specific amount of money to address a specific problem with a specific solution that will help a specified target population.

Second, don’t view grants as financial band aids. Few grants are awarded to participants who are running out of money, are victims of budget cuts or are in the red because of some kind of finacial mismanagement.

Third, view grants as seed - or start up - money to be used for starting up an existing program expanding an existing program that will continue long after the initial grant period expires. Funders don’t want to think that the only way your program will exist as long as they keep throwing money your way. So, for example, if you are asking for grant funds for a new technology lab – your ask would be greatly enhanced if you could tell them: we have a roster of volunteer experts to maintain the equipment, furniture has been donated, we have another donor who will pay for software site licenses, and we have a list of volunteers who will staff the lab and make sure equipment is used properly. All we need now is the money to buy the computers and hardware and we’re off and running. Funders love to be the last piece of the puzzle.

Q. Why are you at ALA this year?

A. We’re convinced ALA attendees will find the book of interest on three levels. First, as a book that fills an unmet need; that is, its approach is offbeat, easy-to-follow and accessible to all. It doesn’t read like a textbook nor does it feel like it’s written in a foreign language that can be deciphered by only a select few. One of the most common pieces of feedback we get is, “I didn’t know the subject of grant writing could be so entertaining.” On another level, attendees will find the book of value for their own cause. Who at this conference isn’t looking for additional funds and supports for their special project or program? And if everyone here is applying for the same grants, then who is going to stand apart from the pack? How are you going to beat your competition? Reading RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE will help answer those questions. Third, this is the way for attendees to help other nonprofits and worthy causes in their community. Put this book on your shelf and promote it as a resource that makes a process known only by an elite group of grant writers available to every one.

4461 comments
01/26/09
Grants for Libraries - Thinking Outside the Bookshelves Part 4
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN, GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 6:25 am

Q. You promised to share “three reasons your past grant proposals may not have been funded.”

A. We just talked about one of them. In my book, I devote at least three chapters to the concept of collaboration with the basic theme, “collaborate or die.” Funding agencies frown upon applicants who try to make a go of it alone. You are expected to collaborate with new partners in new ways. Ultimately, the process of coming up with a fundable concept is really the process of building a new, or expanding an existing, collaborative. Second, most applicant don’t do their homework; that is, research funding agency guidelines to determine exactly what type of programs they do and do not fund. All this information is available in the application and guidelines. Third, they don’t apply. Seriously, most applicants don’t win awards because somewhere along the way they throw in the towel and don’t bother to apply. Understandably, the process can be daunting. But that’s why we published the book, to offer people a step-by-step guide to coming up with a winning concept and then applying for funds in a way that’s going to beat out the competition.

Q. There’s that word competition again. Many don’t apply because the competition is so great and it’s just a crapshoot.

A. It’s only a crapshoot if you write crap. Seriously, I’ve been on the other side of the desk, reading and selecting grants, many times and I can tell you that 80% of submission are sub-par. Why? Applicants haven’t thought it through. They don’t get it right before they write. So, while you may read that for any given grant there may be , let’s say, 200 applicants for five grant awards, I can tell you with great certainty that maybe 40, at best, will be seriously considered. Then, another 25% of those don’t align with the funding agency’s guidelines. Now we’re down to 30-to-1 odds. More than 20% of those will not qualify for technical reasons such as nonprofit status, geographic locations, etc. Now we’re down to 26 and I guarantee more than half of those will be weeded out because their applications lack one of the seven key components to a winning grant applicant. I call those Jon’s Almost World Famous Seven Cs and they are the core of my new book. Now it’s down to 10-to-1. And those ten applications are all excellent candidates to be seriously considered for funding. But then it’s out of your control and – as I say in the book – “in the hands of the Grant Gods.” What we can control is getting to the “seriously considered for funding stage.”

More about this in the next Blog and in my new book: RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 In Competitive Grant Awards.

3711 comments
01/23/09
Grants for Libraries - Thinking Outside the Bookshelves Part 3
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN, GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 6:22 am

Q. Now that we have the concept where do we find grant money?

A. One place is all the usual suspects. Most governmental agencies and libraries are bombarded with announcements about grants. Then, you can easily occupy several days by searching the Internet for “grants,” “grant resources,” “grant funds,” etc. Also there are many grant writing firms that compile ListServs about upcoming grants and they are happy to have you on their emailing list. These are usually update and reliable. Just keep in mind they also want you to become overwhelmed, give up and hire them to do all the work. My experience with library staff is that they don’t think outside-the-box, toward more untraditional grant sources.

Q. For example?

A. I’ll give you three.

After school funds. These are some of the most lucrative and consistent funding streams flowing into communities right now. And with a new administration on the horizon, there’s talk of this money being doubled. So what I’ve done in the past is partner up local libraries with local after school programs and had them submit joint applications. After school participants can make regular visits to their local library for reading groups, research, to help out staff, to use technology – and any other number of limitless activities.

Second, corporate sponsorships. Most large corporations have local and/or national community giving divisions. And what I’ve learned over the years is that for some reasons schools and libraries seldom apply. They see themselves as government entities and corporations only giving to the private sector, and that’s not true. Often the application process to these corporations is very simple and the awards long-term and generous.

Third, technology grants. Again, the mindset of many libraries is to apply for money from those grants earmarked technology for libraries only. That is too limiting. There are many other sources. Let’s go back to education grants again. Libraries can partner with schools and say “you help us get money for new computers and we will put all your reading and math programs software on our library computers so students and families can access them at any time. ” It’s a win-win for everyone involved. I guess what I’m saying is that libraries shouldn’t limit themselves to grants that they think are exclusively for libraries only.

Think beyond the bookcases, reach out to new partners. Be creative. Come up with a new concept. That’s what wins grants.

More about this in the next Blog and in my new book: RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 In Competitive Grant Awards.

3570 comments
01/21/09
Grants For Libraries - Thinking Outside the Bookshelves Part 2
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN, GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 5:18 am

Q. So it’s not about the writing?

A. Make no mistake, funding agencies expect proposals to be clear, uncluttered, easy-to-follow, concise and compelling – meaning persuasive and creative. They don’t give bonus points for big words are technical jargon and they certainly aren’t impressed with anyone who tries to come across as a professional writer. It’s all about the concept and how well the applicant documents a need and how creatively they will address those needs through the proposed program.

Q. Where does one who has interest in applying for a grant but has never done so begin?

A. They can begin by not making a mistake made my most applicants, focusing on finding where the grant money is and then throwing together a program that they think will win them some of that money. Instead, they should begin where most professional grant writers and grant winners begin – with a concept or an idea. And that seed of that concept germinates from need. At your local level, determine a specific need, discuss why that need is currently not being addressed, come up with a specific solution and ask for a specific amount of money to help fund the activities that will lead to that solution. That’s the concept – and that should be the first step.

More about this in the next Blog and in my new book: RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 In Competitive Grant Awards.

3366 comments
01/19/09
Grants for Libraries: Thinking Outside the Bookshelves - Part 1
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN, GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 10:14 pm

After completing an interview for an article for the upcoming American Library Association Mid-Winter meeting this month in Denver, I thought the content would be appropriate to anyone with a good heart and a good cause.

Q. What can you offer attendees beyond what the ALA Website offers, which has an entire section devoted to “Grants and Fellowships.”?

A. The ALA site, and others like it, do a great job of offering a comprehensive list of traditional grant resources. And most applicants think that their primary task is to solve the mystery of where the grant money is and follow the guidelines, fill out the application and roll the dice. Unfortunately, “most” applicants don’t win. That’s because they don’t get it right before they write. The critical factor is not to find out where the money is. Instead, it’s coming up with a program and proposal that’s compelling, competitive and creative enough to stand out from others and matches the vision of the person or place that’s giving out the grant money. All this should occur before any actual writing begins.

Q. Writing – the W-word – not all of us are professional writers or technical writers, so how can we compete with professional grant writers?

A. You don’t have to be a professional grant writer. You don’t have to be able to afford to hire a professional grant writer. You just have to THINK like a grant writer. And that’s what my new book is about, demystifying the whole grant research and writing process so anyone with a good heart and a good cause can tap into some of the $500 billion dollars in grant funds that’s out there each year. The book revolves around a topic we all love and are experts in – movies. I incorporate my background as a professional screenwriter and teacher to show how the FUNdamental principles of storytelling and screenwriting can be applied to the process of telling the story of your grant proposal. It’s all about the concept and strategizing – work that should take place before any writing begins.

More about this in the next Blog and in my new book: RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 In Competitive Grant Awards.

15788 comments
12/05/08
MISTAKES? I’VE MADE A FEW…THOUSAND – Pt.8
Filed under: GENERAL
Posted by: Jon @ 5:55 am

Here’s hoping that by reading about the proposal pot holes that I never saw coming, you’ll see a few in time to swerve out of their way.

But, as the saying goes, if you don’t make mistakes then you’re not trying.

If that’s the case I’ve tried really, really, really  hard. 

More about this in my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT AWARDS.  Available at www.SandyPointInk.com or Amazon.com.

3420 comments
12/04/08
MISTAKES? I’VE MADE A FEW…THOUSAND – Pt.7
Filed under: GENERAL
Posted by: Jon @ 6:52 am

THE CASE OF VIVA LOST WAGES

Project:  School-site health prevention/intervention program involving Nurse Practitioners (Nps) and trained and supervised parents.

What Happened:  Simply, we stated what a part-time NP would make working in this program — let’s use the rate of $65 per hour.  That might be considered excessive until you consider:


MISTAKES
The reasons listed above all justify paying that much for a good Nurse Practicioner, right?  Yes they do.  So what was the mistake? We didn’t list any of the justifications — just the salary.

RESULTS
Readers for this grant were called in from all over the state.  Our reader happened to be from a small, much more rural town where they wouldn’t dream of paying a part-time NP that much.  Her conclusion:  we didn’t do our homework and the inflated, out-of-this-world, rates put our whole budget, and thus our entire project, out of whack. The grant was scored low and we did not win.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY
I should have justified our price by citing the professional survey and listing several reasons why the right NP could command such a price.  I should have mentioned it in the narrative and explained it in greater detail in the Budget Narrative.

More about this in my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT AWARDS.  Available at www.SandyPointInk.com or Amazon.com.

3770 comments
12/03/08
MISTAKES? I’VE MADE A FEW…THOUSAND – Pt.6
Filed under: GENERAL
Posted by: Jon @ 5:49 am

THE CASE OF THE SIBLING REVELRY!!!!

Project:  An after school academic and positive alternative activities mentoring program for over 200 at-risk children.

What Happened:  This was a well-designed, well-written program that we were convinced would help the children of the community.  This was a community where students in the target population had lots of brothers and sisters who, if they were around at the time, would be invited to participate in the structured and supervised activities.  This was a community whose policy was that you never turn a child away; instead, they would always find a way to include them.  The alternative was to cast them off toward the predators that encircled the safe haven of the afterschool campuses. 

MISTAKES

Within the proposal, where we would mention those to be served, we would refer to them as “the participants and their siblings…”  As in, “…structured team sports activities will be provided three times a week for participants and their siblings…”  Common sense?  Yes.  Caring?  Very.   Comprehensive?  Extremely.   Ambitious?  Without a doubt. 
And a really big mistake.

RESULTS

One of the three readers completely reamed us and because of her low score, put us out of the running. 
The first mention of “the participants and their siblings…” was right up front in the first page, first paragraph and first sentence of the abstract.  This was like shooting a propeller off the reader’s propeller beanie because it sent her into a mental tailspin.  She was confused from the outset; was our target population 200 at-risk youth or 200 at-risk youth PLUS their siblings?  In her mind, that could equate to 400-500 kids.  Confused, she couldn’t ascertain if our program and staffing were appropriate for the number served because it was unclear exactly how many were being served.
This one reader was so frustrated by this that it fogged her vision of the rest of the grant.  In each major section (which were each scored separately) she would reiterate emphatically that she had no idea how many children we intended to serve and thus how could she judge whether each section’s design was adequate.  And each time she mentioned this, her words word grow more outraged and she’d add more exclamation points and yell at us with CAPITAL LETTERS in EACH OF HER COMMENTS!!!!!!!!!!  This went on throughout her comments until it was OBVIOUS THAT SHE GAVE UP ON US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY

This one’s easy, deleted two words:  “and siblings.”

More about this in my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT AWARDS.  Available at www.SandyPointInk.com or Amazon.com.

3635 comments
12/02/08
MISTAKES? I’VE MADE A FEW…THOUSAND – Pt.5
Filed under: GENERAL
Posted by: Jon @ 6:45 am

THE CASE OF NO PAUSE FOR A CLAUSE

Project: A federal grant to form local alliances for safer schools and neighborhoods

What Happened:  Toward the end of the grant, I was writing some MOUs with some very large county law enforcement agencies who were not part of our planning team but had to be part of the collaboration — both in approving the plan and providing personnel.  This was such a big county that there were probably over 30 communities within the county applying for the same grant.  So there’s no way this county agency could be involved in each proposal.  They did, however, agree to rubber stamp each proposal; sign the face sheet and sign all MOUs.  That is, they would sign all MOUs under one stipulation:  that these MOUS were not to be legally binding.

Problem:  We all know that MOUS are, LEGALLY BINDING memos of longer, more detailed contracts between two or more agencies.  If they are not legally binding, then they are just fancier versions of Letters of Support.
So, although the RFPs stated that these MOUs were to be considered contracts — the large agency would sign them with a wink of the eye and say, call us if you win the grant award and then we’ll negotiate a REAL contract.  
This is not for some dastardly, underhanded reason.  Instead, it’s pure economics.  The larger agency knows that the grant writing and award process can sometimes take over a year (or more) and salaries and benefits and other related expenses can change drastically over a one-year period.  So, they are going to avoid burdening themselves with absorbing any COLA increases.  Also, they don’t want to waste a lot of time on PROPOSED programs - just those that win.

MISTAKES

  1. We wrote in our MOU with this larger agency that this was a “non-binding agreement with final costs and terms to be negotiated with ten days after grant award notification.”
  2. As the deadline quickly approached, I made the decision to put in that wording by myself and did not consult the team.  

RESULTS WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY
  • This was one for the team to decide — not just me.  Perhaps someone would have come up with a better alternative.  
  • POST MORTEM
    There’s another aspect of this to consider.  Because the smaller winning collaborative is, in essence, at the mercy of the larger agency, the larger agency could name their own price — potentially demanding much more money than they originally requested.  This would leave the winning agency with no choice but to pay the high price and cut back in other areas of program operation to compensate.  This puts them in the position of not delivering the services promised and, worse, would result in fewer people served by less effective services.

    More about this in my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT AWARDS.  Available at www.SandyPointInk.com or Amazon.com.

    4135 comments
    12/01/08
    MISTAKES? I’VE MADE A FEW…THOUSAND – Pt.4
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 6:41 am

    THE CASE OF THE MISSING MISANTHROPE

    Project:   Better not get into specifics with this one

    What Happened:  We were hired by a higher-up in an inner-city agency to work with several of their underlings in one of their departments and write a grant with them.  I was very proud of the job I had done on an innovative program design.  This was despite the lack of help and effort from the staff I was supposed to be working with. For example, the underlings (who were going to be in charge of the program if it was funded) dragged their heels in getting critical information, were reluctant to ask for signatures from partners, weren’t reading drafts of sections to ensure I was on track and had done nothing with the budget — all this with the clock ticking.

    And then one day I found out why.  One of these underlings, the most stubborn, did not know I was working through lunch in the office area while she was making phone calls.  On the phone to a confidante — another underling in another department of the city — she said something to the effect of: “The grant is great and all that — but it also means a whole lotta extra work for me.  And I don’t want none of that.  I hope we don’t get it.”

    So, that’s why working on this one was like pulling teeth.  This underling was doing everything possible so we would NOT win the grant. Sounds ludicrous I know. But it’s true.  But in her mind she was in a great position, a full-timer with a part-timer’s responsibilities.  Oh, she did enthusiastically help us in one area.  When it came to the line item in the budget about her annual salary, she made sure to put in a 16% raise for herself . . . in each of the three years of the grant (giving herself a nearly 50% raise in three years)!!!  Of course she asked us not to mention this to her boss.

    MISTAKES

    1. I never told the city higher up what I had heard — and I could have without naming names.  I DID tell her about the salary increase, which she quickly nixed.  My judgment at the time was:  (1) that I shouldn’t jump in the middle of office politics, (2) the way I heard the information was by accident; eavesdropping and, (3) I didn’t want to make any trouble from the person I would have to be wrking wth as the deadline neared.  Had the underling told me directly it would have been a different matter — but I overheard her tell it to another party.
    2. I decided I would show that underling who could care less by writing the best grant possible, winning it, and forcing her to do the work that taxpayers were paying her to do.  

    RESULTS
    WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY With the above, one could argue that I had done what I was paid to do — win the grant.  Also, one might argue that yes I’m paid to be honest — but only if I’m asked a question.  I’m paid to mind my own business and do my work.  Period.
    I’m not sure what was right in this situation.  This goes back to me seeing myself as part of a writing team — not just a grant writer working in isolation.  And one of the roles of a teammate is to address another teammate if they are doing something to hinder the performance of the team.

    Whatever your opinion - mine is concrete.  I shouldn’t have withheld that information.  Damn.

    More about this in my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT AWARDS.  Available at www.SandyPointInk.com or Amazon.com.

    3686 comments
    11/26/08
    MISTAKES? I’VE MADE A FEW…THOUSAND – Pt.3
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 7:37 am

    THE CASE OF WHAT’S MY LINE

    Project:  Literacy challenge grant for rural communities.

    What Happened:  The RFP required that the final proposal be printed on paper with the numbers 1-30 down the left side — the same kind used for legal documents.  This was to ensure that applicants used “…no more than 30 lines of narrative per page.”

    MISTAKES

    1. Despite warnings from a fellow writer, Pro-bono head here decides to save time and trouble by skipping the pre-printed legal paper with numbers running down the side and letting the line numbering setting on the computer do it.
    2. There were blank spaces between paragraphs and blank spaces before and after charts and graphs that contained no narrative but that the computer counted as lines.
    3. I assumed that the reader would see that despite what the numbers on the left that counted blank lines read, that there was still no more than 30 lines of narrative per page.  

    RESULTS
    WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY

    Play it safe.  Never leave it up for interpretation by the reader; 30 lines meant 30 lines.

    More about this in my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT AWARDS.  Available at www.SandyPointInk.com or Amazon.com.

    3452 comments
    11/25/08
    MISTAKES? I’VE MADE A FEW…THOUSAND – Pt.2
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 6:33 am

    THE CASE OF THE MISSING PAGE

    Project:  A federally-funded mentoring grant for at-risk youth.

    What Happened:  We were finishing this one in the office of the client the day the grant needed to be postmarked.  As soon as the grant was completed and assembled, I handed it over to a clerical assistant in charge of copying.  I explained to her the number of copies I needed, etc. and made the assumption that, because she was in charge of copying for the office, she would be thorough: check all originals, check all copies, monitor all reproduction.  With the clock ticking, I used the time to get the last few signatures needed on the document.

    MISTAKES

    1. I trusted someone else to copy the document, let it out of my sight and didn’t watch them do it to make sure each page came out.  
    2. I checked the original for all pages going into the copy room, but not coming out.
    3. I assumed that someone would check the copies to make sure all the pages were there.
    4. I didn’t set aside enough time to check pages on all the copies and the original myself.
    RESULTS WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY
    1. Simple:  trust no one else but me to do the copying.
    2. Assemble a team of trustworthy members of the writing team to go through and verify that each page of the grant is there.
    3. Make sure I save time to check them all once again thoroughly before they are sealed in the mailer.
    More about this in my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT AWARDS.  Available at www.SandyPointInk.com or Amazon.com.

    3455 comments
    11/24/08
    MISTAKES? I’VE MADE A FEW…THOUSAND – Pt.1
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 5:30 am

    But then again, I’m proud about three things when it comes to major mistakes I’ve made:  
    1. I’ve never made the same one twice;
    2. When I did screw up, I was the first to acknowledge it; and,
    3. I usually made it up to the client in some other way.  

    But, that doesn’t make me feel better.  

    I am terribly ashamed of the mistakes I’ve made.  I get paid well, people entrust me with their vision and the product of their hard work and hope, there’s a lot of money at stake and there’s always plenty of people who have a critical need for these services.

    To feel you’ve let yourself down is bad — to feel you’ve let others down along with you is the worst.  And I offer no excuses.  In fact, as a grant writer, one needs to start thinking in terms of “WE won the grant!” vs. “I lost the grant.”  Why the difference in “We” vs. “I”?  Because, like it or not, as the writer you are the bottom line, where the buck stops, the final checkpoint.  You are ultimately responsible for: what does and does not get included, what and what does not get written, how something is interpreted or misinterpreted.  

    It’s all on you, no excuses.  You are the one who needs to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “Well…this is another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into…”

    So these next few Blogs are about mistakes I’ve made, why they were made, what resulted because of them and what I would do differently so it doesn’t happen again.  

    As you read these, you’ll probably say to yourself that you would never make the same stupid mistakes.  That’s so very true.   You’ll make different stupid ones.

    So return with us now to that not-so-thrilling daze of yesteryear as the Lone Grant Writer screws up again…

    More about this in my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT AWARDS.  Available at www.SandyPointInk.com or Amazon.com.

    3543 comments
    11/20/08
    FINALLY, TECHNOLOGY HELP FOR NONPROFITS
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 6:11 am

    Maybe it’s because of tight budgets. Maybe it’s because they care more about humanware than hardware. Maybe because they don’t have the time to train. Not sure why. But what I do know is that those in the nonprofit world seem to lag behind those in the private sector by at least a century or two. One social worker I worked thought a hard drive was his morning commute to work!

    Finally, there’s a great website for the nonprofit non-techies.

    Idealware, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, provides candid Consumer-Reports-style reviews and articles about software of interest to nonprofits. Through product comparisons, recommendations, case studies, and software news, Idealware allows nonprofits to make the software decisions that will help them be more effective.

    Check it out. After, checkout my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 Million In Competitive Grant Awards and learn how technology can help create a better and more fundable proposal.

    4563 comments
    11/19/08
    HAVE AN EFFECTIVE PLAN FOR INTEGRATING BEST PRACTICES INTO YOUR PROPOSED PROGRAM.
    Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN
    Posted by: Jon @ 6:37 am

    You’ve researched them, found them and interrogated best practice models. Now, how do you apply what you’ve learned from them into your proposed program? Many ways, here are a few examples:

    Training: Put some money in your budget to hire some of their staff to train yours. Or, ask to use, or pay for, some of their training materials.

    Curriculum: Find out what curriculum they use successfully and use it in your program. In your proposal, use this as a selling point — it’s been proven successful. If the best practice model created their own curriculum, negotiate a fee for replicating their materials.

    Consultation: Consider paying one of their staff to serve as a consultant to your program in your start-up year. It sure helps to ride with someone who knows all the bumps in the road. And it’s a strong selling point too. Or, invite one of their staff to serve on your Advisory Board.

    Evaluation: See if you can hire their Evaluation Coordinator for your project. Evaluation Coordinators usually work on dozens of projects at the same time so there is no exclusivity factor. Short of that, see if that Evaluation Coordinator or someone on her/his staff will consult with you in the design of your evaluation component. Again, a big selling point in your proposal.

    Proposal review: Hire one of their staff to review a draft of your proposal. They have keen insight into what the funding agency is looking for. Also, chances are, they have experience as proposal readers in the field and have an experienced, object eye for important details.

    More about this in my new book: RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 Million In Competitive Grant Awards.

    3411 comments
    11/18/08
    BEST PRACTICE MODELS – MORE KEY QUESTIONS
    Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN
    Posted by: Jon @ 6:32 am

    What is their relationship with their funding agency? What aspects of the program were program monitors most concerned about? Least concerned about?

    What about the program’s project outcomes? Were their initial expectations too high or too low? How many of their objectives were achieved? What would they do differently to achieve those objectives in which they fell short? If they were to do it all over again, which outcomes would they change and why?

    Budget tips are also a biggie. How did their PROPOSED first year expenditures match up with their ACTUAL first year expenditures? Would they do their budget differently? How so?

    Now we can hear some of you asking, “ARE YOU CRAZY, YOU’RE ASKING THEM TO GIVE AWAY THEIR SECRETS?!!!!”

    The first part of the answer is yes I am crazy - I chose grantwriting as a profession didn’t I? But that’s beside the point.

    The second part of that answer is that programs are often mandated to share their successes with upstart programs and disseminate the results of their program to anyone who can use the information. It’s part of the requirements of executing the program as set forth in the RFP.

    Third, staff from these best practice models are not in the cutthroat soft drink agency where formulas and recipes for success are well-guarded and billions of dollars of profits are at stake. Instead, you are talking to NON-PROFIT, HUMAN SERVICE agencies who (we hope) are in the business of helping people and the programs and agencies that serve them. These are generally very giving, sharing people who are flattered that you think enough of them and their programs to inquire about them.

    More about this in the next Blog and in my new book: RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 Million In Competitive Grant Awards.

    38785 comments
    11/17/08
    DETERMINE WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IN A BEST PRACTICE MODEL BEFORE YOU START LOOKING.
    Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN
    Posted by: Jon @ 6:31 am

    This is as simple as finding out what works and, equally if not more important, what doesn’t work and why. But whether you visit best practice models in person, talk to staff on the phone, read about them in books and materials, here’s some suggestions on key aspects to study and questions to ask:

    What would they do differently if they were starting-up their program all over again?

    What is their ratio of staff and or staff/volunteers to clients?

    What curriculum (if applicable) do they use?

    What is the leadership structure of their staffing? How has that changed over their history and why?

    What type of training and professional development activities do they find more useful than others? Who does their training? How much time is each individual staff required to devote to training?

    How are stakeholders involved in the governance of their program?

    How do they incorporate the use of volunteers?

    What has the program found most effective in their efforts toward self-sustainability after their current funding runs out.
    How is their evaluation component designed and how is it used to improve their program on an on-going basis?

    More of these very important questions in the next Blog and more about this subject in my new book: RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 Million In Competitive Grant Awards.

    3595 comments