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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