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Brush the Dirt Off Your Shoulders: What to Do While Waiting for the Stimulus Bill to Pass

January 24th, 2009 · by Isaac Seliger · 1 Comment

Last week, I wrote about Getting Your Piece of the Infrastructure Pie: A How-To Guide for the Perplexed, but smart nonprofits won’t sit around whining about dwindling donations while Congress vacillates. Instead, like Jay-Z, you need to brush the Dirt Off Your Shoulders.*

In that spirit, take a look at a great grant opportunity currently available that will help get your mind off your funding troubles: the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP). The RFP for this federal gem was just issued by the Department of Education and 95 grants up to $500,000 may be awarded this year to fund physical education activities for school-age children and youth during the school day and after school. Among the many aspects of the program that make it so attractive are that eligible applicants include nonprofits and school districts; in addition, the funds can be used for staff, exercise equipment, nutrition education and lots of other things that most schools and youth service providers already do. If your donations are down and you want to keep the young folk busy, consider the Carol M. White PEP.

It also dovetails with the current interest in childhood obesity. Recent trends seem to indicate that as our children’s test scores decline, their waistlines expand, creating a wonderful opportunity for program development. As Jake wrote about in Surfing the Grant Waves: How to Deal with Social and Funding Wind Shifts, program purposes change as issues rise and fall in the public conscientiousness. One can take an old program, such as the Carol M. White PEP, and spin the proposal story toward pushing back** against childhood obesity. The Carol M. White PEP’s original purpose was to provide non-traditional physical activities and replace P.E. programs cut from school district budgets. With rising childhood obesity rates and the increased media emphasis on them, adding those additional issues to a proposal will freshen the project concept while getting funds for activities your agency is probably already doing anyway.*** If your after school supervisor is about to lose their job due to funding cuts, one could give them a new title, like Physical Fitness Coordinator, for a Carol M. White program, and, voila—no layoff. We’ve written funded Carol M. White PEP proposals over the years and recently wrote a large, funded Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) proposal about childhood obesity—so we know the childhood obesity issue is rapidly growing and can easily be baked into your Carol M. White PEP proposal (puns intended).

I thought about how nonprofits can use existing grant programs like Carol M. White and others to keep the lights on after reading Bear Market for Charities by Mike Spector in the January 24, 2009 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Spector tells the sad tale of disappearing donations to the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) because of the economic meltdown. We’ve never been hired by HCZ, so I am not directly familiar with them, but a look at their website tells me they’re likely a fairly typical multi-program youth services agency of the kind we work for all across the country. What is most interesting about the WSJ article is what it doesn’t say about HCZ’s funding. The words “grants” and “contracts” aren’t mentioned, implying that HCZ might flounder without increased donations.

HCZ, however, operates two charter schools, which means it receives “average daily attendance” fees for each enrolled student. Even if Merrill Lynch is no longer among the living and Bernie Madoff may have made off with some of HCZ’s endowment, it is still getting somewhere north of $5K/year for every student in its charter schools. The agency also provides services to foster kids, meaning that they probably have substantial contracts with the the city and state of New York, both of which have boatloads of funds for foster children and other at-risk youth services. HCZ probably also has other grants, and one could find them by requesting the agency’s federal 990 form or an audited copy of its budget. Mr. Spector’s article perpetuates the media myth that nonprofits are wholly dependent on donations. While I am sure HCZ misses the former largesse from the Wall Street crowd and their associated corporations, I assume that the CEO, Geoffrey Canada, is busy seeking grants, especially because HCZ is about as good an applicant for programs like the Carol M. White PEP and RWJF as one is likely to find.

When you can no longer pick the low hanging fruit of donations from wealthy benefactors, it is time to brush the dirt off your shoulders and start writing proposals. As the aphorism goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Otherwise, your nonprofit may just slip beneath the waves.


* According to “Obama Has Jay-Z on His IPod and The Moves To Prove It” from the Washington Post, this song is a favorite of President Obama, so it seems I share two interests with the new Pres: rap music and community organizing experience. There’s nothing like Jay-Z and Dr. Dre to put me in the mood to write about at-risk youth.

** We’ve noticed that the phrases “push back” (or “pushback”) and “pushing back” have suddenly become very common in print and broadcast reporting, so as stewards of the language, we are trying to fit them into just about every proposal we write, along with “transformative,” courtesy of the successful Obama campaign.

*** This is a big grant no-no called “supplantation.” In a future post I will explain how you can explain away supplantation in your grant writing anyway.

Tags: Advice · Grants · Stimulus