October 11th, 2013 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments
As of today the Federal government is still quasi-shutdown, which means that very few federal RFPs are being issued. Consequently, we didn’t send out our e-mail grant newsletter last week and won’t this week, either, since the biggest action tends to be on the federal level and we like the big action.
Usually news like a shutdown elicits a story or deeper lesson from us. This shutdown is, from a grant writer’s perspective, not so different than the 1994 shutdown (which hit not long after Seliger + Associates got started).* The sky wasn’t falling then and isn’t falling now, and the RFPs that should otherwise have been issued over the last few weeks will be issued when the logjam in Washington clears. The feds began slowing the RFP issuance process several months ago in anticipation of the budget/deficit limit battles. There is no evidence to suggest that any significant reductions to discretionary grant programs will be made. None, notta, zippo, bupkis.
As time grinds on, so does the ’14 Fiscal Year, which began October 1. Most federal program officers are on furlough, and when the budget battles get resolved, they’ll be back on the job. RFPs for the usual set of programs will be issued, but in a compressed time—meaning lots of deadlines, very short deadlines, and rushed reviews by program officers because of the furlough and the reality that they’ll probably have to work over the holidays.
To paraphrase the title of one of Isaac’s favorite recent “big animal” movies, Sharknado, the weather report indicates a Grantnado just over the horizon. When the Grantnado hits, you won’t have much time.
* Since the grant system got started in earnest in the ’60s, there have been periodic scares about federal funding: the ’70s oil crisis; the election of Reagan in the ’80s; the Gingrich shutdown of ’94. Some people even thought the election of President Bush would reduce federal grantmaking, but the opposite happened.
Tags: Government · Grants
September 29th, 2013 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments
When scoping a foundation appeal with a client, the first task is to define the project concept. This may seem simple, but few aspects of grant seeking and grant writing are simple.
Let’s assume our client is the Waconia* Family Resource Center and the agency provides a range of family and child support services, including, but not limited to—free proposal phrase here—case management, parenting training, demonstration homemaking, child care, after school enrichment, foster care, childhood obesity prevention and saving the walleye. I tossed the last one in to see if you’re paying attention, as well as to titillate our Minnesota readers.
The executive director could pick a project ranging from the very general—helping disadvantaged Waconians—to the very specific—outreach to the growing population of Latinos to involve their obese kids in fitness activities—and everything in between. So: what to do?
There is no right answer. Like marriage, you’ll only know you’ve made the right choice after it’s too late. In grant writing, you’ll know the correct choice was made when you get funded. With marriage, you’ll know sometime between your honeymoon and the rest of your life. When contemplating this non-Hobson’s choice with a client, we always remind them of this essential axiom: the more general the request, the greater the number of possible foundation funders, but the less interest any particular funder will have in the project.
If the project concept is to help downtrodden Waconians, there will be many potential funders. But, leaving aside the Waconia Community Foundation and the Walleyes Forever Founation, none will likely be particularly focused on the need, because the stated need is so general. Conversely, if the project concept targets chubby kids of the hundreds of Latino families who just moved into the community to work at the new industrial hog farm,** there will be relatively few potential funders, but the ones that exist will be very interested in the idea.
Given this news, most of our client choose a more general approach, unless they are really committed to a highly specific purpose. We recently had a large client, for example, that more or less refused to apply for any grants because they’re waiting for the perfect grant salmon to swim by. Their ideal projects were so narrowly defined that potential funders didn’t exist.
As your organization gears up to go after foundation funds, keep the above conundrum in mind. But whatever you do, don’t dither. As Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
* I spent a lot of my wasted youth fishing for walleyes on Lake Waconia with my dad. Since the sport is called fishing, not catching, I had a lot of time in the boat to contemplate the complex issues that face a 10-year-old boy.
** About 15 years ago we actually wrote a large funded proposal for more or less this project concept on behalf of a tiny school district in rural Oklahoma. I remain convinced that the proposal was funded largely because of the then-unusual juxtaposition of Latinos, hogs and rural Oklahoma. Industrial sized hog farms and the immigrants who primarily work in them are now commonplace across much of rural American. Not much of a problem, unless you happen be be downwind or downstream.
Tags: Advice · Clients · Foundations · Grants · Nonprofits · Stories
September 21st, 2013 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments
* The charitable industrial complex; I find it revealing that so many people who view how charities work from the inside start to see why so much is amiss with them.
* “‘It’s a circle of hell there’s just no way out of,’ Schochet said. ‘I paid it as long as I could.’”
* Why It’s Never Mattered That America’s Schools ‘Lag’ Behind Other Countries.
* We should be suing and charging parents who don’t vaccinate their kids.
* “Open All Night: America’s Car Factories,” with the most interesting quote from a grant writer’s perspective being this, about a plant in Toledo: “Of those who applied for the work, 70% were rejected, mostly because they couldn’t pass initial assessment tests, Mr. Pino said.” “Initial assessment tests” means basic reading and writing skills. Any nonprofit in Toledo that wants to run adult education or after school programs should use this quote.
* “Affordable Excellence. . . This book is a clear first choice on the Singapore health system and everyone interested in health care economics, or Singapore, should read it. It is short, clear, and to the point.” I am struck by how many people have strong opinions about healthcare without really understanding the system. Sloganeering is rampant and understanding scant. This is useful in conjunction with “The two most important numbers in American health care,” which points out that five percent of patients accounts for fifty percent of costs.
* “The U.S. patent system inhibits cancer vaccine development.”
* “Spy Kids,” and the fate of spy apparatuses that depend on cultural concepts long dead in most of American and Western life.
* “The Gender Wage Gap Lie: You know that “women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar” line you’ve heard a hundred times? It’s not true.” More conventional wisdom debunked. Is anyone surprised?
* “If it were cheaper to build apartments the rent would be lower.” This is obvious but bears repeating.
* “Guesses and Hype Give Way to Data in Study of Education.”
* The Turpentine Effect, a brilliant post with an unfortunate title that makes it less likely you’ll read.
* “An Aspiring Scientist’s Frustration with Modern-Day Academia: A Resignation.”
* “The Patriarchy Is Dead Feminists, accept it.”
* “How Anthony Weiner Exposed the Insecurities of the 1960s Generation: A half-century after the sexual revolution, the make-your-own-rules folks are no longer quite so sold on free love.” This has Camille Paglia-esque overtones.
* We are in denial about catastrophic risks.
* NASA’s Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration.
* A geek’s tour of Sigma’s Aizu lens factory: Precision production from the inside out.
Tags: Education · Links
September 19th, 2013 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments
Grants.gov has undergone another re-design that, like its previous re-designs, makes it slightly more functional and slightly less functional. It’s more functional in the sense that new grant opportunities are conveniently listed on the front page. It’s less functional for two reasons: getting a firm, permanent URL is difficult, and the new design breaks every link anyone has ever made to any RFP listed in grants.gov.
The application package for Funding Opportunity Number F13AS00375 and Owning Agency DOI-FWS has not been posted by the awarding agency for submission through Grants.gov. See the Full Funding Opportunity for application instructions.
Are you cracking up yet?
Anyway, not being able to access the RFP is like Amazon saying, “How do we make it hard to order?” Granted, a lot of funders do this, so it might be unfair to single out the feds.
The Aetna Foundation, for example, published an RFP on a website that’s incredibly hard to navigate—and then they hid the RFP behind a registration barrier. So nonprofits have to drill into the site to get to the RFP. Instead, Aetna could have posted a PDF of the RFP on the welcome screen, but where’s the fun in that? Aetna—coincidentally or not—is an insurance company. Why would they do this? They don’t want you to apply or, at best, they don’t want to make it easy for you to apply.
(Problems like the one with the Aetna RFP are a tiny part of the reason people hate insurance companies, which run their charitable and for-profit arms along similar lines.)
This issue probably wouldn’t be in the forefront of my mind if there were more hot RFPs on the street. Unfortunately, Washington’s traditional August slumber seems to have extended into September, perhaps because of the continuing Continuing Resolution (CR), which Isaac last wrote about on New Year’s Eve. These ongoing problems mean this week’s newsletter is thin.
We can’t send fat, happy newsletters without RFPs that are fat and happy too. We’re waiting on them, and we know that the feds can do better, from a social and human services perspective, than “Discover Wildlife Refuges Smartphone App.”
Tags: Government · Grants.gov
September 8th, 2013 · by Isaac Seliger · 1 Comment
Let’s assume that you’re a faithful Grant Writing Confidential reader who started a nonprofit and managed to get enough funding to provide some level of services to your target population. You’ve probably accomplished this through a combination of donations and small grants, and you’re chugging alone or with a small staff. Like many businesses, however, at some point you’re going to face a dilemma, either keep on keeping on (as B. Dylan put it) or try to scale the organization to a larger size.
Like many economic activities, scaling up a nonprofit—or a tech startup like Facebook for that matter—is a lumpy exercise. That is to say, the path won’t be a smooth trajectory. For example, if you’re presently operating out of a church basement at little or no costs, an office will have to be leased and equipped to ramp-up services. And since you don’t want to move offices every year, the first office will have to be sized to some future, not current, needs. Similarly, you can’t buy half a Xerox machine or half a van.
While it is possible to hire part-time staff, at some point, you’ll want full-time personnel to attract more qualified people and generally be a fair employer by providing benefits and job security. Let’s say you’ve got one Case Manager. As services increase, the Case Manager will eventually be overloaded, so you will need a second. When you hire the second Case Manager, however, both will probably be underworked for a while. This is another example of a lumpy cost because it will take some time for your organization to swallow the costs of the second Case Manager through increased revenue. It’s rather like the snake digesting an elephant in The Little Prince. But if your organization doesn’t swallow the elephant-like second Case Manager, the first Case Manager will eventually quit from exhaustion or you will have to triage service delivery.
Growing nonprofits will also eventually be faced with the conundrum of when and if to hire professional management staff. This will be yet another lumpy cost, as talented managers will expect appropriate compensation and working conditions (e.g., matching office furniture and a 27″ iMac, instead of a WW-II era dented steel desk and an ancient, temperamental Dell).
Many nonprofits are started by a “true believer” or a human services professional who lacks management training. As the organization grows, management chaos may ensue. Eventually, the founder should probably focus on board/community relations and relinquish day-to-day management to an Operations Director.
This kind of passing of the management torch does not always go well, with Apple’s disastrous hiring of the supposed management expert John Scully by Steve Jobs in 1987 being an especially egregious, famous instance. Of course, the case is often made that the egomaniac Jobs needed to be booted out of Apple to force him to eventually do his best work and return to lead the company to successes unimaginable in the 1980s.
Still, many nonprofits face a fundamental tension between being a grassroots organization and a larger provider. Grassroots organizations tend to be focused on a particular issue, which they often address well. The flipside, however, is that they tend to be poorly managed and lack the impact of a larger organization. Larger organizations tend to provide a wider array of services and thus have a greater impact on more people. The flipside, however, is that they’re sometimes depicted as being out-of-touch, overly bureaucratic, and more focused on the needs of managers and decision-makers within the organization than they on solving the community’s problems.
Neither grassroots organizations nor large organizations are inherently “right,” and both can be good or bad. From a grant-making perspective, either one can be desirable, and the tensions involved with scaling up never really go away.
Many nonprofits fail in the attempt to scale, just like businesses. Some will also wither from not attempting to scale. The funding for lumpy costs requires new revenue, which will also be lumpy. This can take the form of seeking larger donations, going after competitive grants and/or obtaining a line of credit, which must often be initially personally guaranteed by the Executive Director or a board member.
Since balancing lumpy cost increases with uncertain lumpy revenues is an inherent chicken-and-egg problem, you’ll eventually have to decide which to pursue first. One way to overcome the risks of lumpy revenue is to find a service to provide that is funded through a capitated, on-ongoing contract, such as foster care, child care, post-DUI substance abuse education, court-referral domestic violence prevention training and the like. It doesn’t really matter what the capitated service is as long as a more or less predictable revenue stream is attached that enables the organization to cover lumpy expenses while seeking lumpy revenues.
If all of this lumpy stuff scares you, it should. Scaling up a nonprofit or small business is a Tight-Rope exercise. Large organizations will be rhetorically attacked by smaller ones and vice-versa. Be cognizant of the issues involved with each.
Tags: Nonprofits · Programs
September 3rd, 2013 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments
Last year, Isaac noted this about the vaunted Race to the Top-District competition:
Perhaps the strangest aspect of this oddball RFP process were the submission requirements. For reasons obscured by the fog of government ineptitude, the Department of Education chose not to use its G5 system, which recently replaced their “eGrants” digital submission portal, or our old pal, grants.gov.
Instead, we were suddenly back in 1997, with a requirement for an original and two hard copies, along with the proposal files on a CD! I guess the Department of Education has not read the digital memo about saving paper. One proposal we completed was 270 pages, with appendices. Another was 170 pages.
This year, page 5 of the RFP (as paginated at the footer; as paginated by Word, it’s page 6) says:
Applications for grants under this competition must be submitted in electronic format on a CD or DVD, with CD-ROM or DVD-ROM preferred, by mail or hand delivery. The Department strongly recommends the use of overnight mail.
We’ve had Grants.gov for about a decade. Every time we hear about government interest in technology and transparency and environmentalism, we think about putting a plastic disk in a FedEx envelop and launching it by truck/jet/truck to the Department of Education, where it is printed.
A lot of carbon emissions and folderol could be eliminated by a Grants.gov upload. The Department of Education also warns that, if they can’t open the files on your CD and print your application, they’ll simply throw it out.
Last year, by the way, it took us—people who do this all the time—hours to figure out how to create a technically correct submission package. We’ve learned, through blood and tears, the challenges of Grants.gov. Now we’ve got yet another weird system, courtesy of Arne Duncan’s bureaucratic brain trust, to slay.
Tags: Advice · Education · Government · Grants · Grants.gov · Programs · Technical
August 19th, 2013 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments
We’ve written innumerable proposals for programs to give students computers or access to computers. Some, like “Goals 2000,” have already been forgotten by anyone not named Seliger. Others, like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, continue to exist, although the original federal version got broken into state pass-through funds. All of them work on the presumption that giving students computers will improve education.
The problem is that, as we’ve written before, most research demonstrates that this isn’t true, even if it seems like it should be true. Another study, “Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers,” just came out against computers improving educational outcomes. Some news report have covered it too, including “Using Laptops In Classrooms Lowers Grades: Study” and one from the Times of India. But the important takeaway is simple: computer access in and of itself doesn’t appear to improve educational attainment.
That doesn’t really matter for the proposal world, in which the conventional wisdom is always right and where these studies can be used to make minor changes in program design to overcome the problem of distraction. But they’re interesting on a real world level, especially because they confirm what many of us know intuitively: that computers are great for wasting time.
I’d define “wasting time” as any time spent nominally doing a task that doesn’t result in some tangible product or change at the end of that task. Reading Slate instead of writing a novel, to use an example from close to home, is time wasted; reading Slate to relax isn’t. The danger with the Internet (and, for others, computer games) is that it can feel work-like without actually accomplishing any work in the process.
Personally, when I need to do serious writing that doesn’t require data research, I use the program Mac Freedom to turn off Internet access. I paid $10 to not be able to access the Internet. I know the Internet, like the Force, has a light side and a dark side. The light side is research, connection, learning, and human possibility. The dark side is an endless carnival of noise, blinking lights, and effervescent distraction. As Paul Graham wrote in “Disconnecting Distraction:”
Some days I’d wake up, get a cup of tea and check the news, then check email, then check the news again, then answer a few emails, then suddenly notice it was almost lunchtime and I hadn’t gotten any real work done. And this started to happen more and more often.
Now, if people like Paul Graham (or me!) have trouble doing real work when the Internet black hole is available, what hope does the average 15-year-old have—especially given that Graham and I grew up in a world without iPhones and incessant text messages? This isn’t “Get these darn kids off my lawn” rant, but it is an important anecdotal point about the importance and danger of computers. Computers are essential to, say, computer programming, but they aren’t essential to reading, writing, or basic math.
I went to a law school for a year by accident (don’t ask), and everyone had a laptop. They were sometimes used for taking notes. More often they were used for messaging in class. Occasionally they were actually used for porn. These were 22 – 30-year-old proto lawyers. On one memorable occasion, a guy’s computer erupted with a sports ad that blanketed the room with the drums, trumpets, and deep-voiced announcer promising gladiatorial combat. Evidently he’d forgotten to turn sound off. The brightest students were highly disciplined in their computer usage, but many of us, like addicts, didn’t have that discipline. We were better off not sitting in the room with the coke.
To be sure, computers can be useful in class. My fiancée wrote her med school application essay in class, since she was forced, due to academic bureaucratic idiocy, to take basic cell bio after she’d taken advanced cell bio. The laptop helped her recover time that otherwise would’ve been wasted, but I suspect that she’s in the minority.
I get the impression that the average student has no problem learning to immerse themselves in buzzy online worlds, and the exceptional, Zuckerberg-like student has no problem using digital tools to build those online worlds. What we should really probably be doing is teaching students how to cultivate solitude and concentrate. That’s what we need to learn how to do, even if that isn’t a particular subject matter domain.
Finally, like a lot of ideas, computers in schools might be a bad idea right up to the point they’re not. Adaptive learning software may eventually make a tremendous difference in student learning. That just hasn’t happened yet, and the last 20 years demonstrate that it’s not going to happen by chucking computers at students and assuming that computers are magically going to provide education. They’re not. Computers are mirrors that reflect the desires already inside a person. For students, 1% will build the next Facebook, another 3% will write angsty blog posts and perhaps become writers more generally, and 100% will use it for porn and games.
Tags: Advice · Education · Media · Research
August 18th, 2013 · by Isaac Seliger · 2 Comments
Having been a grant writer since before the flood, I should not be flummoxed by a hopelessly inept RFP. I wasn’t flummoxed by the recently completed Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Health Care Innovation (HCI) Awards Round Two process, but I was impressed by the sheer madness of it.
This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA, which is CMS-speak for “RFP”) was exceptionally obtuse and convoluted. I should expect this from an agency that uses 140,000 treatment reimbursement codes, apparently including nine codes for injuries caused by turkeys.
The HCI FOA was 41 single-spaced pages, which is fairly svelte by federal standards—but, in addition to the usual requirements for an abstract, project narrative, budget and budget narrative, it also includes links to templates for a Financial Plan, Operational Plan, Actuarial Certification and—my personal favorite—the Executive Overview. The Financial Plan was a fiendishly complex Excel workbook, while the Operational Plan and Executive Overview were locked Word files.
Since the Word documents were locked, spell check and find/replace didn’t work in the text input boxes. Every change had to be made manually. Charmingly, the Operational Plan template had no place to insert the applicant’s name or contact info. So when the file is printed for review, which I’m sure it will be, and gets dropped on the floor with several other proposals, which is possible, there’ll be no way to tell which Operational Plan is which.
This could be a problem in an Operational Plan.
My vote for the most fabulously miss-titled form is the “Executive Overview.” Remember: a one-page abstract was also required, so an Executive Overview seemed redundant until I realized it was 13 single-spaced pages, with tons of inscrutable drop-down menus and fixed-length text input boxes. It seems that CMS is confused as to the meaning of “overview.”
The Executive Overview was really another project narrative, disguised as a form. If one double-spaced the Executive Overview, it would be about 26 pages long. Although the FOA nominally allowed a 50-page project narrative, the length of the project narrative was effectively much shorter because of convoluted instructions that required the project narrative file to include other documents. Our project narrative ended up at 35 double-spaced pages—not all that much longer than the so-called Executive Overview.
This FOA also included four “innovation categories” that were obtuse and mostly interchangeable. The FOA required that the selected innovation category be listed four times, once in the abstract, twice in the project narrative and again in the Overview. Since the categories were confusing at best, our client changed their selection a couple of times during the drafting process, which meant it had to be changed in four different places each time.
The grant request amount had the same problem, except that it is also included in the Financial Plan, budget narrative, cover letter and Actuarial Certification, as well as the abstract, project narrative, and Overview. So when the budget changed—which it inevitably did—each change had to occur in seven places to maintain internal consistency.
CMS, of course, never thought to link the various templates so that global changes could be made. But then again, why would they? After all, the authors of this FOA don’t write proposals and aren’t concerned with simplifying the process, which brings me back to the nine categories of turkey injury treatment. I wonder who keeps stats on turkey injuries. I would like to meet the GS-13 in charge of domestic fowl attacks at the Department of Agriculture.
Tags: RFPs · Writing
August 11th, 2013 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments
* Dear governments: Want to help the poor and transform your economy? Give people cash. This reminds me of the people I knew in high school and college who wanted to “volunteer” or “build houses” in some developing country over spring break; I would usually say something like, “I bet poor people would much rather have the thousands of dollars it takes to fly you there, house you, feed you, and secure you than they want you.” This did not make me popular but is still nonetheless a sentiment I stand by.
* The Netherlands is swamped by bikes, which is pretty cool.
* AAA says that the TCO of a car is $9,000 a year. This and the above link demonstrate that one way to increase the real wealth of many low-income people might be to change the fabric of U.S. cities from one that favors cars to one that favors bikes.
* The secret to Danish happiness; not all lessons transfer but I take Citi Bike (for which I’ve signed up) and similar efforts as a small step in a positive direction.
* “The Humanist Vocation;” I would add that the humanities are extremely important, but the humanities as currently practiced in most universities are not, and the distinction is a key one for understanding why many people may be turning away from them.
* Divorce, Custody, Child Support, and Alimony in Denmark, which arguably has better outcomes than the U.S.
* “A Louisville Clinic Races to Adapt to the Health Care Overhaul,” yet the article fails to even mention FQHCs / Section 330 Providers. Another reporter who is clueless about how human services are actually delivered and the world of grants.
* A Cruel and Unusual Record: The United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights.
* The End of Car Culture; I view this as a positive development.
* The Best Hope for France’s Young? Get Out.
* Thoughts about rice and men.
* How government co-opted charities. Isaac has more or less been telling me this since I was knee-high to a HUD NOFA.
* “Has peak oil been vindicated or debunked?” A little of both, but mostly vindicated.
* Save the Movie! The 2005 screenwriting book that’s taken over Hollywood—and made every movie feel the same.
* Wealth taxes: A future battleground.
* Science is Not Your Enemy: An Impassioned Plea To Neglected Novelists, Embattled Professors, And Tenure-Less Historians.
* “In Vancouver, Traffic Decreases as Population Rises.”
* “Hawaii buys homeless people one-way tickets out of town,” which reminds me of a favorite argument about affordable housing: there’s actually a lot of affordable housing in the U.S., it’s just unevenly distributed because most people who nominally care about affordable housing don’t really care about the underlying price structure or those who are priced out. One way to solve the affordable housing problem in places like New York and San Francisco is to buy houses in, say, Detroit, and move people there.
* How the Mars Spirit Rover died, an unexpected moving piece.
August 4th, 2013 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments
Many nonprofits think they should try hard to develop “relationships” with funders, particularly with foundations and, to a lesser extent, government agencies. In my experience, this practice is mostly a waste of time. Like an aging hooker at a honky-tonk bar, it could work, but it helps if it’s late at night, the lights are low, the guys are drunk and she’s the only more-or-less female in the bar.
Funders, and especially foundation program officers, may not be hip to too much, but they do recognize the cozy-up strategy. Let’s take the bar analogy above and flip it. Instead of a honky-tonk, we’re in a trendy cocktail lounge in downtown Santa Monica like Copa d’ Oro, the foundation program officer is a beautiful aspiring actress and your nonprofit is an average lounge lizard. Like the babe, the foundation program officer knows that wherever she goes, she’s going to attract lots of nonprofit suitors, all of whom think their pick-up lines are original and figure they’ll get to the promised land by being fawning and obsequious. Unfortunately, as the Bare Naked Ladies sang, it’s all been done before.
Foundation program officers have heard every pitch you can imagine and are probably immune to your many charms. This is not to say that an executive director or development director shouldn’t drop in to see the program officers at the larger foundations in your region, as well as show the flag at conferences and the like (free proposal phrase here—we like “and the like” better than etc.). Let them know you exist. They want you to kiss their ring, or more likely their probably ample rear end, and that’s fine too. If you were passing out bags of gold coins to supplicants, you’d want obeisance too, and you’d get it.
Program officers are special and, with rare exceptions, your nonprofit is not special. Get used to this dynamic. As we’re fond of saying, “he who has the gold makes the rules.”
Like the actress in the cocktail lounge, the foundation has something lots of folk want. It’s just a question of application and negotiation, so to speak, in both cases. Rather than chatting up the program officer, we think it’s more important to try your best to understand the foundation’s funding priorities, follow their guidelines scrupulously and submit a technically correct and compelling proposal. This will get the program officer hot—not trying to ply them with metaphorical $15 cocktails.
But remember that the larger foundations will have so-called “program officers” who are actually just flacks—they don’t make decisions, but they do interact with the public. If you call foundation flacks, they’ll just say, “We can’t say anymore than what our guidelines say on the website. You have an interesting idea, and we look forward to evaluating your proposal.”
Government program officers are a different story and are often more susceptible to sweet nothings being whispered in their ears. At the federal level, most program officers at HUD, DOL and the rest of the agencies toil in crummy conditions in DC. Anyone who has ever visited such offices will remember the ancient computers, mismatched steel furniture and, most importantly, stacks of old proposals, reports and other detritus that has washed into their cubicles. Nothing seems to get tossed.
Federal program officers are more or less like your crazy Uncle Joe, living in the basement that no one ever visits. Uncle Joe is only allowed upstairs at Christmas and on his birthday. It’s a big deal when a live would-be applicant shows up to discuss YouthBuild, Mentoring Children of Prisoners, or whatever. If your agency targets specific federal programs, it’s not a bad idea to visit DC and make the rounds. Bringing a dozen donuts or offering lunch might not hurt. Just don’t visit in August. Anybody who can—including Congress—leaves DC in August, when the malarial mists gather in the heat and humidity. Remember the District was originally a swamp and many would say, remains so, at least from policy and political perspectives.
It’s also a good idea to touch base with state and city/county program officers of favored programs from time to time. As one moves down the food chain in government programs, program officers are more susceptible to politics and politicians, so one should be careful about influence peddling. If you really want to use your political muscle—assuming your agency has any, which most don’t—this is best done by lobbyists or perhaps an influential board member, who understands the political situation. Such influence is rarely peddled in a face-to-face with a program officer. Instead, it takes place on golf courses, dimly lit restaurants and the office of the governor/state representative/councilperson/Commissioner of the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District.
Tags: Advice · Foundations · Government · Grants