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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
11/14/08
WHERE TO FIND BEST PRACTICE MODELS?
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN
Posted by: Jon @ 6:30 am

In RFPS where they refer to them in the instructions or have an appendix that offers you websites or phone numbers of programs or agencies.

On the Internet where you have to be careful how it is determined that particular site is a best practices model. The U.S. Department has a “clearinghouse” where best practice models are listed.

At bidders’ conferences where staff from best practice models are often asked to speak or are there to hand out materials and answer questions.

At major colleges or universities whose various departments are hired to conduct evaluations and determine best practice models.
In your community where you can get a first hand look at a program in operation. These can be found through various city and county government websites.

The funding agency who, if you simply call them and ask for an example of what they consider a top program near to your area, will usually gladly give you several to choose from.

In books and textbooks written about the area of your proposed program. Often authors will cite examples from best program models or, at the least, cite several in their bibliography.

Try to find best practice models that serve a similar target population as yours, in a similar environment (rural, urban, etc.), and with approximately the same budget.

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.

3365 comments
11/13/08
BEST PRACTICE MODELS
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN
Posted by: Jon @ 6:27 am

A very famous movie director of a very famous re-make released last summer responded to an interviewer’s question about the newer version being quite similar to the original version by saying, “we didn’t re-make it, we re-imagined it.” And we couldn’t even see his attorney’s lips move when the director said it.

In designing your program, you should do a little “reimagining” of your own based on what’s out there, what’s being funded and what’s working. In grant writing, what’s working is called a best practice models.

Best practice models are those programs that have operated successfully over a period of time. Successful, in this case, means that they have met their objectives, exceeded expectations, innovated new ways of delivering program services more effectively and economically, have documented their process, have scrupulous financial practices, are self-sustaining and set a standard to which all new and existing programs are compared.

Studying other successful programs and applying what works for them to your population and situation is perfectly acceptable and, in fact, expected of you.

So this week’s blogs are about where to find these best practice models, what to look for, and how to apply them to make your proposal or program better.

Studying and observing best practice models is a key to excellent grantwriting. But most grant writers don’t have the time. Most grant writers feel they are already experts in their own area. Most grant writers will look at best practice staff input as just another cook in an already overcrowded kitchen. Most grant writers will find better areas to budget their money.

But remember: most grant writers don’t win the grants they apply for.

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.

3507 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.

9930 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