Grant Writing Confidential header image 1

Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) is Out and It’s Topical for More Than Just Police Departments

May 18th, 2015 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments

The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program is back, most notably via the COPS Hiring Program (CHP), which has $134.5 million available for local law-enforcement agencies. This Clinton-era program has been around for a while but has special resonance this year due to a spate of police shootings and the civil unrest in Baltimore. President Obama is also giving a speech about community-oriented policing today. This adds up to a greater-than-usual focus on a particular set of grant programs, most of which occur beneath the radar of the media and national politicians.

cops - community oriented policing servicesIssues around policing aren’t coming from nowhere. Last year the New York Times published “War Gear Flows to Police Departments,” which sets the tenor for this year’s COPS programs and for federal restrictions on distribution of military-style equipment to police. The feds recently curtailed so-called “civil asset forfeiture,” which is an Orwellian phrase that means police can steal your property and money without prosecutors even convicting you of a crime.

Now, we’re not sure if police are genuinely killing more African Americans than they used to or if the topic has become more salient in the news. We are sure, however, that good cell phone cameras and widespread surveillance cameras have made it much easier for civilians to challenge police narratives and to show when cops lie. Videos also better show how cops sometimes behave antagonistically or cruelly. It’s impossible to watch the video of Eric Garner being choked to death by a cop and not think, “There has to be a better way to  prevent the sale of single cigarettes.”

Community-oriented policing is part of that idea. It’s opposed to quasi-military, occupation-style policing, which is periodically in vogue. After 9/11, cops became fascinated with military hardware and a war-zone footing (or, alternately, there was just a lot of military equipment and training going around, and a lot of cops also served in Iraq or Afghanistan). The “War on Drugs” uses the rhetoric of war to justify war-like behavior like “no-knock” home raids, but policing and war-fighting are supposed to be very different. Blurring them is not good for cops or societies.

From a grant writing perspective, the marketing blitz around COPS tells us that anything nonprofits propose that has to do with integrating the community with law enforcement is going to be a popular grant topic, because we’ve gone about as far as we can towards the military-style of policing. The legalizing of marijuana in Washington, Colorado, and Washington, DC, along with the de facto legalization in California and elsewhere, may signal a shift in drug prohibition. And federal agencies are probably being directed to take already allocated funds and use it for community-oriented policing and related project concepts when possible. Regulatory changes are likely occurring at the same time.

It isn’t just police departments that should be thinking about this. If you have, say, a Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Grant application in the works, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a letter from the police and to say that you’ll coordinate with cops to use community-oriented policing to, perhaps, encourage child support compliance.

→ No CommentsTags: Advice · Government · Grants · Media · Programs

May links: Tesla Batteries, Family Structure and Grant Writing, Responsible Fatherhood Opportunities for Reentry and Mobility, Is Sex Mostly About Pleasure?, and More!

May 10th, 2015 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments

* “Freedom, Tesla-Style: The company’s new home-based battery isn’t just nifty. It’s liberating.” This may be the most important link. YouthBuild grantees should think about including “Tesla Energy installer” to their curriculums. Affordable housing organizations should also be thinking about local energy issues.

* “Skip Child Support. Go to Jail. Lose Job. Repeat.” To call this system “insane” is an understatement. Even calling it a “system” might be overly kind.

* Considering the link immediately above and immediately below, check out the “Responsible Fatherhood Opportunities for Reentry and Mobility and “Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Grants” programs. They’re both responses to the kinds of links you’ll see in this post, and they’re part of the contemporary grant wave around family structure. Pay close attention to the ramping up presidential campaign and you’ll also hear a lot of rhetoric about family and family structure. Regardless of who wins, new grant programs are likely to follow.

* “Walter Scott, child support defendant murdered by cop, earned about $800/month.”

* “If We Dig Out All Our Fossil Fuels, Here’s How Hot We Can Expect It to Get.”

* “Social Liberalism as Class Warfare“—or, points that are too infrequently made. This ties much more into questions about family than you may expect.

* Nutritional Science Isn’t Very Scientific: The research behind dietary recommendations is a lot less certain than you think. Just about the only obvious thing is “Don’t eat refined carbohydrates,” like sugar and white rice, and eat vegetables and nuts.

* “What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure?” Not that it’ll happen in the U.S. in my lifetime.

* The Steady Rise of Bike Ridership in New York.

* “Is Capitalism Making Us Stupid?“, a brilliant article with a stupid title.

* Givewell.org’s advice for donating to disaster relief.

* Building streets for humans rather than cars could help solve the affordable housing crisis.

* Did anyone else notice how much of this post is about family and relationships structure? It wasn’t intentional. We’re just grabbing the links we notice and that people send us.

→ No CommentsTags: Links

No Calls, No Bother: “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” and the Grant Writer’s Work

April 19th, 2015 · by Jake Seliger · 2 Comments

In “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” Paul Graham writes

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour. [. . .]

But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

People who make things are often experiencing flow, which is sometimes called “being in the zone.” It’s a state of singular concentration familiar to writers and other makers. Managers may experience it too, but in different ways, and their flow emerges from talking to another person, or from productive meetings—but a tangible work product rarely emerges from those meetings.

In part because of the maker’s schedule and the manager’s schedule, we try not to bother our clients. When we write proposals, we schedule a single scoping call, which is a little bit like being interviewed by a reporter. During that call we attempt to answer the 5Ws and H—who, what, where, when, why, and how—and hash out anything unique to a particular RFP or client. We ask our clients to send any background information they might have, like old proposals or reports. And then our clients usually don’t hear from us until the first draft of the proposal is finished.

Just because we’re not noisy doesn’t mean we’re not busy, however. We’re writing during that quiet period. Writing works best when it’s relatively uninterrupted. If you’re a part-time grant writer in an organization, you may be used to phone calls and emails and crises and all manner of other distractions that hit you at least once an hour. In those conditions you’ll rarely if ever reach a consistent state of flow. These problems have scuppered more than one proposal, as we know from candid conversations with clients’s on-staff grant writers.*

We only have a single scoping call or scoping meeting because we know we’re better off writing the best proposal we can given what we know than we are attempting to call our clients every hour when we don’t know something. Our methods have been developed over decades of practice. They work.

Writing isn’t the only field with flow issues. Software famously has this problem too, because in a way every software project is a novel endeavor. Software is closer to research than to manufacturing. Once you have a manufacturing process, you can figure out the critical path, the flow of materials, and about how many widgets you can make in a given period time. That’s not true of software—or, in many cases writing. This list of famous, failed software projects should humble anyone attempting such a project.

Ensuring that a project, like a proposal, gets done on time is simply quite hard (which is part of the reason we’re in business: we solve that problem). But it can be done, and we work to do it, and one way is by ensuring that we don’t waste our clients’s time.

We don’t call ourselves artists, at least in this domain, but, as Joe Fassler says, “Great Artists Need Solitude.” Writers need solitude. The best work gets done in chunks of undisturbed time—for Neal Stephenson, those chunks need to be about four hours, which sounds pretty close to the way we write.


* People are often surprised that we get hired by organizations that have full-time grant writers already on staff. But this is actually quite common.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Advice · Writing

Seliger’s Quick Guide to Developing Facility Grant Proposals and Budgets

April 12th, 2015 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments

Developing proposals and budgets for facility grants is fairly easy, even though, as we’ve written before, getting a facility grant is often really hard (but not impossible).

Facility proposals and budgets are usually simple to develop because they contain the same elements. Once the basic needs argument is established–for example, a HRSA Health Infrastructure Investment Program (HIIP) grant will enable the Waconia Community Health Center to expand, increasing the number of patients served–the proposal action steps are:

  • The applicant must demonstrate site control in the form of a title, lease or lease-option. If leased, the term of the lease should be longer than the useful life of the capital improvements. Federal proposals often specify this length of time.
  • Hire an architect or contractor (e.g., design/build).
  • Due to concerns over climate change and sustainability, select an architect, who will design to meet LEED “green building” standards.
  • The architect then goes to the local jurisdiction’s planning department and/or building department counters to understand the land use and zoning constraints on the site, along with required hearings/permits and the anticipated timing.
  • The architect prepares a conceptual site plan for agency review and eventually a second trip the planning/building counters for a reality check.
  • Pre-building permit hearings are scheduled and held, as needed. In some jurisdictions, this may be where cranky, angry local NIMBYs complain.
  • The architect prepares detailed working drawings, based on the conceptual plan (as revised) and applies for a building permit.
  • The building permit is obtained.
  • Construction bids are requested (unless the design/build approach is used).
  • Construction is undertaken. It’s likely that the contractor will request change orders during construction, which will have to be resolved. Periodic city inspections will occur during construction, which may generate additional change orders.
  • Specified equipment is ordered and installed near the end of construction.
  • When construction is nominally complete, a walk-through will be conducted with the contractor and a punch list of remaining items will be developed and addressed.
  • The final city inspection will take place, leading to the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy.
  • You’re done. Let the services and champagne flow!

In the laundry list above, the most critical, and often overlooked, step is checking with the jurisdiction to make sure you can build what you want to build, as well as the sometimes exhausting interim steps between a good idea and an actual building permit. It’s also essential that these steps be clearly explained in your proposal, with realistic timeframes.

About ten years ago we wrote a HUD Section 202 proposal for senior housing on behalf of a large faith-based organization in a big Midwestern city. Their architect prepared a conceptual plan but failed to fully grasp the steps that would be needed to obtain a building permit. The issue involved consolidating a number of small parcels owned by our client. We wrote the proposal based on the information provided by the architect.

HUD deemed the proposal “fundable” and reserved Section 202 financing of about $3 million for the project. When the HUD regional office back-checked the permitting process described in the proposal, however, it turned out that the project couldn’t be built. Our client lost the grant but perhaps learned a valuable lesson about grant writing for facilities: there’s not much point seeking grants for an infeasible project, no matter how great the need.

To draft your facility proposal, explain the preceding set of bullets in narrative form and following the pattern in the RFP. You should also include the key milestones in a timeline, as we’ve written before. Leave out references to champagne.

Here are the key line items in a facility budget:

  • Plan check and other fees for public hearings, permits, etc. Your architect will be able to figure this out for you.
  • Architectural/engineering (A/E) costs, which are usually about 7% of the estimated total project cost but may vary in your region.
  • General conditions, which includes staging, materials/equipment storage and miscellaneous other costs that facilitate construction activities.
  • Demolition costs and/or site grading / preparation costs.
  • Construction costs, which will probably be about 70% of the total project costs. One way to calculate estimated construction costs is to multiply the total square feet by local construction costs/square foot. This can be tricky: the cost to build a Community Health Center or UPK classrooms is going to be much higher than general office space because of life/safety code requirements.
  • Fixed and moveable equipment.
  • Legal fees.
  • A prudent contingency, which is usually about 10% of the total project costs but higher for renovation projects.

→ No CommentsTags: Budgets

Links: Grant writing training, Los Angeles, hospitals, skyscrapers, land use, bikes, SAMHSA disfunction, illnesses and more!

April 5th, 2015 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments

* A new study says it doesn’t matter how much time you spend with your kids. Anxious and neurotic upper-middle-class parents, consider yourself relieved. I don’t (particularly) recall wanting to wanting extensively to interact with my parents when I was a kid, though maybe my memory is flawed. (Lancy’s The Anthropology of Childhood is also relevant here.)

* We’ve updated the Seliger.com FAQ pages. Check it out! There’s even a new question, answered. We’ve also changed our stance, but not our emphasis, on grant writing training.

* “Finding the Dense City Hidden in Los Angeles,” which surprises me too.

* “Radical Vaccine Design Effective Against Herpes Viruses,” which is hugely important in many ways, and the development of this vaccine should retard AIDS transmission.

* As demand for welders resurges community colleges offer classes. Call this a counter-cyclical story!

* “An Interview With the NYU Professor Banned From the United Arab Emirates,” which tells you a lot about NYU.

* On government, voting, and costs.

* “Hospitals Are Robbing Us Blind: Forget Obamacare. The real villains in the American health care system are greedy hospitals and the politicians who protect them.”

* “Skyscrapers are all too evidently phallic symbols, monuments to capitalism and icons of hubris. Yet Will Self can’t help but love them. He explores their significance – from JG Ballard to Mad Men, and from London to Dubai.” I love skyscrapers too.

* “Poor land use in the world’s greatest cities carries a huge cost“—in financial, equality, and other terms.

* “Slumber Party! Casper leads a new crowd of startups in the $14 billion mattress industry, trying to turn the most utilitarian of purchases into a quirky, shareable adventure. Wake up to the new world of selling the fundane.”

* “Why I keep fixing my bike,” which is shockingly beautiful and about more than just the bike.

* “Bungling the Job on Substance Abuse and Mental Health: Employees at this federal agency rank it 298th out of 315 in a list of best places to work in the government.” Based on our interactions with SAMHSA we can’t say we’re surprised. Perhaps they should have more mental health counseling and coaching for SAMHSA staff? If so, we can definitely suggest some curriculums.

* “Thinking too highly of higher ed,” by Peter Thiel, who also wrote Zero to One (which you, like everyone, should read).

→ No CommentsTags: Links · SAMHSA

Batch/Cohort Versus Continuous Training: A Problem with No Solution (and the DOL Training to Work 3-Adult Reentry Program)

March 29th, 2015 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments

Job training programs, education programs, and related programs can work in two basic modes: batch/cohort (we’ll call it “batch” for this purpose) and continuous. Batch training happens the way most conventional schools function: the academic year starts at a particular time—usually in September—and if you don’t show up by September 5, you have to wait until the next break in the academic calendar (which is usually around January). No matter how bad you want to start school, you have to wait until the next time you’re allowed to start.

The alternative is a continuous program, in which a given participant starts whenever she’s ready to start. Two people might start in September, five in October, another in November, and three in December. The person who starts in November probably can’t work or learn effectively with the two who start in September, however, because the two who start in September are too far ahead of the one who starts in November.

Neither of these approaches is necessarily right, and two federal programs illustrate the difference: YouthBuild versus Training to Work 2-Adult Reentry, both of which are conveniently funded by the Department of Labor.*

YouthBuild wants batch processing: usually one class starts every year, and training takes about nine months to complete. Training to Work 2, like many prisoner reentry and Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programs, wants continuous training: if an ex-offender is released in October, it’s important for reintegration purposes to start that person in October.

Batch processing is hard because people who think they want to participate in October lose interest by the time January rolls around. Continuous processing is hard because people tend not to have the sense of solidarity that comes with working in concert with others towards a specific goal.

One problem with many Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programs, going back to WIA’s inception in the mid-80s, is that they’re drop-in, drop-out programs; no one develops a sense of team. Following intake and assessment at a WIA American Jobs Center (AJC), the client is usually referred to to a vocational training vendor. The training usually is starts immediately but may not be continuous, and the trainee may not be part of a training batch.

It may seem to the trainee that they’re actually not building towards anything concrete, as she lacks a cohort to share training outcomes with. Cohort issues are powerful: Even with semesters at a university, for example, many people still find the university experience alienating, especially coming from relatively small high school communities. To some extent living in dorms provides community; so can sports, or the Greek system (despite the problems with the Greek system).

The military puts every recruit through basic training in a batch, in large part to build some sense of team identity or “unit cohesion,” as this often referred to in the military. The cliché goes that guys on the ground don’t charge the enemy for their country or glory or the girl back home; they charge for the guys around them. Building a cooperative unit out of individuals is inherently hard and the many federal job training efforts don’t always work to build cooperative units. Repeated interactions build knowledge and to some extent happiness. It also builds cooperation, as numerous iterations of prisoners dilemma, divide-the-money, and similar game-theory games.

In WIA-land, however almost all programs work on a continuous-entry, continuous-exit model in which any individual is on his (usually) own. Most WIA vendors are in the meantime operating off-the-shelf training programs. These programs can be better-run or worse-run, but they do get people started quickly. In this sense they aren’t doing as much cherry-picking as batch programs, which require more patience. But because they require more patience, they may get better outcomes due to selection biases.

When YouthBuild was first released, HUD (which ran YouthBuild at the time) didn’t require batch training. But HUD changed the second YouthBuild NOFA to reflect the very first YouthBuild proposal we’d ever written (I was about 10 at the time, so my contribution was limited), because Isaac had been involved in job training proposal writing for years and knew that batch training would be easier for YouthBuild trainees and grantees. HUD read our proposal—we wrote some of the fist funded YouthBuild grants—and realized that our approach was a winner. We like to think we had an important contribution to the way in which YouthBuild operates its training, though almost no one knows this.

We can’t tell you the right approach for your program. But we can tell you that you should be thinking about the trade-offs involved in either approach, and you should be closely reading RFPs so you can divine whether the funder already prefers one approach or the other.


* And Training to Work is on our mind because the Training to Work 3 – Adult Reentry FOA was just released.

→ No CommentsTags: Advice · Government · Grants · Programs

Parsing the Department of Education’s “Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions” (HSI) Program RFP–Which Colleges are Eligible?

March 22nd, 2015 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments

As we’ve written before, parsing an RFP sometimes seems like deciphering the Talmud. The just-issued ED Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) RFP is a case in point.

HSI is a venerable program that provides grants to Institutions of Higher Education (ED-speak for “two- and four-year colleges and universities”) deemed to be “Hispanic-Serving Institutions.” But what is an HSI? To paraphrase President Clinton, it depends on what the meaning of “HSI” is? The RFP states:

In addition to basic eligibility requirements, an institution must have at least 25 percent enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent (FTE) Hispanic students at the end of the award year immediately preceding the date of application.

(Emphasis added.)

Now we have to determine what “award year” means. On page 19 of the 87-page RFP, we finally learn that award year “refers to the end of the fiscal year prior to the application due date.” Which raises the question, why doesn’t the RFP just consistently replace “award year,” which no one understands, with “end of the last federal year,” which anyone involved in federal grants knows is September 30?

This conundrum came up on Friday when I was talking about HSI with the internal grant writer for a community college we often work for. This guy is very knowledgeable about federal grants but thought the eligibility for HSI was that his college had to have at least 25% Hispanic students for one year before applying for a HSI grant. His college achieved that milestone at the start of the fall 2014 semester, or around September 1, so he didn’t think they were HSI eligible. A close reading of the RFP sections above shows that he was wrong: as long as the college met the 25% threshold by September 30, 2014, which in this case they did, the college is actually HSI-eligible.

It also turns out that ED does not certify or even maintain a list of HSIs. Instead, applicants self-certify eligibility by signing an assurance. How does a college know whether is has 25% FTE Hispanic students? The students themselves self-certify their “race and ethnicity” at the time of application and these data are aggregated by colleges.

This data gets really murky. Most Americans probably think “Hispanic” is a “race.” Not true, at least by some metrics. Those of us who work with Census data know that the Census definition considers “Hispanic” an ethnicity, not a race. From the Census website: “Hispanic origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before arriving in the United States. People who identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be any race.”

In other words, American college students self-certifying as “Hispanic” could have a partial family heritage anywhere from Spain to South America to the Philippines and many places in between. From a Census “race” standpoint, they could be otherwise black, white, Asian, Native American, or multiracial. Combined with immigration and intermarriage, this is why the population of some states, like California and Texas, either are or will be majority-Hispanic. As a practical matter, most IHEs in the southwest and south are likely HSI-eligible already; in a few more years, most IHEs across the country probably will be. This is great news for IHEs, Hispanic students and grant writers!

The above cautionary tale shows why it’s critical to closely read RFPs regarding applicant eligibility and other key factors. When I went through Air Force basic training over 45 years ago, the first class we took was “Rumors and Propaganda.” It taught us not to believe barracks scuttlebutt. The same is true in grant writing.

→ No CommentsTags: Advice · Government · RFPs

Some Positive Changes in Federal Grant Grants.Gov Submission Requirements Emerge

March 15th, 2015 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments

Faithful readers know that I’ve been writing federal grant proposals since the last ice age.* For most of the last four decades, federal grant writing has changed little, other than in obvious tech-related ways—computers, online databases, quick and reliable digital literature/data searches, easy access to applicant background info and so on. I recently realized that incremental changes, glacial in speed though they may be, have begun to have a cumulative impact on the way in which proposals, and especially federal grant proposals, are prepared.

The biggest change in federal proposal preparation was the switch from hard copy to digital submissions, starting around 12 years ago. While at first there were a number of portals developed by various federal agencies, over the years most, but not all, have switched to Grants.Gov. For the first five or so years, Grants.Gov was incredibly badly coded, and the upload process was often uncertain and dicey. In recent years, the reliability of Grants.Gov has improved dramatically and the required attachments mercifully streamlined.

In the bad old days of paper submissions, federal agencies usually required a zoo of attachments, like target area maps, evaluator CVs, key staff resumes, job descriptions, organization charts, evidence of 501(c)3) status, bylaws, financial statements, letters of support, MOUs, and the dreaded logic model. The narratives themselves were long, like attention spans back in those days, with maximums sometimes reaching 50 single-spaced pages. It was not uncommon to end up with a 150-page grant application, which usually had be submitted with a “wet-signed” original and up to ten copies. Sometimes the FedEx boxes we shipped to HUD or the Department of Education weighed over ten pounds.

In the early days of Grants.Gov, these attachment requirements continued, making the upload process very complicated (try uploading a 10 megabyte financial statement attached to a Grants.Gov kit file for example) and sometimes impossible, as there might not be an attachment slot for a given required attachment. As time passed, federal RFPs began to strip away attachments or even require only a couple of consolidated attached files. This is much simpler and makes the grants.gov kit file preparation easier and significantly more reliable.

Most federal agencies have also reduced the maximum length of the narrative and settled on a double-spaced, single-sided page formatting convention. For example, Department of Labor proposals now usually have 20 double-spaced page maximums for narratives. Before you say “hallelujah,” however, keep in mind that the RFPs themselves have not gotten any shorter–an RFP could easily be 150 pages, with the questions to be answered in the 20-page narrative actually being many pages longer than the maximum allowed response. It is often harder to write a shorter narrative of, say, 20 pages, than 40 pages, because the writer faces the “building-a-ship-in-a-bottle” problem. Furthermore, despite severe page limitations, all of the headers/sub-headers must be included to enable reviewers to easily find your responses.

Other interesting RFP changes involve the objective and evaluation sections, which are sometimes combined and always intertwined. Until recently, most RFPs let the grant writer essentially make up the objectives. Now, however, many ED programs like Student Supportive Services and HRSA programs like New Access Points provide more or less fill-in-the-blank objectives. I’m fairly sure this trend is to facilitate “apples-to-apples” comparisons by reviewers, but whatever the reason, it makes it easier to stay within the page limit. While evaluation section requirements used to be astoundingly complex, these days, RFP evaluation instructions tend to be much more straightforward and linked to specified objectives.

Now for the bad news. The budget and budget narratives sections have changed little. Grants.Gov kit files still use a variation of the venerable SF-424A budget form, which is actually a summary of federal object cost categories. To create the 424A, any sane person would use an Excel template. The only people in the US who do not seem to grasp the concept of a spreadsheet are federal RFP writers. There is still no federal Excel SF-424A template provided, although we use versions that we’ve developed over the years.** A well-laid-out Excel line-item budget not only displays each line item within each cost category, but it can also double as the budget narrative. See further in “Seliger’s Quick Guide to Developing Federal Grant Budgets.”

The budget narrative instructions in almost all federal RFPs are written as if the response is to be done on a typewriter, circa 1975. The budget narrative is also often excluded from the narrative page limit, with no page limit on the budget narrative. Although we would never do this, we’ve seen proposals from our clients in which the budget narrative is longer than the program narrative. Don’t do this—unless you think the tail wagging the dog is a good approach to life.


* Forty-four years to be exact, but who’s counting?

** We always provide clients with a draft budget in a handy reusable Excel template—which is one good reason to hire us!

→ No CommentsTags: Advice · Government · Grants.gov · Uncategorized

The HRSA Health Infrastructure Investment Program (HIIP) Illustrates Why It’s Hard to Handicap Chances of Getting a Grant

March 8th, 2015 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments

Anyone who’s been to a race track or Vegas knows that the odds of a given race or sporting event are being constantly updated by pros who seem to know how to handicap future events. Prospective clients often ask me to handicap their chances of winning a grant competition (and we’ve written before about why grant writing is not like the Olympics). Trying to handicap a particular grant competition is like trying to handicap a horse race in which you don’t know the horses, riders, or venue until after the race is completed. If grant writing was really like a horse race, you’d just pick the cutest horse or jockey with the best colors and hope for the best.*

A prospective client raised the odds issue on Friday, regarding the recently issued Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Health Infrastructure Investment Program (HIIP) FOA. HIIP has $150,000,000 available, with about 175 grants up to $1,000,000, for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). FQHCs are sometimes called “Section 330 grantees” and provide primary health care to publicly (Medicaid) and uninsured patients. HIIP is a great opportunity for FQHCs: there’s a lot of money up for grabs, the grants are large, and the money is for facility improvements (facility improvements are always hard to fund).

Not surprisingly, we’ve received a number of inquiries from FQHCs. On Friday, a FQHC CEO in rural Montana called. I learned a bit about his agency and provided a fee quote. Then he popped the question: “So, what are my chances of being funded?” As I was starting my standard reply to this standard question, he interrupted. He said he didn’t think his chances were very good, because “thousands of FQHCs would apply.”

I said that’s not true, since there aren’t that many FQHCs. We got into a bit of a tiff over this, so I double checked after the call. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation says there were only 1,202 FQHCs as of 2013. I would’ve guessed closer to 1,000, but the numbers are in the same ballpark. While new FQHCs are created every year, there are likely less than 1,300 today. Thousands of FQHCs can’t apply for HIIP because not that many exist. My caller was trying to talk himself out of applying.

Let’s try estimating the likely competition.

For various reasons, not every FQHC will want to apply for a HIIP grant. Some are already happy with their current facilities, while others are undergoing leadership changes. Let’s assume that 1,000 FQHCs want to apply and that HRSA will ultimately make about 175 grants. This would mean around a 20% chance of any given application being funded, which is pretty good odds in submitting a grant proposal or buying a lotto ticket.

But, of the hypothetical 1,000 or so applicants, many will not finish their applications, so perhaps 700 applications will actually be submitted. Of these, a fair number, say 100, will be technically incorrect and will not even be scored. Now the pool is down to 600. Many of these will be poorly written, fail to demonstrate need, etc., and will not score high enough to be funded. Let’s assume that 350 – 400 score high enough to be funded.

Now the odds are close to one in two!

Still, grant handicapping is more complex than this simple analysis. Of my theoretical 400 potential grantees, some will be urban, some rural, some will serve special populations (e.g., homeless, Native Americans, etc.). Some will serve African Americans, some Hispanics and so on. Since, like all governmental funders, HRSA is a semi-political entity, the organization wants to spread the sugar. Even if the top 200 applications, based on points alone, were somehow clustered in the Northeast, applicants in other areas would still be funded.

My 400 possible grantees are actually competing against similar applicants, rather than all applicants, because not all applicants are equal in the eyes of HRSA administrators. If your FQHC is the only highly scored applicant that serves rural Native Americans, your chances of being funded could be 100%. If your FQHC serves a general population in a large city like New York or LA, you might be one of ten possible grantees in that city. HRSA will likely make multiple awards in a given big city, but not ten. Now your odds could be one in three. This particular exercise can be played ad infinitum, but it doesn’t mean much because no one outside of HRSA knows the organization’s subjective priorities in advance and because you don’t know who else is going to apply.

Not knowing who else is going to apply really counts. If four other FQHCs similar to yours operate in a given region, they may all say they’re going to apply—just to scare you, or intimidate you, or impress you, or for any number of other reasons. Will they? Maybe, maybe not. You can’t control them, and we recommend that you not be dissuaded by their rhetoric. They may claim to have juice with power players in Washington, or any number of other advantages. You don’t know and can’t know if they’re telling the truth.

My advice to all callers is the same: if your agency is eligible and you want to provide the service, you should disregard real or imagined odds and apply. The logic is similar to seeking a new job. In most cases, you don’t know the other job applicants. Most people apply for jobs they want to do in places they want to live. Say you’re a highly qualified lion tamer and there is a great job open at a circus in Seattle. You should only apply if you like rain, coffee, and tech / nerd culture. If you like sunshine, Cubano sandwiches, and salsa dancing instead, wait for a circus opening in Miami.

The same is true for HIIP: FQHCs who need facility improvements should complete technically correct and compelling proposals that are submitted on time. Worrying about the odds is an interesting but pointless enterprise.


* This is actually the way I bet at horse races, which is why I’m not much of a gambling man.

→ No CommentsTags: Advice · Grants · healthcare

One Way You Know a Grant Maximum is Too Low: HRSA and “‘Now is the Time’ Project AWARE-Community”

March 6th, 2015 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments

In 2014 HRSA released a program melodiously called “‘Now is the Time’ Project AWARE-Community,” and the program had almost 100 awards available for an eight-figure pot of money—but the individual maximum grant was only $50,000. Last week, HRSA released the same RFP, but with different funding parameters: 70 awards are available with a maximum grant size of $125,000—or 150% more than last year’s award.

We’re guessing that the maximum award changed because $50,000 was just too little money to get most organizations interested in the program, which is designed “to train teachers and other school personnel to detect and respond to mental illness.” Fifty thousand dollars, once overhead and administration is accounted for, won’t even yield a full-time trainer. The current maximum grant, $125,000, will. The program just got a lot more compelling for both nonprofits and school districts. HRSA is also signaling to applicants that they know the last funding round didn’t offer large enough grants to be interesting.

→ No CommentsTags: Grants · Programs