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Appropriations Season: Nonprofits and Government Agencies Eligible for Federal “Community Project Funding”

March 29, 2021

In 2011, House Republicans adopted a self-imposed ban on including earmarked funding provisions in discretionary appropriations bills, which was mirrored in practice by many in the Senate, creating an effective congressional moratorium on earmarks. This “earmark ban” endured until last month when the House Republican Conference voted to lift their own policy against including earmarks in appropriations bills, by a vote of 102 to 84 on March 17. The US Senate quickly indicated that they would also resume congressionally-directed spending.

Originally, the ban was imposed in response to growing public concern that earmarks might be frivolous spending or opportunities for corruption. Curiously, this political move did not actually ban or remove earmarks from budgets over the past decade; instead, it shifted most of the decision-making power to spend those funds from the legislative branch to the executive branch (or made the process of getting earmarks through the legislature much more secretive).[1] Despite public perception that earmarks were gone and discretionary spending was cut, roughly the same levels of spending[2] have been maintained in each of the appropriations bills through the years since the implementation of the moratorium.

Recognizing that reopening the process for congressionally-directed spending through appropriations with improved transparency, accountability, and policy safeguards would indeed be more beneficial to communities than the policy and practices of the last 10 years, the 117th Congress has signaled earmarks are back – though they have been rebranded and have more strict regulations pertaining to them. Now called “Community Project Funding,” the House recently released additional rules[3] for their consideration process and who is eligible for these funds. Among those new restrictions:

  • No for-profit grantees. All Community Project Funds must be allocated to an IRS designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization or a state or local government and their respective agencies;
  • Each Representative can only make 10 requests in total;
  • All requests must be made by Representatives online simultaneously; 
  • All recommendations for Community Project Funds made by House appropriations subcommittees must be made publicly available for comment at least 24 hours before full committee consideration; and
  • Representatives must be able to demonstrate that there is community support for the Community Project.


It should be noted that the Senate has not yet released their rules and restrictions regarding Community Project Funding; however, the consensus is that there is bipartisan support for resuming discretionary spending and no big surprises or major differences between House and Senate guidelines are expected (although one difference may be that the Senate does not limit the number of requests made by Senators to 10).[4]

So… what does this mean for nonprofits and government agencies? How do these entities make an appeal to Congress to be considered for Community Project Funding? Here is a step-by-step guide to locating instructions from your US Senators and US Representatives in order to make your plea:

STEP #1 – Identify your state’s two US Senators and the US Representative or Representatives from the congressional district or districts that overlap your service area. Here’s how you can identify who those Congresspeople are:

Find your US Senators

https://www.senate.gov/senators/senators-contact.htm

Find your US Representative by Congressional District

https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

STEP #2 – Once you have identified your US Senators and relevant US Representatives, visit their websites. Usually, you can click their names or pictures on the websites above to get directly to their websites, but occasionally, you may have to search for them in a search engine. You may need to call your Congressperson’s office to get information about their process.

If they plan to participate in the Community Project Funding request process, most Congresspeople will have an application, packet, and/or guidelines somewhere on their website. Look for the phrases “Appropriations,” “Appropriations Requests,” “Earmark Requests,” “Community Project Funding,” or the like in their directory.

Pro-Tip: If you aren’t readily finding it, try their search bar (if they have one) with the above terms or try the following search in your favorite search engine “[Name of the Congressperson] +[Appropriations].”

For example, New Mexico’s two US Senators each have their applications available on their websites. 

US Senator Martin Heinrich (Deadline: April 2, 2021)

https://www.heinrich.senate.gov/helping-you/appropriations-requests

US Senator Ben Ray Luján (Deadline: None Listed)

https://www.lujan.senate.gov/appropriations-request-form/

Of the three congressional districts in New Mexico, the 1st District is currently vacant (so no applications can be submitted here), the US Representative for the 2nd District is accepting requests by email only, and the US Representative for the 3rd District has theirs available on their website.

US Representative (VACANT), 1st District (Deadline: N/A)

US Representative Yvette Herrell, 2nd District (Deadline: April 1, 2021)

Interested Parties should contact Representative Herrell’s office at RepHerrell@mail.house.gov.

US Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez, 3rd District (Deadline: April 14, 2021)

https://fernandez.house.gov/services/appropriations-request

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

It is important to note here that not all Congresspeople will participate in the option to submit Community Project Funding requests. Be mindful here, when looking for an application or contacting their offices that, for a variety of political reasons, some Congresspeople will not submit requests to appropriations sub-committees (remember that 84 Republicans voted against lifting the earmarks ban and there are Democrats and Independents that also don’t participate).

In the past, it was also possible that a Congressperson might not have a formal application process, but would entertain meetings to discuss earmark requests. Once they decided on which requests to submit to appropriations sub-committees for consideration, they would either ask you to submit something in writing at that time or their staff would write up their own summary of the request and community support and potential impact. Given COVID-19, the quick turnaround time for the 117th Congress Community Project Funding requests, and new regulations, this is less likely – though not impossible – to encounter.

STEP #3 – Fill out the application! This is usually the most time-intensive part of the request process and requires you to submit written, persuasive content in support of your Community Project. You will likely be asked to which appropriations sub-committee your request should be submitted (they are named the same in both the Senate and House for continuity). Your 10 options are:

  • Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
  • Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
  • Defense
  • Energy and Water Development
  • Financial Services and General Government
  • Homeland Security
  • Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
  • Labor, Health, Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
  • Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies
  • Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies

There are two other appropriations sub-committees (Legislative Branch and State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs), however neither of those sub-committees generally have discretionary funding available to the public. 

Please note: While your Representative may have a deadline as late as April 14th, 2021 for you to remit your application, it is not wise to wait until this time. The various House appropriation sub-committees have deadlines for Representatives to submit requests between April 14th and April 16th, 2021, so getting your request in to the Representative that late (but still “on time”) works against you. Remember, your Representative will only be able to recommend 10 Community Projects – give them time to consider all of the requests (including yours!) together before they start solidifying plans for what they are going to submit to the sub-committees. (At the time of this publication, the Senate’s rules and deadlines for Community Project Funding had not yet been set.)

Here are some tips for writing your application:

  • Be thorough, but brief! Remember your Senator and Representatives will likely be receiving many requests. Don’t bore them or their staff with lengthy applications. If they’re truly interested, but need to know more information in order to make a decision, they will contact you.
  • Make sure you give the who, what, where, when, how, and most importantly the WHY! Write an explicit statement about how funding will not only benefit your organization or agency and its program beneficiaries and/or service recipients, but also the community as a whole. Articulate how your Community Project is a worthy project to use taxpayer dollars on. 
  • Remember that your Senator or Representative has to be prepared to demonstrate that there is community support for your project. Citing community partners, collaborators, and prominent supporters could be helpful in garnering attention and support for your application from your Senator or Representative.
  • A good general rule of thumb for the range of requests is between approximately $100,000 to $2,000,000 (this is a rough range and not an exact science). Bear in mind that the House has capped Community Project Funding to be no more than 1% of all discretionary funding, so asking for too much will make your request easy to pass over; conversely, if a Representative is using one of their 10 requests on your Community Project, you likely need to demonstrate that more than just a few thousand dollars (that could likely be raised elsewhere) is needed to bring this benefit to the community.
  • Finally, remember that this is a one-time deal and that all funds need to be spent within one year or so. Requests for standard annual operating or program support will almost never get funded. Shovel-ready capital projects, equipment and technology purchases, special short-term initiatives to benefit the community are your most likely best bets to be funded through the Community Project Fund. Additionally, projects that don’t have other federal funding streams available to them already will likely be given priority.

STEP #4 – Once you have submitted your application to your Senators and Representative(s), follow up with each office. This should be a brief email or phone call and you will likely talk to staff. Ask if they have any questions about your request, would like a site visit, or want a fuller conversation or presentation. In years past, during “Appropriations Season” there was much more time to plan for and execute these events. Between COVID-19 and the fact that the House only lifted the earmark ban on March 17th and appropriations sub-committee deadlines start April 14th, the logistics probably do not support in-person site visits or full-fledged presentations – though you could do versions of either of these things via webconference. Your Congressperson’s staff will usually advise you if your project was selected for submission, but not always. Don’t be afraid to follow-up in late April to see whether or not your Community Project was submitted for consideration. Either way, be sure to thank your Senators and/or Representative(s) and their staff for their consideration of your request. Build that relationship for next year!

STEP #5 – Wait… for a long time. If your Congressperson has chosen your Community Project, they will submit it to the appropriate sub-committee. Each year, these 12 appropriations sub-committees will go through the full process of debating budgetary issues, line items, and discretionary funding, then submit their final recommendations to their respective Senate or House Committee on Appropriations for approval for inclusion in the full federal appropriations bill to be passed by the Senate or the House. It is vital to remember that even if your Congressperson recommends your Community Project to the sub-committee and demonstrates community support and the potential impact it might have for your community/state, your project still might not be suggested for funding by the appropriations sub-committee. This is a lengthy process wherein each bipartisan sub-committee proposes and debates 24 separate bills, which eventually get aggregated and submitted to the President as one bill for approval (hopefully) by the start of the new fiscal year, which is October 1st. It is, however, not at all uncommon for that deadline to come and go without an approved appropriations bill. If you recall any of the past years where “a government shutdown” was threatened or even happened, that was because the October 1st deadline was not met.

If your Congressperson did not choose your Community Project this year, do not despair! If things go well this year, the Community Project Fund will be around next year and you can try again. Your project or need may change by then, but now you’ve gone through the process and know generally what to expect. You can plan, prepare, and hit the ground running in March. You can even invite your Congressperson and their staff for a site visit, luncheon, workshop, or community presentation sometime in January or February to get them familiar with your organization or agency and the work that you do.

If your Community Project is approved for inclusion into the final budget bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, you have secured your one-year funding! Bear in mind, that accepting and spending this funding is subject to possible audits from the Government Accountability Office, who will ensure compliance and report its findings to Congress, so be sure to spend the funds as proposed.

For additional information on Congressional appropriations committees and sub-committees, discretionary congressionally-directed spending, Community Project Funding, and the general appropriations process, please visit these links:

“Community Project Funding: Reforms for Transparency and Accountability Fact Sheet” from the House Committee on Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro

https://appropriations.house.gov/sites/democrats.appropriations.house.gov/files/documents/Community%20Project%20Funding%20-%20Fact%20Sheet%20on%20Reforms_0.pdf

“Lifting the Earmark Moratorium: Frequently Asked Questions” from Congressional Research Service

https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R45429

President Biden’s FY2022 Budget

https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/

Senate Appropriations Sub-Committees

https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/subcommittees

House Appropriations Sub-Committees

https://appropriations.house.gov/subcommittees

“Community Project Funding: 117th Congress Revives and Recalibrates the Earmark Process” Holland & Knight Law Firm Alert

https://www.hklaw.com/en/insights/publications/2021/03/community-project-funding-117th-congress-revives-the-earmark-process

“Earmarks are back, and American should be glad” from the Brookings Institution

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/03/17/earmarksare-back-and-americans-should-be-glad/

“Just What Earmark ‘Moratorium’ Are They Talking About?” from Project on Government Oversight (POGO)

https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2018/01/just-what-earmark-moratorium-are-they-talking-about/


[1] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/03/17/earmarks-are-back-and-americans-should-be-glad/

[2] https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2018/01/just-what-earmark-moratorium-are-they-talking-about/

[3] “Community Project Funding: Reforms for Transparency and Accountability Fact Sheet” from the House Committee on Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro.

https://appropriations.house.gov/sites/democrats.appropriations.house.gov/files/documents/Community%20Project%20Funding%20-%20Fact%20Sheet%20on%20Reforms_0.pdf

[4] https://www.hklaw.com/en/insights/publications/2021/03/community-project-funding-117th-congress-revives-the-earmark-process

Contact: Tonia Brown, Resource Development Officer, tonia@thegrantplantnm.com

The Grant Plant is Blossoming from 2020 into 2021

February 25, 2021

It is an honor and a pleasure to thank you for your support of our small business these some 18 years. I’d like to take a few minutes to share with you The Grant Plant’s work over the past year and some exciting developments for our company as we move forward.

Despite the tumultuous year that was 2020, I am proud of how our team rallied around each other, our clients, and the business. In fact, those are our three main aims – the team is healthy, the clients are happy, and the business is winning. As a team, we know how each other contributes toward achieving these results and we work together to maximize skill sets to make our whole better than the sum of our parts.

Our team is our biggest asset and the reason TGP is a successful business. Currently a team of 12 intrepid women—Aly, Amorena, Cecily, Erin, Jo-Ann, Laurel, Myshel, Paula, Rada, Tonia, Wendy, and me—our keyboards have been cooking over the past year as we transitioned to all-remote work, opened the NM COVID Funding Resource Center, and hammered out applications in response to the CARES Act. Many of those projects are still pending, and I look forward to sharing with you the result of these efforts closer to late-summer of 2021. 

Worth Noting! In 2019, our team completed 221 projects for 47 clients. Of these projects, 110 were grant proposals and 60% were awarded, amounting $26.5 million in funding. The median award size of these grants was $374,212 and the mean was $50,000. For every dollar our clients spent on grant seeking, they averaged $71.25 in awarded funds. 2020 awards are still pending, but we expect similar results!

The Team is Healthy

2020 brought a lot of changes to the professional and personal lives of everyone across the world. This was no different at The Grant Plant. We worked to continue serving our community and supporting our team, celebrating individual accomplishments, and facilitating an engaging remote work environment. 

Early in 2020, we were able to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Paula being with TGP as Business Manager. Paula’s role has grown significantly since she joined us, and we would be lost without her. 

Paula’s 10-year Anniversary with TGP

Ironically, our last day together before New Mexico went into lockdown was Friday, March 13, which also happened to be International Grant Professionals Day. We had ordered goodies and in-office chair massages for our team, but instead the day turned into one of moving to home offices. 

IGPD Cookies (that were sent to homes)

Shifting to all-remote work in 2020 wasn’t difficult for TGP because we’ve always been flexible on work times and locations. In fact, three of our team members are permanently remote and range from the West Coast to the Midwest to the East Coast. A surprising silver lining to all of us being remote is that it strengthened our connections with each other. We certainly missed seeing people in person, making eye contact, and laughter in the office, however, remote work spurred more communication patterns, sharpened virtual meeting and presentation skills, and connected the team better through opening an informal group chat room (with lots of pictures of pets and memes!).

The Kitchen Chalkboard in the Office in 2020

Even with extra efforts to keep the team connected, morale up, stress down, and workloads doable, the pandemic took a toll on our staff. With reduced space between meetings, more time spent on screens, and social isolation, we decided to let eligible staff opt into Flex Fridays, a nine-day schedule. This gives our employees one less day where they are compelled to be on camera, saving eye and mental fatigue, and able to move their bodies more. We also tweaked our policies and benefits, which included adding paid sabbatical, Super Bowl Monday and birthdays as holidays, and providing financial literacy tools.

We are hoping that the changes we made keep our people healthy, which in turn makes our clients happy. 

The Clients are Happy

Our 2020 client survey reflected overall satisfaction with TGP at 80%.  Our communication and accuracy were among the most highly-rated service qualities (95% and 94%, respectively) and our grant writing/proposal development and support in setting up grant delivery as the most highly-rated specific services (both 94%). All of us at TGP are continuing to work on cultural sensitivity (rated at 91%) as we grow in our individual and collective understanding of racial justice and the important role that a grant writer can play in community narratives and access to funding.

The open-ended comments from clients warmed our hearts, including:

  • I have been working with TGP in one way or another now for almost 20 years. They are ethical, extremely hard working, and produce favorable results. 
  • Awesome to see the growth of the work and also the maintenance of quality, and your team members are rock stars! 
  • Great response when we requested their help on short notice. 
  • I can’t say enough about the responsiveness and efficacy of the work they do! 

Thank you to everyone who received and took our survey. Please keep an eye out for it again in late summer. We value the input and use the data for improvement and decision-making when it comes to our services and the way we deliver them.

Our Clients, Our Partners

The Business Is Winning

With our team healthy and our clients happy, we can turn our focus to the business winning –that our client services give us a strong bottom line, that our net margin shows a positive trajectory, and that we are ideating on ways to add to our service and product lines.

We recently started moving to more of a shared leadership model that we will carry forward in the years ahead. Erin and I will continue to lead the company as we embark on ambitious growth plans that will deepen and broaden the services we offer. While we’ve always done everything together and will continue to do so, my focus is on external factors and relations, while Erin’s is on internal systems and operations. 

Our leadership team is comprised of talented individuals with differing and compatible strengths. As mentioned earlier, we are fortunate to have Paula Azua-Stofleth on our leadership team as Business Manager. Paula has played a critical role supporting us in daily operations and financial decision-making since 2010.

Our leadership team also includes Aly Sanchez as Director of Strategy & Organizational Development. Aly leads internal strategy across clients and projects, builds out quality improvement processes, and captures and articulates business, client, and project information. Aly has been with us since 2008, rising from Resource Development Officer to Director of Projects and into this position that she has held for the past two years. 

A second director position was added this year, with Cecily Peterson stepping into the role of Director of Resource Development. Cecily joined us in 2015 and has flourished from a Resource Development Officer to Senior Resource Development Officer. In her new role, Cecily will oversee the delivery of all our grant services (research, writing, reporting, and management), facilitating and guiding a new sector-based approach to resource development.

Building out our shared leadership model, Wendy McCoy will lead all of TGP’s research services as a Senior Resource Development Officer. In this role, Wendy will oversee a portfolio of client research projects while guiding other staff members in the prospect research process and deliverables. Wendy has been with us since 2008, starting as a Resource Development Officer and most recently as Resource Development Officer II.

We hope that you will be able to work with each of these amazing women in some way, and that they have the good fortune to work with you. We are excited for this next phase and look forward to working together to propel your work and help you to overcome any challenges that may arise in the year to come.

I speak on behalf of all TGP when I thank you for including us in your inspiring work. Wishing you all the best that 2021 has to offer, and then some.

Contact: Tara Gohr, President/CEO, tara@thegrantplantnm.com

New Relief Funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021

January 14, 2021

Since March 2020, the Grant Plant has monitored developments around COVID-19, particularly developments that are likely to impact New Mexico’s non-profit community, our clients, and New Mexico as a whole. To ensure our non-profit community has the resources needed to continue its vital work, we provide information about COVID-19 emergency funding available in New Mexico on The Grant Plant website. If you have any resources to add, please email us.

***

The latest—and long-awaited—round of coronavirus relief from the Federal government is contained within the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. The comprehensive, $1.4 trillion omnibus spending agreement contains numerous provisions, and includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief funding. The Act was signed into law on December 27, 2020. 

It includes direct monetary assistance to businesses, including nonprofits, and individuals impacted by the virus. It averts a Federal government shutdown, and includes funding for government agencies, and other priorities such as unemployment insurance, paycheck protection, vaccines and testing, schools and universities, food and farm aid, and the Postal Service. Among this list are many provisions that will have an impact across the U.S. A summary of such provisions is outlined below:

Supporting Businesses

  • The Act extends the refundable Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), initially established by the CARES Act. Employers who had to shut down or reduce operations due to restrictions from COVID-19, or who have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts, are eligible for a per-employee tax credit of up to $5,000 each. Extension of this tax credit, through July 1, 2021, will help small businesses and non-profits survive the pandemic, and keep more employees on payroll. Aside from the extension, the ERTC is now more accessible, with businesses able to retroactively borrow both a PPP loan and claim an ERTC for 2020. The ERTC also now has higher limits on per-employee creditable wages and broader eligibility. See the References & Resources section of this article for more details on these updates.
  • The Act includes another $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), available to for-profit and non-profit entities alike, and extends the program through March 31, 2021. Notable changes include:
    • A second PPP forgivable loan will be available to small businesses and non-profits (300 or fewer employees) that have experienced a loss of 25% of gross receipts during any quarter of 2020.
    • Expanded PPP eligibility for 501(c)(6) non-profits including local newspapers, radio, and television broadcasters.
    • A simpler forgiveness process for loans less than $150,000.
  • Additionally, the Act stipulates that forgiven PPP loans will not be included in taxable income, and that deductions are allowable for expenses paid from the proceeds of a forgiven PPP loan.
  • The Act includes another $20 billion to refresh the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) Advance grants program, through which small businesses and non-profits in low-income communities can apply for grants of up to $10,000. 
  • The Act earmarks $12 billion for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) to help low-income and minority borrowers disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
  • The Act includes $15 billion in funding to “Save our Stages” —helping organizations such as venue spaces, movie theaters, performing arts organizations, cultural institutions, non-profit museums, and others who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, given widespread restrictions against public gatherings and performances. This funding will flow from the Small Business Administration (SBA). A pot of $2 billion is specifically reserved for organizations with fewer than 50 employees.

Charitable Giving

  • A one-year extension has been granted for the $300 allowable tax deduction for charitable giving, previously set to expire at the end of 2020. This provision also increases the limits on deductible charitable contributions for businesses and individuals who itemize on their taxes, and allows a $600 allowable deduction for people filing a joint return, meaning that the public has more incentive to support charitable organizations during the pandemic. 

Staying Connected

  • An allotment of $3.2 billion is available for an Emergency Broadband Benefit that will provide $50 per month for broadband for low-income families. Consumers will not receive these benefits directly; payments will be made to participating internet service providers, who will verify household eligibility.
  • Another $1 billion is earmarked for a Tribal broadband fund, and $250 million dollars is reserved for telehealth funding. Additionally, a new $300 million grant program has been created to fund broadband in rural areas. 

Making Ends Meet

  • The Act establishes a new $25 billion program to provide emergency rental assistance to renters in need, to be run through the U.S. Treasury Department. The Treasury Department will distribute emergency aid to states and local governments via local housing agencies. These funds will be targeted to families impacted by COVID, who will be able to use this assistance for past due rent, future rent payments, and utility and energy expenses. 
  • The Act delivers a $166 billion round of Economic Impact Payments for individuals, in the form of one-time direct payments of $600 for people making up to $75,000, and $1,200 for couples making up to $150,000. Families can also receive $600 per eligible dependent child. Notably, this round of direct payments will expand its eligibility to include households of mixed immigration status.
  • Another $26 billion has been allocated for agriculture and nutrition funding, of which $13 billion will be used to combat the food insecurity experienced by so many during the pandemic. The Act will increase SNAP benefits by 15%, and add $400 million to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to fund the continued work of food banks across the country. 

Education & Childcare

  • This Act provides $81.88 billion in flexible education funding for states, K-12 institutions, and higher education institutions. As in the CARES Act, this education funding is again split into three funds: The Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund ($4.05 billion); the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund for public schools ($54.3 billion); and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund for public and private non-profit and for-profit institutions ($22.7 billion). This provision also earmarks $818.8 million in relief for outlying areas and the Bureau of Indian Education, and $1.7 billion for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal colleges, and Minority-Serving Institutions. 
  • Lastly, the Act includes $10 billion for immediate relief to childcare providers currently in operation, or those that have been temporarily closed due to the pandemic, through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program. These grants are flexible and may be used for personnel, sanitization of spaces, personal protective equipment, fixed costs, and other childcare related services. The Act also includes $250 million for Head Start providers to ensure they are able to continue to serve low-income children and families.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 includes many more provisions than are outlined in this post. For more details of COVID-19 relief provided within the Act, check out this succinct yet detailed summary, courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The full text of the Act can be found here.

The Grant Plant will continue daily monitoring for new Federal programs and funding stemming from this Act, and we will update our full listing of COVID-19 funding for New Mexico as more information becomes available. We are inspired by the meaningful work being done in New Mexico’s non-profit community during this time of crisis, and proud to be a resource for our clients as the pandemic continues to unfold. We will get through this together.

Contact: Amo Almand, Resource Development Officer, amorena@thegrantplantnm.com

***


References & Resources

Full text of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021

A summary from the National Conference of State Legislatures

A summary from Federal Funds Information for States

A summary from the National Council of Nonprofits

An employer’s guide to the Act from OneDigital

A housing-focused summary from the National Apartment Association 

Advance grants and loans from the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) on the IRS website

Updates to the ERTC from Raich Ende & Malter Co. LLP and Forbes

Impact on Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs)

More detail on the Save Our Stages Act              

How the Act will impact Tribal communities

A press release from the FCC regarding new communications funding

Details of the Emergency Broadband Benefit courtesy of the National League of Cities

Expanded eligibility of the Economic Impact Payments to families

Impact on agriculture and nutrition

Get Ready! The Shuttered Venue Operator Grant Program Will be Released “Soon”

January 14, 2021

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 created a new grant program to provide funding aid to live venue operators and related businesses that are struggling due to COVID restrictions. This $15 billion program will provide grants of up to $10 million each to eligible entities, amounts dependent on prior gross revenue (see below).

The Small Business Administration is operating this program, and has yet to release guidance and application details. What we do know so far includes:

Eligibility – The following types of entities are eligible for a grant, including for-profit, non-profit, or government-owned entities. Types of organizations eligible include:

  • Live venue operators or promoters, theatrical producers, or live performing arts organization operators: Venues must be a defined performance and audience space; employ at least one person in a relevant role; have paid ticketing for most performances; their artists/performers are paid (unless for fundraisers or charitable events); and in the case of non-profits, events must be primarily managed by employees, not volunteers. These organizations must have 70 percent of earned revenue generated through cover charges or ticket sales, production fees or production reimbursements, nonprofit educational initiatives, or the sale of event beverages, food, or merchandise.
  • Museums must serve as a museum as its principal business activity; be established on a permanent basis for educational, cultural heritage, or aesthetic purposes; have indoor exhibition spaces that have been subject to COVID restrictions; and have at least one auditorium, theater, performance space, or lecture hall with fixed audience seating and regular programming.
  • Motion picture theatres must have at least one auditorium with fixed audience seating, motion picture projector, and a paid ticket charge.

Further, to be eligible, entities:

  • Must have been fully operational by February 29, 2020
  • Must demonstrate a 25 percent reduction between gross earned revenue in the second, third, or fourth quarter of 2020 as compared to the same quarter in 2019
  • Must intend to re-open or resume promoting, hosting, managing, or producing events
  • Cannot have received more than 10 percent of its annual revenue from Federal funding during 2019
  • Must have less than 500 employees, operate in the U.S. only, and in not more than 10 states

Amounts – Grants will be equal to one of the following:

  • 45 percent of gross earned revenue during 2019 (for eligible entities operational as of January 1, 2019)
  • 45 percent of monthly average gross revenue multiplied by six (for eligible entities operational after January 1, 2019)

The cap is $10 million per eligible entity.

Funding may be used to cover expenses incurred between March 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021.

Grant Priorities – Priority for grants will be given as follows:

  • Eligible entities with April 1-December 31, 2020 revenue of 10% or less of that during the same time period in 2019; these entities receive priority during the first 14-day window that the grant is open
  • Eligible entities with April 1-December 31, 2020 revenue of 30% or less of that during the same time period in 2019; these entities receive priority during the second 14-day window that the grant is open

After 28 days, the grant will be open to other eligible entities. At least 20% of all grant funds must be reserved to process grants after 28 days.

Further, supplemental grants may be made after all applications received within the first 60-day window have been processed. These supplemental grants may be equal to 50% of the initial grant, if the eligible entity’s revenue for the first quarter of 2021 is less than 30% that of the same time period in 2019. This funding can be used for expenses incurred between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2022. 

Application – The SBA has indicated that it will release information about the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant Program on its website “soon,” at www.sba.gov/coronavirusrelief. When the grant application is available, announcements will be made via social media and a press release, and issued through Grants.gov. The SBA recommends that in the meantime, potential applicants begin pulling together information about monthly revenues and a list of how funds would be used if awarded. 

At The Grant Plant, we also recommend that you start preparing by registering in Grants.gov. There are several steps to become registered with this platform, including creating an account, obtaining a DUNS number, and registering with the System for Award Management. Grants.gov offers several tutorials on registration as well as submitting an application. 

We’ll update information on this program as it becomes available, and encourage all our New Mexico businesses, non-profits, and government agencies eligible for this funding to be prepared to apply as soon as it opens.

Sources:

  • Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, available at: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/hr133/text.
  • National Law Review, Front and Center: New SBA Grant Program for Shuttered Venue Operators. December 30, 2020.
  • U.S. Small Business Administration, Shuttered Venue Operator Grant Program Webinar. January 14, 2021.

New Mexico COVID-19 Relief Bill

December 1, 2020
tags:

The New Mexico State Legislature passed a COVID-19 relief bill on November 24, 2020 that was made available through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The bill is a general appropriations bill, which means that funds will be available immediately. Funding from the bill is expected to provide timely support to residents and businesses and will also provide funds to assist food banks, virus testing, and contact tracing efforts. A total of $100 million in grants will be available. Grants are expected to range up to $50,000, and will be made to small businesses and nonprofits (from sole-proprietorships up to 100 employees). Grant priorities include geographic dispersion as well as to support hospitality and leisure businesses and businesses that are experiencing severe economic impact from the public health orders related to the COVID health emergency. The New Mexico Finance Authority will administer the grants to small businesses and nonprofits through the CARES Continuity Grant program. The guidelines and application are in the process of being created and it is expected that the application will open around December 7. Entities interested in grants to businesses and nonprofits may:

The bill also includes funding that will provide support for residents, food, banks, and the homeless, as follows: 

  • $194 million to provide $1,200 in compensation benefits to individuals who are or were eligible for benefits for unemployment from the federal pandemic unemployment assistance program, pandemic emergency unemployment compensation program, or federal-state extended benefits or trade readjustment allowance program.
  • $5 million to provide assistance of up to $750 per household to low-income state residents who did not previously receive an economic impact payment stemming from the CARES Act. Eligibility for this round of support includes dependents like children and the elderly, as well as immigrants in the country who were not eligible for the federal stimulus payment.
  • $15 million in assistance to contract for services to provide emergency housing assistance and assistance for the homeless.
  • $5 million in assistance to contract for services to provide emergency food bank services in the state.

Deadline: To be determined.

Contact: Wendy McCoy, Resource Development Officer II, wendy@thegrantplantnm.com

Research Resources: Go-Tos for Grant Seekers in Microfinance, Community Lending, and Business Development

November 6, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States stretches into its ninth month, small businesses continue to feel the fallout as consumers have less spending money and public health restrictions on indoor dining and other activities limit revenue opportunities. Unfortunately, due to historic disparities in business development resources, COVID-19 is imperiling some businesses much more others. According to a McKinsey & Company report, minority-owned small businesses in particular “tend to face underlying issues that make it harder to run and scale successfully, and they are more likely to be concentrated in the industries most immediately affected by the pandemic.” Three of the major underlying issues that minority-owned businesses face are:

  1. Generational wealth gaps that result in their businesses starting out with less capital than White-owned businesses; 
  2. Unequal access to formal business training opportunities and peer networks; and 
  3. Barriers to mainstream credit, which relies on traditional indicators of “creditworthiness” that exclude people with lower incomes and assets.

This current system also has an enduring problem with racist redlining—meaning people of color are often denied credit even when they meet the same qualification thresholds as their White peers. Women entrepreneurs face similar barriers—historical pay gaps that result in less starting capital, less access to credit (and venture capital!), and less access to formal and informal business development opportunities. Women are similarly concentrated in COVID-impacted industries like healthcare, retail, and hospitality.

Although the pandemic has certainly made business disparities more dire, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), credit unions, and other mission-driven lenders have been working for a long time to fill these gaps in lending and level the playing field for entrepreneurs. This means that there is a rich funding landscape for grant seekers working in microfinance, community lending, and business development programs targeted at minority, women, low-income, and other entrepreneurs who have been historically sidelined. Even better, this lending landscape is now bolstered with COVID-19 funding opportunities. Major funders include the CDFI Fund of the U.S. Department of Treasury, the Small Business Administration, the Minority Business Development Agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Credit Union Administration, and large banks (Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America), along with an array of national and local private foundations. (To keep an eye on pandemic-response funding opportunities, check out The Grant Plant’s COVID-19 Funding Resource Center.)

In order to be competitive for these opportunities, you not only need to have a strong, results-driven program to pitch—you also need to show that you understand entrepreneurial challenges and opportunities (nationally and in your state), systemic inequities, and which specific gaps your program will help fill (e.g., specialized loan products, technical assistance, business incubation and mentorship connections for certain target populations). Although by no means an exhaustive list, below is a round-up of some go-to research resources that can help you craft a compelling need statement that sets the stage for your proposed solution:  

The Aspen Institute spearheads a variety of initiatives designed to promote a “free, just, and equitable society,” including several programs focusing on economic development, business ownership, and finance. Its publications page is a rich resource for finding data on disparities in business lending, opportunity, and outcomes. One of the most compelling research reports to come out of the institute in recent years is its 2017 Unleashing Latino-Owned Business Potential, which documents the persistent opportunity gaps that prevent Latino-owned businesses from scaling at proportional rates—and what that means for our economy as a whole. 

The Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy features important research reports and fact sheets, including state Small Business Profiles that show how many small businesses are in a state, how many jobs they create, dominant industries, and how many businesses are owned by women and people of color. They also publish special reports such as Black Business Owners Hit Hard By Pandemic and Minority-Owned Employer Businesses and their Credit Market Experiences in 2017 that demonstrate the need for proactive interventions. 

Research reports published by the National Women’s Business Council highlight the challenges and opportunities for rural, veteran, millennial, Hispanic, and other women entrepreneur groups, as well as women’s representation in business incubators and other development opportunities. Its 2018 Understanding the Landscape: Access to Capital for Women Entrepreneurs is a thorough literature review showing that women business owners face across-the-board challenges to raising start-up and growth capital, have fewer institutional resource connections, and face systemic bias that causes lenders and investors to view them as “less credible.” The Council also publishes fact sheets on women business owners categorized by ethnicity, age, industry, veteran status, and more. 

In 2017, the the University of Arizona Native Nations Institute published the comprehensive Access to Capital and Credit in Native Communities: A Data Review, which details the barriers Native Americans face related to geographical proximity to financial institutions, credit scores, sourcing public and private capital, and land trust status. The report notes that “Native business owners appear less likely than business owners overall to obtain financing from banks” and that while Native CDFIs are an important presence filling this gap, “demand for Native CDFI lending . . . exceeds the sector’s capacity.” The review ultimately points to a need for much more funding going to CDFIs that serve Native American entrepreneurs.

Prosperity Now offers a plethora of resources to grant seekers looking for information on wealth and income inequality, business disparities, policy recommendations, and more—they also have a growing COVID-19 resource and research center, which includes a brief outlining the “Cascading Impact of COVID-19 on Microbusinesses and the U.S. Economy.” One of its most useful tools is the Prosperity Now Scorecard, which you can filter by location or issue area. For example, when I filter by the issue area Businesses & JobsBusiness Value by Race, I see the summary, “Not only do workers of color own businesses at a lower rate than White workers, the value of businesses owned by workers of color is generally far less than that of businesses with White owners,” followed by state-by-state data on business values by race. (You can do the same thing for gender, and you’ll see similar results—unfortunately.)

The CDFI Fund has a very handy mapping tool[1] that you can use to determine if your program service areas fall within Qualified Opportunity Zones and/or New Markets Tax Credit Zones. All you have to do is enter an address and the tool will zoom in and show you OZ and NMTC zone status (by census tract), as well as that area’s population, median income, poverty rate, and unemployment rate. Why is this important? Major funders (including the CDFI Fund and other government agencies) typically want grant seekers to show that their lending and business development programs are serving entrepreneurs in areas that the federal government has qualified as “economically distressed.” The SBA has its own version of this in the form of HUBZones—“historically underutilized business zones”—and you can find out if your service area falls into a HUBZone here.

The Asset Funders Network publishes reports on a wide range of income and wealth-building topics, including Employment & Entrepreneurship. Relevant publications include Building Assets through Microbusiness, Forging a Successful Business Formation Path for Returning CitizensPrison to Proprietor: Entrepreneurship as a Re-Entry Strategy, and others that highlight the effectiveness of business ownership as a pathway to financial stability and prosperity—and why it’s so important to equalize access. For example, its 2019 Unlocking Assets: Building Women’s Wealth through Business Ownership “explores ways business ownership can serve as a wealth-building tool for women, explains the systemic barriers impeding women’s ability to build wealth through business ownership, and suggests ways grant makers, policy advocates, and practitioners can intentionally promote wealth-building by entrepreneurial women through business ownership.”

Similar to the Asset Funders Network, the Association for Enterprise Opportunity publishes reports on systemic hurdles for entrepreneurs, their contributions to the U.S. economy, and best practices for supporting entrepreneurs in succeeding in their business. Its publications include big-picture reports like Bigger Than You Think: The Economic Impact of Microbusinesses in the United StatesMicro Capital Task Force: Moving Money to Main Street, and The Tapestry of Black Business Ownership in America: Untapped Opportunities for Success

The latter publication eloquently explains how the stark disparities for Black business ownership came to be. It describes “three major persistent barriers . . . the Wealth Gap, the Credit Gap, and the Trust Gap” and why it’s so important that we address these disparities: “Black business owners are wealthier than their peers who do not own businesses, and business ownership creates new wealth faster compared to wage employment. At the same time, small businesses tend to hire from the community, creating jobs for neighborhood residents. Therefore, opportunities for Black entrepreneurs to succeed are critical for economic empowerment in Black communities.” Just as important, the report dispels long-standing, biased myths that perpetuate lack of investment in black entrepreneurs, showing that “the entrepreneurial spirit remains robust in the Black community. In fact, Black business owners are similar to other business owners in terms of vision, passion, and a desire for economic independence.”

This last resource brings us to a critical consideration when framing the problems surrounding unequal access to business development, capital, and wealth-building opportunities: it is very easy to fall into a solely “deficit-based” framework for describing why funders need to invest in programs that equalize access. This can have the unintended effect of portraying impacted populations as “victims” or “burdens,” rather than resilient communities who would unleash a whole new world of potential with the proper resources. To that end, our next blog post will pick up this thread and give a primer on using “asset-based” frameworks in grant writing—focusing on ingenuity, opportunities, and strengths—and how they can be harnessed into impactful solutions.     

Contact: Marie Landau, Resource Development Officer II, marie@thegrantplantnm.com


[1] This map currently requires that your internet browser allows the site to run the most recent version of Adobe Flash Player, which is being discontinued at the end of 2020. Keep an eye on the CDFI Fund’s main site or subscribe to their mailing list to keep tabs on what may change with the mapping tool. 

Soup for the Soul: How Good Grant Proposals Are Like Good Books

October 8, 2020

Here in New Mexico the weather is getting crisp, the earthy aroma of green chile still hangs in the air, and the trees look like they’ve been touched by Midas. That’s right, people: it’s soup weather. And as I settle down to make my favorite curried butternut squash soup recipe, I am reminded of those Chicken Soup for the Soul books that were popular in the ’90s. According to ChickenSoup.com, over 250 Chicken Soup books have been published to date, all featuring true, inspirational stories about ordinary people.

It’s no wonder why the Chicken Soup books have been so successful. People find comfort in well-told stories—in watching others battle and overcome the struggles that make us human.  

Why shouldn’t grant proposals give us that same warm, cozy feeling? Sure, we want our reviewers to know the facts, understand the challenges at hand, and see the data that proves it all. But we also want them to feel—that their funding will make a difference, that there’s hope for a better world, and that the work described in the proposal can help get us there. After working through proposal after proposal, most grant reviewers are probably hungry for an engrossing story. Like good books, engaging proposals will have a compelling opening, a consistent narrative, and plenty of success stories. (We’ve written a couple blogs on this topic already. Check out Writing Something Worth Reading and How Can Hollywood Help You Write a Winning Proposal.)

If effective grant proposals are like good books, let’s all take a moment to grab our proverbial cups of soup and cozy up to some of the greatest authors of all time. As you read, keep in mind that, like good authors, good grant writers are also adept at shifting their writing voice to appeal to different audiences. (Is the funder innovative or traditional? Heartfelt or scientific?) Not all styles will work for all reviewers, and many proposals will include a mixture. When you sit down to write your next grant proposal, consider which writer’s voice(s) would be most effective. Or, in clickbait terms: Which legendary author are you?

The Anaya—A born storyteller, you paint a vivid picture of the communities and people at the heart of your mission. Your proposal is rich with stories, quotations, client testimonials, and anecdotes, shining with pride for local culture. A champion of the Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel), you identify the root causes of systemic issues and present a clear, narrative progression from well-articulated challenge to fitting solution.

The Atwood—Unafraid of a little dystopia, you describe the horrors that will ensue if funding is not received and current conditions persist. Atwoodians live by the philosophy, “If you’re going to speak truth to power, make sure it’s the truth” (actual Atwood quote from a recent Guardian article). You are willing to dive boldly into the taboo to articulate complex issues and discuss uncomfortable topics.

The Bronte­­—A fan of the happy ending, you illuminate the impact of your program and how it will make the world a better place. You address your dear reader directly and take them into your confidence, giving them an insider’s view and showing the difference that their investment could make. Believing in a brighter future, you use words like “inspire,” “innovate,” and “cutting-edge.”

The Capote­—You carefully evaluate those who are most affected by your work and always do your research. Knowing that clues can make or break a case, you thoughtfully present all of the evidence and describe a logical solution. You excel in the realm of details, diagrams, data, and best practices.

The Hemingway­—You are on a strict word limit. You are not unfolding a beautiful flower for the reviewer—you are shooting a lion, and the shot is good. The Papa of pithiness, you state the problem and describe your solution in crisp, unadulterated prose. (If you really want to write like Hemingway, check out www.hemingwayapp.com).

The Morrison­­­—You boldly tackle issues of race, injustice, and inequality with grace, artistry, and finesse. Dabbling in deeper meanings, you describe why your project or organization is fundamentally important and how it contributes to the field. You understand, appreciate, and communicate your own value and candidly describe any obstacles standing in your way.

The Twain­—Sometimes it’s ok to be playful. Your proposal may incorporate pictures, videos, or anecdotes. Twainians are highly perceptive, finding systemic ironies and calling out problems that others may not see. They are also clever, leveraging ingenious solutions and partnerships to provide added value.

Grant writers should be open to invoking all the creativity of the masters when it makes for a more compelling argument. In practice, though, sometimes grant writing is more about composing a straightforward proposal within the limits of time, word space, and available resources—and that’s ok, too. The beauty of grant writing is that, while it can feed our literary soul, funding proposals serve a much more tangible purpose: of actually feeding people, providing housing, creating access to health care, supporting art and education, and transforming people’s lives.

In the midst of a global pandemic and our current political climate, the world needs more stellar grant writers putting their proposals out there and securing funding for the groundbreaking solutions that they undoubtedly have. The world also needs more soup. If the onset of colder weather has left you hankering for a cuppa (cup of soup, that is), check out that curried squash soup recipe here. You won’t regret it.

Contact: Laurel Meister Schmuck, Resource Development Officer, laurel@thegrantplantnm.com

Entering Grant Writing: How to Be Successful in a Competitive Field

September 24, 2020

At The Grant Plant, we are fortunate to do work that makes a difference in our community every day. That’s just one of the benefits of being in the grant writing field—there are many! For example, we have the opportunity to work with leaders who are passionate about problem-solving and making life better for others. Grant writing is also a wonderful way to learn new things. It’s almost like taking a mini college crash course. As we don’t specialize in any one sector, we have had the opportunity to write about everything from STEM education to social services to minority business development to the arts economy. Finally, grant writing is also a form of economic development. By bringing money into New Mexico from outside the state, we are contributing to the large-scale revitalization of our economy while also funding much-needed services.

We’re often asked how one can get into grant writing. It’s an intriguing career for many, especially those who have a natural bent toward writing, learning, and community-mindedness. In response, this article outlines some of the ABCs of grants, the grant writing process, and the characteristics and skillsets of strong grant writers in an effort to help inform those who are interested in the field.

First, understand the basics. There are many misconceptions about grants, including that they are “free money,” can fund personal ambitions, and that they are there for the taking. Often, those not well-versed in the field might think that a new organization can get a grant fairly easily from a large foundation or from a celebrity (think the Gates Foundation, or Oprah Winfrey). In reality, grants are funding sources, that, while generally non-repayable, are based on a contract between a funder and a not-for-profit agency for an agreed-upon set of services or work. They are often meant to solve problems or build on opportunities. Grants are generally made by both the government or philanthropic sectors. The government codifies its grant programs, which are created by legislation, into the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA). Private funders typically set the priorities of their organization—which may be written into their articles of incorporation or by-laws, or decided on by the board of directors—and use these priorities to guide their funding decisions. Typically, grants are opportunities that not-for-profit entities[1] apply for—and that’s where the grant writer comes in. Grants can range from small ($500-$1,000) to multimillion-dollar opportunities. Applications might be openly solicited, or closed and by invitation only. Often, they are made as the result of a personal relationship with a philanthropic organization. Other funders issue open RFPs and any qualifying organization can apply.

It is important to know that grants are not quick funding sources. They often take months to come in. At The Grant Plant, our annual report usually comes out in September or October as we must wait for grant award notifications to slowly trickle in, months after the submission of applications from the previous calendar year. So, if a not-for-profit organization is looking to grants as a stop-gap measure, or looking to fund programs that are launching imminently, grants are usually not the best source for funding. Further, they are often not long-term funding sources. Many funders provide one- or two-year grants and expect not-for-profit organizations to find other sources of funding to sustain their programs. (Enter: The Sustainability Myth and the Nonprofit Starvation Cycle which are weighty topics and fraught with the challenges inherent in the nonprofit sector; while not by any means ideal, as a result of the temporary nature of grant funding, it is important that not-for-profits round out their funding with earned income streams, fundraisers, contracts, etc., not relying solely on grants for operating support.) Finally, grants are highly competitive. It is not unusual for only the top 1-2% of submissions for a grant opportunity to be successful. For example, we’ve had multiple instances where an award notification indicated a proposal was one of only a handful selected for funding from hundreds of other submissions.

If I’m interested in learning to apply for grant funding, where do I start? At The Grant Plant, we believe that grant success lives and dies with prospecting. It is important for a successful grant writer to have a solid understanding of how to identify potential funders that match with a not-for-profit organization’s mission. There are a number of tools out there to help identify which potential funders are aligned and have the capacity to give to your organization. Locally, we recommend Pivotal New Mexico, which maintains a funding database and provides on-the-ground expertise in grant seeking, as well as our own website, which lists high-interest grants that have been screened for NM-eligibility, and also catalogs COVID-related opportunities—a current priority for not-for-profit organizations and funders alike. On a broader scale, many organizations benefit from a subscription to Foundation Center (which is pricey, but may also be used for free at the Albuquerque Main Library), GrantStation, GrantScape, GuideStar, or any other number of resources that help you access rich data about potential funders.

When using these tools, we recommend that you look at potential funders with a lens for alignment and capacity. How much money do they have, and what is their typical grant size? Are their stated priorities aligned with mine? Have they given to similar organizations? Have they made grants in my geographic area? Don’t “wag the dog by the tail,” or in other words, don’t allow the potential availability of funding to change the strategic priorities of your organization. There is often the temptation to chase money, but it is our experience that the most successful grant recipients stick to mission-aligned opportunities.

Keep a calendar and schedule time for writing the grant. Monitor websites and listservs so you don’t miss out on opportunities, and try to plan months ahead, so that by the time your organization needs funding, grant money is already in-hand or soon to be in-hand.

Next, write the proposal. Creative + Technical Writing = Grant Writing. A skilled grant writer tells a story that is scored against a rubric for the maximum number of points. You’ll want to know your audience, and be able to tell the most compelling story about your organization and its programs that are tailored to the interests of that funder. For example, efforts to revitalize the downtown scene in a rural area can be proposed as small business development, delivering arts experiences, or rural economic activity, depending on the focus of the work and the funder.

Grant writing is different than a lot of other forms of writing. A few points of distinction include:

  • It is usually scored based on a rubric
  • There are page, word, or character limits, often delineated by section or question
  • There are usually complicated directions, with Requests for Proposals (RFPs) numbering anywhere from a few pages to more than 100 pages, and these directions must be followed “to the T” or your proposal could be rejected without even undergoing review
  • It needs to be a convincing case for your organization as a potential investee
  • It is future-focused; unlike academia or the media, it does not report on past efforts (at least not solely)—rather, it is a plan for the future to the extent that it can be imagined
  • It tends to follow a set structure that includes a need statement, program plan, goals/objectives, evaluation plan, and organizational capacity/expertise

Want to be a grant writer? We have found that there is a common set of characteristics that successful grant writers share. Some of these include:

  • Impeccable writing
  • Critical and strategic thinking skills
  • Ability to see the forest and the trees
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Results-oriented
  • Discerning
  • Superior organizing skills
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Competitive spirit
  • Loves challenges
  • Displays a relentless pursuit of perfection
  • Is able to move a work product forward in the absence of complete information (remember, you are writing about the future, so there is a level of ambiguity and best guesses involved)
  • Ability to maintain grace and humor in deadline-driven situations

It’s also helpful to have an understanding of the nonprofit sector as a whole, not-for-profit funding models, and budgeting, as well as basic graphic design/layout skills.

If that sounds like you and you want to make a difference in your own community, there are a number of ways to get started as a grant writer. If you’re a newbie, try volunteering at a nonprofit organization and assisting with their grant writing efforts, attend networking events (when they’re again available), and find related webinars. Impact & Coffee, which highlights local nonprofit organizations, is a great place to learn more about the sector locally (and is all online now during COVID). The University of New Mexico Continuing Education program has a grant writing course, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence holds workshops, and Candid has classes online. One of the best intro books to grant writing is (seriously) Grant Writing for Dummies, which was written by Bev Browning, a celebrity among the grant writing circle.

If you have some experience in the field, check out the Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s job board, which often includes positions for grant writing; monitor job sites such as ZipRecruiter, Indeed, or LinkedIn for grant writing positions; or look through GuideStar or other online data to identify nonprofits with larger budgets. These organizations often either outsource grant writing or have a staff position and might be a source of employment. The national Grant Professionals Association(GPA) also has a job board. Consider enrolling in Pivotal New Mexico’s Talent Academy, which is meant to upskill existing grant writers with the next level of training.

Finally, a few caveats. There is a lot of pressure working in the grant-seeking field as it falls in the nexus of time (i.e., deadlines) and money. It is hard to predict what is coming up; while there is some stability in annual deadlines, a new opportunity might arise that requires re-prioritization of your workload in order to meet the deadline. Also, if you are freelancing, the not-for-profit organizations that hire you need to recognize that they have to spend money to make money, and that there is no guarantee of a grant award even if you produce a high-quality proposal.

One of the most frequently asked questions we get is whether we will work for a percentage of the award. The answer is no: it is considered against the GPA code of ethics[2] because grant makers are funding an organization to do the work promised in the proposal, not provide payment for work already completed. Further, there are numerous factors that go into the consideration of a grant award, only one of which is proposal quality. For example, the geographic distribution or certain populations served within the proposed scope of work, the organization’s past track record and its financial solvency, or a personal relationship on the part of the funder and a different applicant will all be determining factors when funders decide who gets awarded and who does not.

Working for a percentage of the award becomes tricky as well when you are considering (for example) a fee of 10% of the award amount. For a $50,000 grant, is a $5,000 payment reasonable? (Maybe, depending on the complexity.) For a $1,000,000 grant, is $100,000 reasonable? (Probably not.) Further, if an organization cannot pay for you to write their grants, they are probably not positioned well to get a grant to begin with. Ultimately, the grant writer put in the work, and should get paid for a quality product.

We’d love to hear from you if you are entering the grant writing field, or if you are an experienced professional. What tips do you have to share? What were the biggest stumbling blocks to entering the field? What do you find most rewarding? As grant writers, we are able to advance the good work happening in our communities by helping to fund it. It’s an important role, and one that can be very rewarding both personally and professionally.

Contact: Erin Hielkema, Vice President, at erin@thegrantplantnm.com.

 

[1] “Not-for-profit” entities can include nonprofit organizations as well as local and state government, who are also often grant seekers. In this article, “not-for-profit” is used when speaking of all these types of agencies, whereas “nonprofit” is used when speaking specifically of private organizations with tax exemption.

[2] GPA statement “in response to a Request for Proposal requesting grant writing services for a percentage of the grant award: …The funder is awarding dollars based on several variables, including the community need, the efficacy of the project, and the organization’s capacity to implement, deliver, monitor, and sustain the project. The funder is not awarding funds based entirely on the expertise of the grant proposal developer.” See: https://grantprofessionals.org/general/custom.asp?page=ethics.

Traditional Knowledge Reclaimed: Indigenizing Wins for the Native and Nonprofit Community

August 27, 2020

As a modern-day Native American champion working in our local nonprofit community, I keep up with trends in writing concepts, program design, and buzzwords. Our current social, environmental, and economic climate is shifting toward the discourse of diversity, equity, and inclusion for Indigenous Peoples. Traditional knowledge is a buzzword frequently used to describe an old way of thinking that remains relevant in our modern day. I’ve also recently heard Indigenous used in the form of a verb—to Indigenize. But what do these terms really mean? For Indigenous Peoples, traditional knowledge and the Indigenous perspective it informs is not a buzzword; it is a way of thinking that has survived the test of time. Could your nonprofit program benefit from the wisdom traditional knowledge shares? Can the Indigenous perspective enhance your program design and service outreach in our local community? Here is some information to help inform your use of traditional knowledge to enhance the impact of your nonprofit in our community.

Traditional Knowledge: Local nonprofits work to make change at both the individual and communal levels. Traditional knowledge is based in the communal mindset that considers a wider perspective of change. Traditional knowledge accounts for society as a whole, looking at the impact of all individuals in a community. It entertains the idea of “it takes an entire village to raise a child,” meaning that the entire community of people have an essential role in raising a child in a safe and healthy environment. For Native Americans, traditional knowledge values community over individualism, whereas American or Western knowledge typically emphasizes the individualistic form of thinking that supports change in the singular form. Traditional knowledge supports the impact of many forms of change in the community as a whole. I invite you to explore how an integrated, communal approach can benefit your programs or services, especially those that work with Indigenous populations. Imagine the valuable impact you can make by adapting your services to focus on serving the whole community rather than just one person at a time.

Seven Generations Model: Traditional knowledge looks forward and back by using a seven-generation model to measure time. Native Americans inherently believe the negative and positive impacts of the present day will affect the next seven generations. Historical trauma exists among Native Americans because of the trauma imposed on previous generations. Recent generational traumas include forced removal and loss of lands, termination policies that sought to eliminate the “Indian problem,” and the cultural assimilation imposed by the boarding school system. Unfortunately, past traumas can reoccur in the present-day lives of Native Americans. Historical trauma persists due to a lack of understanding of Native American cultures, the continued stereotyping, and systemic racism that persists in any number of ways for people of color. The “American dream” promotes the idea that anyone—individual—can change their life with enough determination. However, this thinking fails to consider the historical trauma inflicted on Indigenous societies and how that has resulted in the current conditions seen in Indigenous communities. Native Americans do not see these conditions as a result of individual issues, but rather the communal impact of social issues that requires a wider scope of change, across multiple generations to make a difference.

Gratitude: Honoring our elders and those who came before us are concepts highly practiced in Native communities. For example, Native Americans honor their elders by thanking them and the people who have paved the way for present day achievements. The usual practice for Indigenous Peoples is to give gratitude or prayer in their native language at the beginning of any gathering of people or meeting. This Indigenous tradition honors the past and looks forward to the future. Showing gratitude through prayer at the start of a meeting is a beneficial way to show honor. Nonprofits could adopt this traditional practice, whether it is in the form of prayer or thanksgiving. Taking a moment at the beginning of your meeting to honor your history and the people who came before you remind us of why we are doing this work, which empowers providers with a sense of purpose and uplifts staff.

Cyclical Thinking: Another form of Indigenization that can benefit your nonprofit program is to apply solutions that expand the relationship between time and space. Indigenous thinking is cyclical and non-linear. What cycles—or rhythms—of service does your organization use? How can you improve or expand the impact of your services within its defined cycle or rhythm? The Indigenous perspective seeks to define a rhythmic pattern in a place of a standard progressive sequence. For example, most Americans use the nuclear family structure to describe the growth process of children into adulthood. This process is singular and linear going from one stage to the next, whereas the Indigenous perspective describes the family structure in a continuous circle. It places the very old and the very young in symbiotic opposition where one relies on the other at both the beginning and end of life. These are two very different models of the family structure.

For integrating this idea into the nonprofit setting, you can look at the trends and models that your program data reveals to help define the cycles of your organization’s long-term impacts. How does the beginning of a project inform and support the end or revision of the project? What does it lead to next? If we apply traditional knowledge, which values the communal over the individual, then what kind of communal impact are your services making? Indigenizing your services involves a collective thought process versus an individualistic viewpoint; it considers everyone’s perspective as part of a whole, and the whole is then defined by its cycle. How could you Indigenize your services to make a more significant impact in the community or population you serve?

Some questions to help Indigenize your program include: What individuals paved the road for you? How can you honor those that made your current work possible? Who has helped you to reach your goals? How can you expand the communal reach of your services? How can you honor the past in recognition of the present?

It is an understatement to say that Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives have not always been acknowledged or honored. Given the current social, environmental, and economic shift our country is in, it is critical to work to understand and honor the value of traditional knowledge and the opportunities it offers for our cultural evolution. I challenge you to engage traditional knowledge and to incorporate the Indigenous perspective into your nonprofit program design. Consider the thought process of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Seek ways to empower Indigenous People by including them in the decision-making process and respecting their diversity in language and culture. Acknowledge that traditional knowledge makes a valuable contribution to our communities and can improve program design and service outreach for our local nonprofits.

In closing, I give you some seeds of traditional knowledge and hope they help you and your nonprofit services grow.

  • Wealth is not measured in dollars; the most valuable things in life cannot be purchased.
  • After the last tree has been cut down, we will discover that we cannot eat money.
  • Ever heard the story of the good wolf and the bad wolf? Which one are you feeding?
  • In order to get something, try giving something. The practice of regular, selfless giving is its own reward.
  • We do not own the land; we borrow it from our children.
  • Water is life, water is sacred, honor our waterways.

I encourage your comments and welcome any added discussion to explore the Indigenous perspective.

Contact: Deanna Aquiar, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, Resource Development Officer, deanna@thegrantplantnm.com
with Tyanne Benallie, Diné, Resource Development Officer, tyanne@thegrantplantnm.com

Write a Proposal with Grant Management in Mind (a.k.a. Learning the Hard Way)

August 19, 2020

You write a beautiful proposal. The award notification comes in. Congratulations! This funding is so needed!

And then. . .

The annual report.

How did your proposal stand up against the test of time . . . and measurable objectives?

It’s one thing to write a grant proposal that meets the priorities a funder lays out in their Request for Proposals. But come reporting time, how did the actual work match up to the proposal?

As a grant writer, you may not be the one executing a project or program. It is disconcerting to get to the point of writing the annual report, and then learn that staff didn’t run the program like the proposal stated. Maybe the work that needed to happen was different than the proposal laid out. Objectives and outcomes may be hard to pin down. Or funds may have not been spent as described.

So what can you do to ensure that a proposal sets up the organization for successful implementation? Here are a few questions to consider up-front to save yourself a scramble at reporting time:

What is this grant for? Start with the budget and the metrics. What is the money really needed for? What will support your organization’s priorities? This should be work you are already doing, or are primed to be doing—work that a little more money can help you do even better or bigger. Or funding to help meet a demonstrated need that the organization has not been able to meet due to financial constraints. Make sure that even busy teams review this basic budget and metric information prior to submission to ensure the funding request is aligned with the actual work and needs.

Do we have time to do this? Ensure the capacity is in place to implement the project.

  • Is the staff already onboard? Make sure they have the time and interest to take on the extra work that comes with an award. And most importantly—make sure they know they will play an important part in this proposal. Give them the opportunity to weigh in on what the work and objectives will look like. Instill ownership from the get-go, so that an award is a celebration for all, rather than another To-Do added to everyone’s overwhelmed inboxes.
  • Do you need to hire someone to support the grant and oversee the work? Make sure a living wage is written into the proposal (or otherwise planned for), and draft a job position to submit with the application if required, and to have at the ready to support post-award implementation. Once funded, this will set you up to begin recruiting and hiring quickly. If you are receiving a 12–24 month award, a hiring stage that takes 6-9 months will really set you back. Have a plan to make sure someone is available to lead the work from the start, and then train the new employee, as needed. Also consider (and be transparent about) the sustainability of the position, and if this is a grant-term contract position or a permanent addition.
  • If you’re requesting funding for a consultant, do you need to put the request out to bid prior to moving ahead? If hiring staff, what are organizational requirements for posting a listing? Make sure you are aware of any required processes (organizational and federal).

How do I show that? Choose metrics that set you up to win. This doesn’t just mean choose goals and objectives that align with the funder. It means you need to work with your team to identify objectives you really want to pursue. Metrics that move your mission-aligned work forward. And importantly, measurements that you are able to gather when report time comes (and along the way to track your progress), without adding significant burden to anyone’s time. If you’re tracking the number of outreach events you attend, then it’s great to set a goal of attending two more over the year. But don’t sign up for impacting an additional 500 people if you do not have a method to actually count these people. And if you commit to a new method—such as surveying a group to assess the outcomes—be sure to bring that up at the time of the official grant launch so people can plan ahead and work it into the schedule. A metric that truly helps is one that you can use consistently throughout a project to track progress, and inform your decisions and revisions. Metrics collected merely for the sake of the report will make everyone grumpy and may not actually improve your work.

How involved will the reporting be? When possible, look at the report before you write the proposal. You can learn a lot about the funder’s priorities by looking at how they structure their report. Federal grants are much more black and white than a private foundation, which may be interested in learning with its grantees. Does the report seem open to hearing about challenges and growth during the funding period, or is the emphasis on outputs and outcomes, and demonstrating that the funded work was completed as planned? What must be reported in tables or forms? Understanding this may help you decide how to write out your objectives, or report on numbers. For example, federal grants often use a 524B Status Report for the Annual Performance Report. This format requires you to have an overall goal, followed by 1–3 measurable objectives. If you write your proposed metrics in this same format, it makes reporting MUCH simpler and cleaner. And it also helps you to limit your objectives—for example, five goals, each supported with three performance measures, multiplies into an overwhelming number of 15 different metrics that you need to report on). The ultimate goal, as a grant writer, is to make sure that the funding—and reporting—moves your work forward, rather than shackling you to data hunting and busywork.

Who’s responsible for that? Officially launch your grant. After securing staff buy-in during the proposal-writing phase, be sure to bring the team together once an award is made, to celebrate and make sure everyone is familiar with the goals, budget, and reporting needs from the start. Build ownership in the work by making sure everyone understands their role within the grant, and how it integrates with their daily work. Engage all stakeholders in creating or reviewing the action plan and timeline, and develop a schedule for meetings to keep the work aligned and on track. If there are funder meetings, who will attend? Make sure everyone knows what reports to anticipate, who will write them, what metrics need to be tracked, and how they will be tracked.

What is this grant for again? Create a grant summary. Post-funding, create a 1–2 page summary as a reference document, with the grant award number, funder contact information, the amount of award, the grant team and roles, report deadlines, a short overview of the purpose of the grant, the approved goals and objectives, and the budget. Make sure everyone on the grant team and in organizational leadership receives a copy, and knows where to access the file.

Where’d that number come from? Along the way, document, document, document. From proposal creation until grant closeout, keep records of your data and grant communications. The funder may have additional questions for you about the proposal. Staff may wonder how you came up with a figure. The annual auditor may have questions. Always keep copies (digital or hard copy) of information that directly impacts the proposal writing and reporting. This means to be sure to keep any website price lists and email quotes used to develop budgets. Keep citations for any resources or data listed so you can easily re-create it. If you request bids for consultants or products, document all responses. Save emails with funders and consultants. And if you have a phone call with a funder, follow up with an email summary to the funder highlighting the discussion. This ensures that you and the funder are on the same page, and illustrates to an auditor or future Program Officer at the foundation/agency that you are carefully stewarding your funding, and that any modifications are approved (this is a big one: one grant we manage has had five Program Officers over four years!).

***

Full disclosure—I really like writing grant reports. Like a test in school, report time is when you see what the proposal had right—and wrong. The reporting process helps to strengthen proposal-writing skills and deepens understanding of the work. It is a great feeling of accomplishment when a report goes smoothly—the data is available, the team has learnings and anecdotes to provide, the metrics are showing progress of a program or process, and the budget is being spent on schedule. And alternatively—and more typically—reports provide time to engage the team in reflecting on the funding’s impact, realigning the work where needed, determining if any budget modifications are required, and offering the chance to tease out lessons learned. Reporting gives the whole team the opportunity to concretely see the difference they are making. And it provides the opportunity to share with the funder real-life stories that reinforce just why the work is so crucial, and how future funding can best support the ongoing needs.

Writing a winning proposal is just the beginning.

What grant management lessons have you learned along the way? Please share! Aly Sanchez and I will present a workshop on Managing a Grant with Confidence, Compliance, and Capacity at the Grant Professional Association (GPA) annual (virtual) conference in November 2020. We’d love to include any of your experiences as we put this online presentation together. Email us at cecily@thegrantplantnm.com.

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