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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.

64730 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.

    3681 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
    11/10/08
    BILLING FROM THE GRANT WRITER - OR, THIS CAN’T BE RIGHT!!!
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 5:55 am

    Jerry Seinfeld has a great comedy routine about paying the bill after dinner:

    Went out to dinner the other night, check came at the end of the meal as it always does. Never liked the check at the end of the meal system. Because money’s a very different thing before and after you eat.

    Before you eat, money has little value. When you’re hungry, you sit down in a restaurant; you’re like the ruler of an empire. You don’t care about cost. You want maximum food in minimum time.

    “More drinks, appetizers, quickly, quickly. Fried things in the shape of a stick or a ball. It will be the greatest meal of our lives! We shall eat like kings and queens.”

    Then after the meal, once you’re, you can’t remember ever being hungry ever in your life. You see people walking in the restaurant, you can’t believe it. “Why are these people coming in here now? I’m so full. How could they eat?”

    You’ve got the pants undone, napkins destroyed, and cigarette butt in the mashed potatoes. You never want to see food again as long as you live. That’s when the check comes. This why people are mystified by the check. What is this? How could this be? They start passing it around the table. This can’t be right. How could this be?

    “Does this look right to you? We’re not hungry now, why are we buying all this food?”

    That reminds me so much of being a grant writer. We supply the client with an estimate of the time and cost it will take to complete the grant. That is agreed upon. Planning meetings are conducted. Time has little value. We shall write the greatest grant ever! We want it all! Give it your very best! Whatever it takes! We want it all and we want it now!

    Then after the grant is completed and submitted, desks and minds are cleared. Everyone catches up on his or her sleep. Our invoice (that is within the estimated cost of course - it has to be or we lose not them) is submitted and the client is mystified. What is this? How can this be? They start passing it around. This can’t be right. Does this look right to you? That seems like an awful lot for one grant. What took so long? Why so many hours?

    For more inside tips on grant writing please read my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT FUNDS. Go to www.SandyPointInk.com.

    3391 comments
    11/07/08
    HOW TO RECRUIT, INTERVIEW, SELECT, USE, AND ABUSE, A GRANT WRITER - PART TEN
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 5:54 am

    More on how to abuse your favorite grant writer.

    Sometimes we are philosophically opposed to something and just have to say “To be honest I disagree, but if that’s the way you want to do it, that’s the way I’ll write it.” It’s our job to provide options. It’s the client’s job to make the decisions. In most cases, though, when we disagree or take issue with a point, it’s because we feel it is not what they are asking for in the RFP. That argument carries more weight than anything. If we think it won’t get funded because it’s not aligned with the RFP than it’s our job to vehomently disagree.

    Sometimes it gets down to crunch time and we’re the ones who have to say to the group, “stop you’re fighting, and maneuvering and bickering and MAKE A FREAKIN’ DECISION!!!” Okay, maybe we don’t say it exactly that way but it’s fun to fantasize.

    This is the most common one we get: we’re told that the grant we’re about to write isn’t “really that much work” because you can “just boilerplate it.” What this means is that all a writer supposedly has to do is cut and paste responses and sections from previously written grants into sections of new grants — and then just update the name of the program. Say what?! That’s like telling a teacher, there’s not much for you to do — you already have your plans written for the day. Or a cop, it’s just another routine domestic dispute call. Or…or…or… The fact is. Every project is different and has new requirements. And while the bulk of the information may be the same, it has to be reshaped and reworded to support the point you are making for that particular grant.

    For more about how a grant writer should work as part of a planning team for your grant proposal, please read my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT FUNDS. Go to www.SandyPointInk.com.

    10197 comments
    11/06/08
    HOW TO RECRUIT, INTERVIEW, SELECT, USE, AND ABUSE, A GRANT WRITER - PART NINE
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 5:53 am

    More on how to abuse your favorite grant writer.

    We don’t have to like something when we’re writing it, but we do have to be in love with it. What’s the difference between like and love. For a more complete definition see Shakespeare. But from my point-of-view, when you’re in love your blind to all the shortcomings and only see the beauty of what you behold. When you like something, you see the flaws and, in fact, will probably never be able to look past them. For a writer, they have to work themselves into enough of an enthusiastic frenzy to have the energy to do an excellent job — they have to love what they are working on. But don’t lie to us. Don’t ask us to write lies.

    Don’t decide to use a writer until after the bidder’s conference - that really puts her at a disadvantage. Even though you may have a staff representative attend the conference and take great notes — it’s not the same thing and it’s definitely not as effective. A grant writer needs to go the bidder’s conference of the grant they are writing. Period. See our chapter on “BIDDER’S CONFERENCE.”

    We come in contact with a lot of people who have written grants. Some will actually take us aside and let us know that they could write the one we’re working on — and could probably do a better job. That is, if they could find the time. That’s the trick isn’t it? Amateurs try to find the time. Professionals make the time. And writing time - as we’ve discussed before in WRITING STYLES is creating focused time: no distractions, no phone calls, no meetings, no office chit-chat, no life — just pure writing time. A professional writer is paid to keep their calendar free, budget time, focus on one thing at a time in a concentrated manner. Create a distraction free environment.

    Final thoughts on this subject in Part Ten in the next post.

    Meanwhile, for more about how a grant writer should work as part of a planning team for your grant proposal, please read my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT FUNDS. Go to www.SandyPointInk.com.

    4910 comments
    11/05/08
    HOW TO RECRUIT, INTERVIEW, SELECT, USE, AND ABUSE, A GRANT WRITER - PART EIGHT
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 5:52 am

    So how do you abuse a grant writer?

    First, get in line and wait your turn. There’s plenty ahead of you.

    Let the above joke be a warning: the following is written with extreme prejudice, from a grant writer’s point-of-view. So maybe what follows might be a bit slanted and overstated. Or, you could look at it as extremely helpful. For, if you really want to get the most out of someone you learn what makes them tick. This section could also be entitled, “How To Get The Most — And Least — Out Of A Grant Writer.”

    So here’s what makes a couple of grant writers tick…and also what really ticks us off.

    Never answer a question with “because that’s how I told you to write and I’m paying you to write - that’s why.” We’re not stenographers, we don’t take and transcribe dictation. We take your thoughts and ideas and use our own voice to turn them into words.

    You don’t have to agree or disagree - just understand. I doubted myself. That’s what a writer does. And then he or she fixes the product until s/he doesn’t doubt himself and thinks it can’t get any better…and that periods usually lasts about five seconds. And then we’re back to doubting ourselves and, by doing that, figuring out ways to make it better. Of all the hundreds of writers I know and have interviewed I’ve only heard a couple who are completely satisfied with their project once they type the final word. And they are alcoholics. The rest are never satisfied. Many, in fact, won’t even read what they’ve written. They see the mistakes and flaws. They have an urge to grab a pencil and correct it, forgetting that it’s too late. I say that not looking for sympathy. Not so you’ll agree or disagree. Just so you understand.

    More on abusing grant writers in the next post.

    Meanwhile, for more about how a grant writer should work as part of a planning team for your grant proposal, please read my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT FUNDS. Go to www.SandyPointInk.com.

    3851 comments
    11/04/08
    HOW TO RECRUIT, INTERVIEW, SELECT, USE, AND ABUSE, A GRANT WRITER - PART SEVEN
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 3:51 pm

    The following are more questions that any good grant writer worth their weight in Post-It notes will HATE to be asked in an interview — and will respect you for it if you do ask them.

    Describe the style and function of an effective abstract.

    What to you are the essential elements and an effective structure of a Letter of Inquiry (LOI)?

    If we asked you to participate in the recruitment and hiring of an Evaluation Coordinator for this project, what questions would you ask him or her?

    How do you go about researching a subject and how do you include those findings in the design and writing of the proposal?

    Tell us about your most recent proposal that WAS NOT funded and why?

    Meanwhile, for more about how a grant writer should work as part of a planning team for your grant proposal, please read my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT FUNDS. Go to www.SandyPointInk.com.

    3373 comments
    11/03/08
    HOW TO RECRUIT, INTERVIEW, SELECT, USE, AND ABUSE, A GRANT WRITER - PART SIX
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 3:50 pm

    The following are questions that any good grant writer worth their weight in Post-It notes will HATE to be asked in an interview — and will respect you for it if you do ask them. That is because these are tough questions with no right or wrong answers. How they answer can only offer deep and clear insight into their writing style and their work philosophy. Each answer makes them list and prioritize what’s important to them, makes them honestly and objectively evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses, tells you how and where they put the blame and whether they can constructively criticize themselves and their team - and put a positive spin on it. For example if they are honest about a shortcoming or a weakness in a grant then quickly follow it with a “But what we learned to never do again was…” that’s fine. Great. Exactly what you want to hear.

    But, decide on what you would like to most hear in the answers before you ask the questions. They will reveal as much about your philosophies and priorities as much as they do the candidate’s. So here’s the top three questions I think you should ask:

    What questions would you ask a grant writers if you were interviewing grant writing candidates and why?

    Describe the team approach/process used in your last grant effort and the role you played in that process.

    If we were watching you facilitate a first meeting with a new client and a group of potential partners and collaborators, what would we see?

    More questions tomorrow.

    Meanwhile, for more about how a grant writer should work as part of a planning team for your grant proposal, please read my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT FUNDS. Go to www.SandyPointInk.com.

    3407 comments
    10/31/08
    HOW TO RECRUIT, INTERVIEW, SELECT, USE, AND ABUSE, A GRANT WRITER - PART FIVE
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 5:48 am

    Another question to ask yourself about a grant writing candidate: Did we ask for, review and check out their samples?

    Make sure you review the candidate’s writing samples BEFORE the interview, not after. This will allow you ample time to review them and prepare specific questions. Also make sure that the candidate gives you a name and phone number to call from someone who worked with them on each sample so you can call about each sample and verify what contribution they made to the final product. Ask for a variety of samples that encompass a variety of budgets and a variety of different subjects. Also, if they have writing samples of materials other than proposals (e.g., articles, brochures, etc.) ask to review those.

    Be warned though: there will be some grant writers, including me in some cases, who may ask for the professional courtesy that you only review the samples there in the interview. That is because there are some unscrupulous creeps out there who will copy a great grant that they know is a winner, use the research and wording for their own purposes with no intention of ever hiring the writer. In that case, you will need to allot more time for that writer’s interview slot. And you will still need to check references on those projects and can till do that before the interview.

    Any grant writer who says they wrote a grant all by themselves is — to steal a phrase from screenwriter William Goldman — either lying or trying to sell you something.

    In my next posting we’ll get into the interview and good questions to ask. Meanwhile, for more about how a grant writer should work as part of a planning team for your grant proposal, please read my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT FUNDS. Go to www.SandyPointInk.com.

    32477 comments
    10/30/08
    HOW TO RECRUIT, INTERVIEW, SELECT, USE, AND ABUSE, A GRANT WRITER - PART FOUR
    Filed under: GENERAL
    Posted by: Jon @ 5:47 am

    Another question to ask yourself about a grant writing candidate: Are they going to adjust their schedule to meet yours or will you have to adjust your schedule to meet theirs’?

    Ask about their schedule - if they try to fit your project into their neat little time compartments - forget it. What you want to hear is that they would like to get the assignment far enough in advance so they can begin working on it sooner and avoid a last minute crush - but they also have to recognize that there is ALWAYS a last minute rush of some sort. And that they will reserve the time to exclusively work on your project as the deadline nears.
    However, don’t get cold feet if they schedule several projects at the same time. It is not uncommon for a great grant writer to be working on three or even four different projects that have approximately the same due date. Personally, my record is working on seven different projects that were all due on the same day. And I have the gray hair and nervous twitch to prove it.

    But what you need to hear is that as the deadline nears, the bottom line is that the writer will do whatever it takes to get it done. They have to be in a place where they can adjust their schedule accordingly.

    More about this in my next posting. Meanwhile, for more about how a grant writer should work as part of a planning team for your grant proposal, please read my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT FUNDS. Go to www.SandyPointInk.com.

    3425 comments