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.
- 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.”
- As the deadline quickly approached, I made the decision to put in that wording by myself and did not consult the team.
- I found after the submission deadline passed that we were the only agency who inserted that phrase into the MOUs. The other agencies wrote them as binding agreements — knowing full well that, despite what the RFP mandated, they would change all terms and conditions later.
- We were marked WAY DOWN on the MOUs because we told the truth, did not follow the RFP and instead wrote that it was a “…non-binding agreement…”
- Those who wrote it the other way were awarded grants.
WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY
- Unfortunately, this one is from the “Why Didn’t You Think of This Earlier You Dummy!!!” file. In fact, I just thought of this alternative while writing the above. I’d use the term “…a minimum of…” As in, a staff member of the large agency might be paid a minimum of $50,000 per year. This works for several reasons, it would:
This was one for the team to decide — not just me. Perhaps someone would have come up with a better alternative.
- Give the reader a solid number, but also give the bigger agency wiggle room to negotiate later.
- Satisfy the funding agency because we entered into a binding agreement.
- Mean we were not saying anything misleading or dishonest.
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.