Grant Writing Confidential header image 1

Sean Parker Writes about the New Group of Billionaire Hacker Philanthropists and Forms The Parker Foundation with $600M

June 28th, 2015 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments

Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame is a very smart guy, and he recently wrote “Philanthropy for Hackers;” the essay posits that newly minted tech billionaires are “hackers,” like himself, Mark Zuckerberg, and the Google guys, who collectively represent a new wave in philanthropy:

The barons of this new connected age are interchangeably referred to as technologists, engineers and even geeks, but they all have one thing in common: They are hackers. Almost without exception, the major companies that now dominate our online social lives (Facebook, Twitter, Apple, etc.) were founded by people who had an early association with hacker culture . . . Hackers share certain values: an antiestablishment bias, a belief in radical transparency, a nose for sniffing out vulnerabilities in systems, a desire to “hack” complex problems using elegant technological and social solutions, and an almost religious belief in the power of data to aid in solving those problems . . . At the same time, they are intensely idealistic, so as they begin to confront the world’s most pressing humanitarian problems, they are still young, naive and perhaps arrogant enough to believe that they can solve them.

The above paragraph, as well as most of Parker’s other points, are true and well considered (and they complement our review of Ken Stern’s With Charity for All). Perhaps more importantly, Parker is walking the walk by funding the newly minted Parker Foundation with $600 million. It’s great that billionaire hackers are learning to give away their money (and there are only so many 1,000 foot yachts and $50M penthouses one can buy—even billionaires reach diminishing marginal utility for luxury goods). Tech philanthropists are also focused on the metrics of confronting “the world’s most pressing humanitarian problems” and are “intensely idealistic.”

Parker does not, however discuss how average nonprofits funded by these new foundations would actually deliver human services to address “humanitarian problems.” While this might have not made the editorial cut, I suspect that he’s probably not too familiar with most nonprofits and how they work. Maybe he is only looking for nonprofits. A quick look at The Parker Foundation’s Grant Submission Guidelines reveals this. While these guidelines are refreshingly simple, easy to understand and allow the applicant to make their grant pitch in three pages, the clue about the Foundation’s naivety is found in the following instruction:

Describe the method by which the results of the project to be supported can be measured, and agree to provide The Parker Foundation, within six months of the grant payment, with a report on the measured outcome and results of the supported program.

It seems that Parker and/or the probably also idealistic foundation staff do not understand that it would take most nonprofits at least six months to start a project; a six-month report post-funding is not likely say much more than “we hired three project staff, set up social media sites, and painted the office a nice shade of periwinkle.”

This submission instruction also shows the Parker Foundation does not recognize the difference between process and outcome objectives. After six months, or three years for that matter, the best most nonprofits could report on would be process metrics, not individual or community outcome metrics. As Jake wrote, evaluating human services programs is hard to do.

Here’s a thought experiment:

Let’s say The Parker Foundation funds a nonprofit to implement a three-year project designed to increase fatherhood skills* among low-income African American young men in West Baltimore, the location of recent civil unrest. Fatherhood skills building is a popular concept, or “grant wave,” at the moment and West Baltimore would be a compelling target area. This hypothetical project would typically involve outreach, engagement, participants completing an “evidence-based” curriculum (small group process, as we say in the grant writing biz), and participant referrals for services beyond the project scope (e.g., job training, affordable housing, substance abuse treatment, etc.). These services would be delivered in a case-managed, culturally competent manner.

Forget about six months and focus on what could known after the three-year project period. This would include the number of targeted fathers enrolled, socioeconomic characteristics of participants, percent who completed the curriculum, self-reports about increased participant involvement in their children’s lives, and the like. Are any of these actual outcomes for either the participants or West Baltimore? Not really.

To determine individual and community outcomes would require a huge longitudinal evaluation effort over many years and a randomized-controlled trial (RCT) evaluation to compare outcomes for the participant cohort to a similar control cohort, who did not receive services. While The Parker Foundation has a fair amount of money, it’s not likely to fund this kind of evaluation, which might easily cost more than the services provided.

And, if they did, what would be learned from the evaluation? Not much, given the small reach of most case-managed fatherhood skills building programs (say 200 fathers/year) in a community like West Baltimore, which likely has at least 20,000 potentially eligible fathers. The phrase “pissing in the wind” comes to mind. Still, it would not be a challenge for Seliger + Associates, or any other good grant writer, to imagine a meaningful evaluation structure and writing a compelling proposal that meets The Parker Foundation’s view of human service delivery, which is informed by Parker’s experience in start-up culture. Few nonprofits operate like Uber or SnapChat. Most say they are transformative but are not. Maybe Parker knows things we don’t.

Seliger + Associates could have helped The Parker Foundation design their grant application process and submission guidelines to better reflect the way human services are actually delivered. Only one foundation in 22 years has contacted us about helping them with their grant submission process, however, and they didn’t hire us. Whether or not the source of a foundation’s assets is a successful hacker billionaire like Parker or a more pedestrian scion of the Walton clan, the foundations themselves invariably have founders, board members and staff, who don’t have a frame of reference for nonprofit culture and are idealists, or as we call them true believers. True believers, however, don’t run most nonprofits and, unlike most foundation funders, experienced nonprofit managers know the difference between the real world and the proposal world. Nonprofits often game, deliberately or not, the good intentions of idealistic funders.

* There’s actually a large Federal grant program to do just this: Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Grants. I know because the RFP is on the street and we’re currently finishing a proposal in response to it, but not for a West Baltimore client.

→ No CommentsTags: Advice · Education · Foundations · Links

Use Microsoft Word (Until Further Notice)

June 21st, 2015 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments

You should use Microsoft Word to write your proposals. There are many other fine word processors out there—I’m personally fond of Scrivener for some tasks—and online tools like Google Docs are becoming more popular. But in the grant world everyone—especially funders—have standardized on Word and remain using Word, because of path dependence.

The last couple of generations of Word interchange files easily and seamlessly. They retain formatting and special characters and so forth. As we’ve written about before, proposals should be written by a single person, but they may be read by dozens of people. Word has reasonably good facilities, in the form of Track Changes, for ensuring that it’s possible to collect and reconcile comments. File format converters often don’t work very well. Formatting is often lost or corrupted in the conversion process. Proposals are hard enough as it is without inducing technical problems.

Funders also want to receive either Word files or PDFs as uploaded files. You must send funders proposals in the required format or your proposal will be rejected out of hand.

We have loads of complaints about Word: its paragraph style system is difficult. For many years we used a program called Lotus WordPro, not above, but WordPro lost and Word won, so we gave up. If you’re working on proposals, you need a copy of Word for the foreseeable future. Sorry. It’s true. In some domains online systems may be better than Word. Grant writing isn’t one of those domains and won’t be for the foreseeable future. Like it or not, Word seems to be here to stay.

Word for OS X still crashes with distressing frequency, which is amazing given how long smart software engineers have been working on it. I’m writing this sentence on June 3, and Word just crashed as I tried to quit it. Data wasn’t lost—which is good, because I was also editing a YouthBuild proposal and had Auto Save enabled—but it’s notable that a program like Word is still not as good as it should be. I can be angry about Word, but because of the ecosystem around it I can’t get away from it. Neither can you. Don’t try. Not now. Not if you have to collaborate with more than one or two people.

You may have already intuited this, but in this post, as with so many posts, we speak from hard experience.

→ No CommentsTags: Advice · Clients · Grants · Writing

In Grant Writing, Longer is Not Necessarily Better

June 14th, 2015 · by Jake Seliger · 1 Comment

If you’re buying apples, more apples are (usually) better. A faster processor in your iMac is (usually) better. Same for a higher capacity hard drive. But longer is not necessarily better with, say, books. Few readers think, “Gee, this 1,200-page novel is intrinsically better than a 350-page novel.”* They also don’t think a 1,200-page novel is worth three times as much as a 350-page novel. Readers want a novel length appropriate to the story and material. Fiction writers often gravitate towards either short stories or novels. For example, Mary Gaitskill’s collection Bad Behavior: Stories is excellent, and I say this as someone who prefers novels. Gaitskill’s novels, however, are not the best. Some writers can go short or long but she doesn’t appear to be one.

You can see where I’m going with this point. Longer grant proposals are not necessarily better than shorter ones and in many circumstances are worse. This is clearest in foundation proposal writing, where five single-spaced pages are more than enough for an initial submission narrative. Many foundations actually require less than five pages.

bad_behavior_coverWhen we conduct a foundation appeal, we write an final draft that’s about five single-spaced pages and ultimately use that version to customize proposals to the best five or ten foundation sources we identify. Clients often want us to write longer proposals, but we strongly suggest that foundation proposals be no longer than five pages, since most foundations will reject anything longer and even those that technically accept longer unsolicited proposals rarely read them.

To understand why, let’s look at the process from the funder’s perspective. A foundation may get hundreds of proposals every quarter. Each proposal probably gets read initially by an intern or junior staff person who does a reality check to see if the proposal meets the foundation’s basic guidelines. A foundation that only funds in Texas and gets a proposal from a nonprofit in California will chuck the latter. A foundation that only funds healthcare but gets a proposal for after school services will chuck the latter. Proposals that are simply incoherent or incomprehensible will get chucked.

Once the sanity check has been conducted, however, dozens or hundreds of viable proposals may remain. Each overlong proposal costs foundation officers time. Each proposal that isn’t clear and succinct increases its odds of getting rejected because the reader doesn’t have the time or inclination to figure out what the writer is babbling about. For this reason the first sentence is by far the most important sentence in any proposal.

The same thing is as true, and maybe even more true, of government proposals. There, reviewers may have to slog through dozens or hundreds of pages for each proposal. We’d like to imagine each reviewer considering each proposal like a work of art, but more likely than not they behave like you do in a bookstore. A good bookstore has tens of thousands of titles. How do you choose one? By browsing a couple of books based on covers or staff recommendations or things you’ve heard. Proposal reviewing is closer to bookstore browsing than we’d like to admit, and good proposals shouldn’t be any longer than they have to be. Shorter proposals are a gift to reviewers, and they’ll appreciate any gift you can give them. Anyone who has reviewed grants understands this. Over-long proposals are a failure of empathy on the part of the writer for the reader.

While you should never go over the specified page limit, in many circumstances being under the page limit is desirable. When you write a proposal you are no longer in school and will no longer get brownie points by baffling reviewers with bullshit.

Some of the best writing advice I’ve ever heard: “Omit unnecessary words.” Right up there with “Omit unnecessary words”, however, is: “When you’re done, stop.” Arguably the latter advice is a special case of the former. Many novice writers experience ending anxiety, which may occur in part as an artifact of “the way schools are organized: we get trained to talk even when we have nothing to say.” When you have nothing more to say, say nothing.

* Though physical books also have some cost limitations based on binding processes. Books that are longer than something like 418 printed pages are more expensive to print than books that are shorter (for most commercial publishers). Commercial publishers will use formatting tricks when possible to get a book under that number of pages, and, if they have to go over, they’ll go way over.

→ 1 CommentTags: Advice · Writing

Seliger + Associates Enters Grant Writing Oral History (Or Something Like That)

May 31st, 2015 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments

Seliger + Associates has been toiling away in the grant writing salt mines for over two decades, and last week we got hired to review and edit a new client’s draft proposal for a federal program we’ve been writing for years.* They emailed their draft and we were delighted to see that it’s actually based on a proposal we wrote for some forgotten client ten to fifteen years ago. While the proposal has morphed over the years, we could easily find passages I likely wrote when Jake was in middle school.

We’ve encountered sections of our old proposals before, but this example is particularly obvious. The draft was also written to an archaic version of the RFP, so it included ideas that were important many years ago but that have since been removed or de-emphasized. We of course fixed those issues, along with others, but we also left some our our golden historic phrases intact for the ages. This version will undoubtedly also linger on into the future.

We’re part of what might best termed the “oral history” of grant writing. We’re the Homer of the grant world, which is a particularly apt comparison because “Homer” may have been more than one person. For the first ten years or so of being in business, our drafts were most sent by fax, but we sent final files on CDs. For the past decade we’ve been emailing Word versions of all narratives and Excel budgets. Our proposals have probably been traded by nonprofits all over the country like Magic: The Gathering Cards.** Still, unlike some other grant writers who will remain nameless, we never post or sell our proposals. But it seems that the digital age has caught up with us anyway.

In some ways, seeing shades of our old proposals makes me feel proud, as our impact will likely last as long as there are RFPs—which is another way of saying forever.

We don’t know what strange ways brought the proposal we wrote to our current client. We’ve had hundreds of clients and written many more proposals of all stripes, and even if we wanted to trace its lineage we couldn’t.

As we’ve written before, grant writing at its most basic level is story telling. Now our stories have assumed a digital afterlife of their own. While Titanic is not my favorite film or movie theme, I’ll paraphrase Celine Dion, as it does seem that . . .”our proposal words will go on and on.”

* Faithful readers will probably know which program I’m discussing, but we’ll keep it on the down low to protect the guilty and and punish the innocent.

** When Jake was about 11, and just before his unfortunate discovery of video games, he was a huge Magic player and was always after me to buy yet more cards. As I recall, he and his little pals endlessly traded Magic cards for “value” that completely eluded me, a classic clueless dad. Eventually Jake grew up and lost interest, at which point the value of the cards became zero for him.

→ No CommentsTags: Nonprofits · Writing

Good Needs Assessments Tell Stories: Data is Cheap and Everyone Has It

May 26th, 2015 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments

If you only include data in your needs assessment, you don’t stand out from dozens or hundreds of other needs assessments funders read for any given RFP competition. Good needs assessments tell stories: Data is cheap and everyone has it, and almost any data can be massaged to make a given target area look bad. Most people also don’t understand statistics, which makes it pretty easily to manipulate data. Even grant reviewers who do understand statistics rarely have the time to deeply evaluate the claims made in a given proposal.*

Man is The Storytelling Animal, to borrow the title of Jonathan Gottschall’s book. Few people dislike stories and many of those who dislike stories are not neurologically normal (Oliver Sacks writes movingly of such people in his memoir On the Move). The number of people who think primarily statistically and in data terms is small. Chances are they don’t read social and human service proposals. It’s safe to assume that your reviewer is among the vast majority of people who like stories, whether they want to like stories or not. You should cater in your proposal to the human taste for stories.

We’re grant writers, and we tell stories in proposals for the reasons articulated here and other posts. Nonetheless, a small number of clients—probably under 5%—don’t like this method (or don’t like our stories) and tell us to take out the binding narrative and just recite data. We advise against this, but we’re like lawyers in that we tell our clients what we think is best and then do what our clients tell us to do.

RFPs sometimes ask for specific data, and, if they do, you should obviously include that data. But if you have any room to tell a story, you should tell a story about the project area and target population. Each project area is different from any other project area in ways that “20% of the project area is under 200% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL)” does not capture. A story about urban poverty is different from a story about recent immigration or a story about the plant closing in a rural area.

In addition, think about the reviewers’ job: they read proposal after proposal. Every proposal is likely to cite similar data indicating the proposed service area has problems. How is the reviewer supposed to decide that one area with a 25% poverty rate is more deserving than some other area with a 23% poverty rate?

Good writers will know how to weave data in story, but bad writers often don’t know they’re bad writers. A good writer will also make the needs assessment internally consistent with the rest of the proposal (we’ve written before “On the Importance of Internal Consistency in Grant Proposals“). Most people think taste is entirely subjective, for bad reasons that Paul Graham knocks down in this excellent essay. Knowing whether you’re a good writer is tough because you have to know good writing to know you’re a bad writer—which means that, paradoxically, bad writers are incapable of knowing they’re bad writers (as noted in the first sentence of this paragraph).

In everyday life, people generally counter stories with other stories, rather than data, and one way to lose friends and alienate people is to tell stories that move against the narrative that someone wants to present. That’s how powerful stories are. For example, “you” could point out that Americans commonly spend more money on pets than people in the bottom billion spend on themselves. If you hear someone contemplating or executing a four- or five-figure expenditure on a surgery for their dog or cat, ruminate on how many people across the world can’t afford any surgery. The number of people who will calmly think, “Gee, it’s telling that I value the life of an animal close at hand more than a human at some remove” is quite small relative to the people who say or think, “the person saying this to me is a jerk.”

As you might imagine, I have some firsthand investigative experience in matters from the preceding paragraph. Many people acquire pets for emotional closeness and to signal their kindness and caring to others. The latter motive is drastically undercut when people are consciously reminded that many humans don’t have the resources Americans pour into animals (consider a heartrending line from “The Long Road From Sudan to America:” “Tell me, what is the work of dogs in this country?”).

Perhaps comparing expenditures on dogs versus expenditures on humans is not precisely “thinking statistically,” but it is illustrative about the importance of stories and the danger of counter-stories that disrupt the stories we desperately want to tell about ourselves. Reviewers want stories. They read plenty of data, much of it dubiously sourced and contextualized, and you should give them data too. But data without context is like bread instead of a sandwich. Make the reviewer a sandwich. She’ll appreciate it, especially given the stale diet of bread that is most grant proposals.

* Some science and technical proposals are different, but this general point is true of social and human services.

→ No CommentsTags: Advice · How-to · Writing

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.

*’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 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