January 14th, 2014 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments
* Where Factory Apprenticeship Is Latest Model From Germany, which the U.S. ought to be doing.
* The global poverty rate has dropped by half since 1950. File this under “good news which is rarely broadcast.”
* “The Other Side of the Story: When I was fourteen, I had a relationship with my eighth grade history teacher. People called me a victim. They called him a villain. But it’s more complicated than that.” Not surprisingly, she would deny to others what she had for herself.
* Great news for pot smokers: drug cartels are building massive underground railroads into the U.S. to transport goods that Americans desperately want to buy.
* Cars Kill Cities.
* How to design happier cities.
* Jane Fonda’s foundation forgets to make donations.
* How Tuft & Needle is disrupting the wildly corrupt mattress industry; I’d buy from them next time I need a mattress.
* The media doesn’t talk about suicide in relation to statistics about suicide with guns, which are are nonexistent or bad.
* “No Antibiotics, No Sexual Revolution,” or, “how the legal system is holding back medical innovation.” See also Alex Tabarrok’s wonderful, short book Launching the Innovation Renaissance.
* “Chicago girl’s rape near a school ‘Safe Passage’ route alarms parents.” So much for the concept of “safe passages” as a method for ensuring child safety.
* Camille Paglia on Rob Ford, Rihanna and rape culture.
* People are moving to Florida because it’s cheap.
* We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn: At colleges today, all parties are strongly incentivized to maintain low standards. Having been on both ends of the college teaching / learning experience, I’ve rarely read a more true article. I’m just not convinced that today is much different than 50 years ago, except for having much higher financial stakes on both sides of the table.
* Brad Pitt charity under fire after Katrina victims’ homes begin to rot. Call it another example of the Good Intentions Paving Company, as coined by Saul Bellow.
* “Brooklyn’s Median Household Income Is Less Than $45,000: So how can anyone afford to live there?” The partial answers are large amounts of public housing, Section 8 certificates and families doubling up or “hot-sheeting” [free proposal term here]. There are really two markets: an unregulated market with proverbially “crazy rents,” and a market for people with connections.
* “Chessmaster or Pawn: Now, It’s China’s Turn,” which is the sort of detailed, fascinating, and unexpected post that makes James Fallows’s blog worth reading.
January 5th, 2014 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments
I woke early this morning, as I’m wrestling with an NIH proposal with a very short deadline. A peek at Facebook revealed a post by a friend making fun of the hysterical news stories about cold in the Midwest and Great Plains in January. They’re just more man-does-not-bite-dog story. But news outlets always like to say, a la Rod Stewart in Mandolin Wind, it’s “the coldest winter in almost 14 years” or whatever.
My pal Barry is my age and, like me, grew up in Minneapolis and went to the University of Minnesota; he got sick of the awful winters and decamped to So Cal. In my case, and as recounted in “They Say a Fella Never Forgets His First Grant Proposal,” I left Minneapolis almost exactly 40 years ago, during another deepfreeze event in which the temperature had not gotten above zero for about two weeks. As Bob Dylan rapped in “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” I knew it was blowing me southwest to LA.
Between 1974 and 2014 the 24-hour Internet news cycle began, and now the media is ceaselessly screaming about the cold weather. At this moment, tens of thousands of residents of cold weather states are saying to themselves, and as B. Dylan also sang in “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” “I do believe I’ve had enough.” They’ll be hitching up the wagons and heading south soon, another episode in the population shift over recent decades to the Sunbelt. While there are many reasons why Americans relocate, including selected jobs, like tech in Seattle and Silicon Valley and lower cost housing in much of Texas, it’s hard to argue against the appeal of warmth and sun when shoveling snow out of your driveway yet again.*
This winter- and housing-cost inspired migration has serious implications for nonprofits at both ends.
For nonprofits in wintry states, and particularly for those in rural areas or depressed urban centers, long-underway trends mean that their target populations will get even older, sicker and poorer than they already are, as the young, more affluent and healthier residents move. (There are some exceptions, like New York City and Boston in the last two decades or so.)
For example, we are currently working on a project for a large nonprofit in a rural Midwestern state. In their service area, which has already been devastated by years of outmigration, the median age in 40,compared the national median of 37.2. The median household income is only about 75% of the national median. Nothing is going to get better in this vast, sparsely populated region, as the only real sources of jobs are working for government agencies, hospitals, schools, and nonprofits. The area was originally settled for reasons related to agriculture and railroads. As those sectors have become less important to the economy in the last century, our client’s service area has suffered.
For the nonprofit and public service providers, demographic and economic reality means ever-increasing service demands amid a failing tax base. In other words, more economic misery and fewer resources. Outside of attempting to develop new businesses and attempting to attract highly innovative people from places like New York and Seattle—which is at best a multi-decade process—the only answer for these strapped agencies is more grant writing, trying to secure federal, state and foundation grants because there are few businesses or wealthy individuals to seek donations from.
For nonprofits in Sunbelt states, the in-migration means tens of thousands of new residents, many of whom have little if any social or family connections. While some, like retirees with somewhat secure pensions and savings, will be relatively okay financially, many others, including younger people and middle agers with low skill sets, will be initially strapped and almost all will be adrift in a new community.
Local nonprofits and public agencies will see service demands rise, particularly for job training, family disfunction, substance abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness. It’s a lot easier to be homeless in Santa Monica than Duluth in January. Most Sunbelt cities, like Phoenix and Miami, are still recovering from the housing collapse of the Great Recession, which limits property and other tax revenues for services. Thus, service providers in these ares will also need to ramp-up grant writing to meet new needs.
For myself, it’ll be about 75 degrees in Sunny Santa Monica today, and as I walk my faithful Golden Retriever Boogie to the beach later, I’ll reflect on the half-frozen 22-year old long-haired, bearded kid, leaving Minneapolis in a rusty and unreliable ’65 Bug on a bitterly cold afternoon four decades ago. As Buckaroo Banzai put it, “no matter where you go, there you are.”
* For purposes of dramatic license, I’m leaving out the North Dakota fracking boom, which is drawing thousands of workers to the Great Frozen North. But, many will end up in California, after they gain experience and savings and California eventually permits fracking.
Tags: Grants · Stories
December 30th, 2013 · by Jake Seliger · 1 Comment
Needs assessments tend to come in two flavors: one basically instructs the applicant to “Describe the target area and its needs,” and the applicant chooses whatever data it can come up with. For most applicants that’ll be some combination of Census data, local Consolidated Plan, data gathered by the applicant in the course of providing services, news stories and articles, and whatever else they can scavenge. Some areas have well-known local data sources; Los Angles County, for example, is divided into eight Service Planning Areas (SPAs), and the County and United Way provide most data relevant to grant writers by SPA.
The upside to this system is that applicants can use whatever data makes the service area look worse (looking worse is better because it indicates greater need). The downside is that funders will get a heterogenous mix of data that frequently can’t be compared from proposal to proposal. And since no one has the time or energy to audit or check the data, applicants can easily fudge the numbers.
High school dropout rates are a great example of the vagaries in data work: definitions of what constitutes a high school dropout vary from district to district, and many districts have strong financial incentives to avoid calling any particular student a “dropout.” The GED situation in the U.S. makes dropout statistics even harder to understand and compare; if a student drops out at age 16 and gets a GED at 18 is he a dropout or a high school graduate? The mobility of many high-school age students makes it harder still, as does the advent of charter schools, on-line instruction and the decline of the neighborhood school in favor of open enrollment policies. There is no universal way to measure this seemingly simple number.*
The alternative to the “do whatever” system is for the funder to say: You must use System X in manner Y. The funder gives the applicant a specific source and says, “Use this source to calculate the relevant information.” For example, the last round of YouthBuild funding required the precise Census topic and table name for employment statistics. Every applicant had to use “S2301 EMPLOYMENT STATUS” and “S1701 POVERTY STATUS IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS,” per page 38 of the SGA.
The SGA writers forgot, however, that not every piece of Census data is available (or accurate) for every jurisdiction. Since I’ve done too much data work for too many places, I’ve become very familiar with the “(X)” in American Factfinder2 tables—which indicates that the requested data is not available.
In the case of YouthBuild, the SGA also specifies that dropout data must be gathered using a site called Edweek. But dropout data can’t really be standardized for the reasons that I only began to describe in the third paragraph of this post (I stopped to make sure that you don’t kill yourself from boredom, which would leave a gory mess for someone else to clean up). As local jurisdictions experiment with charter schools and online education, the data in sources like Edweek is only going to become more confusing—and less accurate.
If a YouthBuild proposal loses a few need points because of unavailable or unreliable data sources, or data sources that miss particular jurisdictions (as Edweek does) it probably won’t be funded, since an applicant needs almost a perfect score to get a YouthBuild grant. We should know, as we’ve written at least two dozen funded YouthBuild proposals over the years.
Standardized metrics from funders aren’t always good, and some people will get screwed if their projects don’t fit into a simple jurisdiction or if their jurisdiction doesn’t collect data in the same way as another jurisdiction.
As often happens at the juncture between the grant world and the real world, there isn’t an ideal way around this problem. From the perspective of funders, uniform data requirements give an illusion of fairness and equality. From the perspective of applicants trapped by particular reporting requirements, there may not be a good way to resolve the problem.
Applicants can try contacting the program officer, but that’s usually a waste of time: the program officer will just repeat the language of the RFP back to the applicant and tell the applicant to use its best judgment.
The optimal way to deal with the problem is probably to explain the situation in the proposal and offer alternative data. That might not work. Sometimes applicants just get screwed, and not in the way most people like to get screwed, and there’s little to be done about it.
* About 15 years ago, Isaac actually talked to the demographer who worked at the Department of Education on dropout data. This was in the pre-Internet days, and he just happened to get the guy who works on this stuff after multiple phone transfers. He explained why true, comprehensive dropout data is impossible to gather nationally, and some of his explanations have made it to this blog post.
No one ever talks to people who do stuff like this, and when they find an interested party they’re often eager to chat about the details of their work.
Tags: Advice · Grants · How-to · Stories · Writing
December 27th, 2013 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments
Seliger + Associates’s main offices recently moved to Downtown Santa Monica. Those of you who have visited Santa Monica recently know that the area has finally upzoned (which is great) and has tons of new buildings that make it somewhat urban. Santa Monica has some of the world’s most valuable real estate, so insisting on one- or two-story houses makes no sense, but that’s classic American urban policy.
(In addition to five- and six-story apartment buildings, Santa Monica is also now filled with $30 plates of pasta and $5 cups of pour-over coffee, but that’s a separate issue.)
Isaac found a European tailor near the office who’s had a shop in Downtown Santa Monica for over 30 years. One day, Isaac asked Gabor if he loves the new developments, since the tailor now has a ton of customers within walking distance. He does. What did Downtown Santa Monica used to be like? Gabor just said, “The houses were shitholes.”
We’re naturally telling this story for a reason. We’ve heard the same kind of description from some clients when they discuss their own agencies. But nonprofits are more like businesses than most people realize. If you don’t like your neighborhood, you might have to wait decades for the political winds to shift regarding development.
But if you don’t like the nonprofit you’re working for,* grab a hammer and go build your own. You’re not beholden to the existing nonprofit. Maybe you can do a better job. Nonprofits aren’t that hard to start, and if you don’t want to deal with the paperwork, you can hire an account or lawyer to do it for you. People create nonprofits all the time.
Think your local nonprofit is a shithole or is otherwise doing a lousy job? Go do it better down the street. We’ve worked for a number of nonprofits started by disgruntled members of the dominant nonprofit who then went on to compete for the same kinds of grants. Dominant nonprofits are often made lazy by success and start to forget that success is never final.
* Or the one serving your neighborhood. Plenty of nonprofits start this way.
Tags: Advice · Clients · Government · Nonprofits
December 19th, 2013 · by Isaac Seliger · 1 Comment
The White House just published this breathless news release announcing $100 Million for Mental Health Services. As soon as I spotted this, I tweeted it, even though I knew immediately that the announcement was not as it seems.
Unlike virtually every other press release you’ve ever seen, this one curiously lacks a contact phone number, email address or even name—apart from Vice President Biden, who probably won’t be returning your voicemails. Short of calling the White House and asking to speak to Uncle Joe, there’s no easy way to get more information about grant availability for new mental health services.
The announcement has two parts: $50 million for “mental health services at Community Health Centers” from DHHS and $50 million to “improve mental health facilities” in rural areas from the Department of Agriculture. But no information on actual RFPs or even program names are included.
With respect to the “new” funding for Community Health Centers (CHCs), which are nonprofit providers largely funded by HRSA, the $50 million does not appear to be new at all. Rather, it was apparently authorized by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) three years ago. From time to time, HRSA issues RFPs for CHCs to expand services, including mental health services (think of the New Access Points program, which we wrote about at the link). The ACA, in addition to being a landmark piece of legislation, was also a vehicle for creating budget authority—including this $50 million. At some point in FY ’14, HRSA will probably issue an RFP for CHCs to propose new mental health services programs, but this is not new funding.
Regarding the second pot of money, it may seem odd that the Department of Agriculture has $50 million for mental health facilities—but not to me. The Department of Agriculture has had the Rural Development (RD) office for decades, which, among other things, provides grants and loans for all kinds of rural community facilities—including mental health facilities.
Although not stated in the news release, I assume this $50 million is just part of RD’s existing funding appropriation, not new funding. The challenge RD faces, however, is finding projects to fund. This is because the real problem in rural areas is not building the facility—it’s operating the facility. So Steele County in Minnesota could apply for an RD grant and/or loan (most RD projects are offered a combination of both) to build a mental health center in Owatonna, but how would they staff it over time? By definition, rural areas are sparsely populated, the tax base is thin, and most counties and cities have trouble keeping open the facilities they have.
I’m sorry to have given readers the above bad news about phantom funding. While I’m glad that Vice President Biden decided to issue a press release saying that the sun rises in the east, in the world of grant writing, what really matters are RFPs.
If there is no link to a RFP or information about when one will be released, there really is no news. In this case no news is not good news.
Tags: Advice · Government · Grants
December 15th, 2013 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments
Our old pals at HRSA just issued the FY ’14 Healthy Start Initiative (HSI) Funding Opportunity Announcement (“FOA,” which is HRSA-speak for RFP). HSI has over $81 million up for grabs for a wide array of project concepts that will
reduce disparities in infant mortality and adverse perinatal outcomes by: 1) improving women’s health, 2) promoting quality services, 3) strengthening family resilience, 4) achieving collective impact, and 5) increasing accountability through quality improvement, performance monitoring, and evaluation.
There’s an interesting twist to the funding distribution of HSI, however. Most RFPs contain some version of the following, which we’re taking from the recently issued Department of Labor Youth CareerConnect SGA (Solicitation for Grant Applications, which is DOL-speak for RFP):
The Grant Officer may also consider other factors such as geographic balance; the availability of funds; and representation among various H-1B industries/occupations.
This more or less means that DOL can fund any technically correct proposal that reaches the point funding threshold, without justifying its reasoning to anyone. This inherent uncertainty about which good proposals will be funded makes applicants nervous and can discourage some applicants from even applying. Let’s say you run a rural nonprofit that does youth job training. You might feel you can’t compete against big city applicants and give up Youth CareerConnect before you start. If one were cynical, one could say that’s exactly why this weasel language is almost always found in RFPs. Still, it’s usually worthwhile for that rural nonprofit to apply anyway, since it might be a token rural nonprofit that gets funded to provide rural/urban balance.
The HSI FOA is different. HSI will award grants up to $2 million/year for five years. But the $82 million in available HSI funds and the large size of the grants are not what makes this FOA particularly interesting. Instead, it’s the way HSI funds will be parceled out, which the FOA clearly states—instead of hiding behind the kind of typical RFP language cited above for Youth CareerConnect. Three award levels will be made:
- Level 1, Community-Based (basically a local program): $51.75 million with 69 grants to $750K/year for five years)
- Level 2, Enhanced Service (local plus building a community collaborative): $12 million with 10 grants to $1,200,000/year for five years
- Level 3, Leadership and Mentoring (local plus collaborative plus establishing a center for regional/statewide support): $18 million with 9 grants to $2,000,000/year for five years
Even better, 35 Level-1 grants are reserved for rural projects, while five level 1 grants are reserved for US/Mexico border projects (which is another way of saying these five are reserved for projects targeting Hispanics).
With this information, it’s much easier for potential applicants to try to divine their relative chances of being funded. Different applicant types have guaranteed funding streams, instead of the usual implicit assurances.
As a hoary (“hoary,” not whorey; there is a difference, usually) grant writer, however, I don’t think it’s all that useful to try to handicap your chances of success. Despite the FOA’s slicing and dicing on awards to be made, you can’t know how many applicants will compete at the various levels. You also can’t know in advance how many technically correct proposals will actually be submitted. Remember: if the proposal is not deemed technically correct, it never gets scored.**
Getting that technically correct proposal completed and out the door won’t be easy for many organizations. HRSA only allowed 43 days between the FOA publication on December 5 and the deadline of January 17, the Holidays are coming up and, at 73 single-spaced pages, the FOA is incredibly complicated. It’s so complicated that mistakes were made and HRSA has already published a major modification, in the form of a revised FOA and application kit file.
The short deadline, holiday season and mind-numbing FOA will probably combine to reduce the number of technically correct proposals that are submitted. All you have to do is be the exception: set aside your holiday plans, study the revised FOA, write a compelling proposal and submit a technically correct grants.gov kit file at least 48 hours ahead of the January deadline. The money, however, will go to those who forego vacations (or hire consultants like us) and get the job done.
* It is generally not a good idea to use alliteration in proposals, but I couldn’t resist in this headline.
** We should note, however, that we’ve written and turned in numerous proposals for applicants that were technically ineligible, only to have the applicant be funded. We’ve also turned in proposals with missing elements, like mandatory letters of support that the applicant couldn’t secure, and seen them funded. When we think an organization is ineligible for a grant, we tell them—but they sometimes tell us in turn that they want to apply anyway. Occasionally that attitude works out.
Tags: Advice · Government · Grants · Programs
November 30th, 2013 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments
* Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) of Tennessee’s preschool program show that preschool doesn’t appear to improve the later school performance of those enrolled, or much of anything else.
* CDC: Many U.S. Girls Not Getting HPV Vaccine Despite Its Effectiveness.
* “A bachelor’s degree could cost $10,000 — total. Here’s how.” The short version is, “Unbundling.” I think we’re going to see some version of this tried in various places, and in the next decade we’re going to see a lot of universities change.
* Average Is Over—if We Want It to Be.
* Oklahoma senator calls out Congress for blowing money on ‘fruity’ grants.
* Which Job Skills Will Be Most Important In The Coming Years?
* “Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?” As an additional explanation, see Philip Greenspun, “Women in Science.”
* Travel is much more boring and aggravating than people give it credit for.
* What we eat affects everything.
* If You Aren’t Technical, Get Technical. One could also replace “technical” with “literate,” although “technical” certainly has more immediate financial returns.
* The unbelievably brilliant ad campaign by Eat24, a food delivery service: “How to Advertise on a Porn Website.” Note that this is safe for work, provided you don’t work in a religious organization or elementary school.
* The most important piece and yet likely to be the least read: “We’ve Reached ‘The End of Antibiotics, Period.’”
* A sad day for the OS X users among us: “Pages 5: An unmitigated disaster.”
* L.A. to unleash city-wide gigabit broadband. Awesome. Also on the good news front: “Fed up with slow and pricey Internet, cities start demanding gigabit fiber.”
* Woman from MTV demands free stuff.
* Reducing the federal prison population, which should be a major goal.
* A reinvented skillet. Isaac is skeptical because he says you can buy a perfectly good Lodge cast iron pan made in Tennessee for about $20, but I want to believe.
* Complementing the second link: “The Cancer Vaccine: Only one in three American girls is vaccinated against HPV. That will mean thousands of gratuitous cancer deaths. Why?”
* “What are some of the biggest problems with a guaranteed annual income?” Isaac is very fond of the guaranteed annual income model, which was last a prominent idea in the early 70s, when he was in college, but has become a more interesting proposition as of late.
* “Simple answers to the questions that get asked about every new technology,” in comic form.
* The American Police State: A sociologist interrogates the criminal-justice system, and tries to stay out of the spotlight.
* “Overall, we Americans have a stronger attachment to U.S. dominance than to fair play or anyone’s rights.”
* “Why Aren’t Cities Taller?” The answer has important and under-appreciated implications for poverty and real wealth, and the link is connected to the link above: “Average Is Over—if We Want It to Be.”
November 24th, 2013 · by Isaac Seliger · 2 Comments
The holidays come early year with this tasty new* program from the elves at the Department of Labor (DOL) Employment and Training Administration (ETA): the Youth CareerConnect Program.** There’s $100,000,000 up for grabs, with 25 to 40 grants to be awarded—in other words, serious money. Sequestration hasn’t been a horror story for nonprofit and public agencies—the federal trough is full and there’s always for one more nonprofit snout.
Read the RFP. You’ll realize you’ve seen this movie before—but just because the plot is stale doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see yet another version of boy meets girl. Youth CareerConnect funds small learning communities, career-focused curricula, employee partnerships, high school diplomas or equivalents, industry-recognized credentials, work readiness, low-income participants (including females and minorities), and (wait for it), wraparound supportive services. It’s like YouthBuild but without the construction training, or like prisoner reentry without prisoners, or community colleges without the community college.
The services may elicit a yawn but the money won’t. If your agency runs YouthBuild or almost any other training or supportive services for at-risk youth or young adults, this is a wonderful grant opportunity that could be run by almost any youth services nonprofit. Remember, though, that you should get going before your Thanksgivukkah turkey and latkes put you to sleep, because the deadline is January 27. All I can say to my pals at DOL ETA, is Gobbletov!
EDIT: As I noted in “Are You Experienced? Face Forward—Serving Juvenile Offenders SGA: A New Department of Labor Program That Mirrors YouthBuild,” it’s almost always a good idea to apply for the first funding round of a new program. The reasons are too many and varied to repeat here, but the original post is worth reading carefully for anyone debating about whether their agency should apply.
In addition, it’s worth noting that page 16 of the Youth CareerConnect SGA forbids community colleges from applying. That’s curious, because community colleges are probably the most plausible candidates for running YCC programs. They’re probably excluded because community colleges are the only eligible applicants for the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grant Program, which is essentially the same thing as YCC, except that it has even more money available. DOL just wants to spread the wealth to other organizations.
* It’s “new” in the sense that the title is new and the hundred million has been freshly allocated, but anyone who has ever provided job training services should recognize the melody, beat, and lyrics.
** I particularly like the way DOL has run Career and Connect together to form an allusion of speed and urgency with CareerConnect.
Tags: Deadlines · Education · Government · Grants · Programs
November 22nd, 2013 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments
Like all Americans who were alive at the time, I clearly remember the moment I learned of President Kennedy’s assassination. Fifty years ago I was a 12 year old in 7th grade social studies at the now-closed Carl Sandburg Junior High* in Golden Valley, Minnesota. The terrible news came over the loudspeaker. The girls immediately burst into tears and the boys didn’t do anything (we were 12-year-old boys and in that era, boys didn’t cry in public).
You know what happened after, and there is no point in me recounting the obvious. But it is important for anyone involved in grants and nonprofits to know that the assassination set in motion a series of events that created world of grants that has consumed my career.
President Johnson, reaping a wellspring of good will after Dallas and an unprecedented election victory in 1964, got Congress to pass the various pieces of the War on Poverty legislation in 1964 and 1965 that created the first of the major discretionary grant programs that have become the lifeblood of nonprofits. Before the War on Poverty, most nonprofits depended on donations and/or memberships, or were closely tied to religious denominations. They were much smaller than they are today. They were much fewer. As the Great Society unfolded, the feds (and eventually state and local governments) increasingly began to “hire” nonprofits to provide ever expanding services—and grant writing became central to the work and life of nonprofits.
This transformation began unintentionally with the JFK assassination and has evolved haphazardly. It was largely complete by the time I wrote my first grant proposal as a 21-year-old budding community organizer nine years later. To learn about how I got started, read the first ever Grant Writing Confidential post from almost exactly six years ago on November 29, 2007: “They Say a Fella Never Forgets His First Grant Proposal.”
* When I looked up this reference, I found to my surprise that Sandburg Junior High, which had become Sandburg Middle at some point, closed in 2010, exactly 50 years after it had opened: yet another anniversary, but one that presumably goes unmarked by anyone who didn’t attend the school.
November 17th, 2013 · by Jake Seliger · No Comments
Regardless of one’s politics or policy preferences, it’s painful to watch the ongoing Affordable Care Act rollout fiasco.* Developing healthcare.gov is obviously a complex undertaking. One thing lost in the cacophony over the botched rollout is that many large scale IT projects fail to launch successfully, with www.heathcare.gov being the most widely publicized example this year.
We recently wrote some proposals for an electronic health record (EHR) development project on behalf of a California hospital. When scoping the project, our client told a story about a very large Los Angeles hospital that spent several years and $34 million rolling out an EHR system that its doctors refused to use. This well-known hospital failed to involve the docs—the users, in other words—in system development and the whole system had to be trashed.
Since President Obama and his team—or the L.A. hospital—presumably didn’t set out to create a debacle, there are lessons to be learned for anyone involved in complex project development, including grant writers. Perhaps the most of obvious is to make sure that one person is in charge. This echos Steve Jobs’s insistence on a Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) (to use the Apple-speak) for all projects. That ensures that one person has their head cut off in the event of failure, and beheading tends to focus the mind. If your agency is going to be serious and successful in grant seeking, either hire a competent staff grant writer or consultant and hold them responsible for getting job done.
For nonprofits, which often have fairly chaotic, or, to be less pejorative, “egalitarian” management structures, this simple strategy is frequently overlooked in proposal writing. Without a DRI, proposal planning meetings are likely to drift, with the management team espousing great, but vague, thoughts and the worker bees afraid to say they don’t understand what is wanted. Frequently their fears are well-founded, since nothing concrete has been specified by management.
The result is typically conflict and confusion, which results in a poorly written, incoherent and/or technically incorrect proposal, if the proposal gets finished at all. Most of our clients are astounded when we scope a project in an hour-long phone call and produce a more or less on-target first draft without any angst or finger pointing. Some details may be wrong, in which case they’re fixed in the next draft. It’s really not hard, because we assume the role of a DRI, get the job done, and don’t make excuses. We ask direct questions to elicit specific answers to the five Ws and the H that are central to proposal development or any information gathering effort. When in doubt we let the RFP dictate the proposal, instead of trying, probably futilely, to dictate the program to the funder.
* Otherwise known as “Obamacare.”
Tags: Advice · Government · Stories