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Five Keys to Successfully Partnering with a Grants Consultant

March 30, 2017

 

Many years ago, probably about a decade, Erin and I went to two meetings on the same day with prospective clients of TGP. Afterwards, we remarked on how different those meetings were. At one, we were embraced as the newest member of the family, and at the other, we were met with a big ego and a sense of skepticism. We discussed in the car the differences between the two, but did not listen to our sixth sense (that was speaking loud and clear) about not taking on the second client.

Sure enough, those two contracts worked out completely differently. One of them became a long-time client and the other one was fraught with miscommunication, unrealistic expectations, and a glimpse into infighting among the client’s staff. Guess which was which? The latter relationship dissolved fairly quickly, once the development director threw us under the bus to save face with her boss…but later contacted us when she subsequently worked for another client and excusing that behavior as, “well, you know how it was to work for her.” (We even had to remove Oxford commas – a TGP treasure – and comp the time spent to make said edits.)

Over the years, our ears have learned to perk up (or down) when we get red flags during an initial exploratory meeting. That sixth sense is important. We understand due diligence, and that’s not what I’m talking about here. An ears-perk-down moment happens when we realize that if we take on a new contract, the relationship might become high maintenance because it could become purely about the transaction, which is not the most favorable environment for a high-impact grants office. The most favorable environment is a high-trust, forthcoming relationship.

This got me to thinking, what do our ideal clients have in common?

  1. They trust us. In all grant proposals we’ve been part of to date, the more information we have, the better. And the more we are a trusted partner, the better it is for all of us.

  1. They respond to information requests in a timely manner and adhere to an agreed-upon delivery schedule. We have experienced several times in which requests for information have gone ignored, or in more comical instances, we receive a reply but the reply doesn’t actually answer the question or get us further in our quest for information. The phrase, “I like cheeseburgers” is our code-phrase for “well, that didn’t answer the question.” Cheeseburgers are especially frustrating if we are not feeling valued as a trusted partner.
  1. They give credit where it’s due. This doesn’t mean that we get credit for grant awards; after all, we aren’t the ones doing the work that’s being written about. But sometimes, we are the ones figuring out the program logistics, researching best practices, creating slideshows that exhibit an enhanced level of professionalism for site visits, identifying and making connections with program partners, etc. We always appreciate the pat on the back when our clients email their stakeholders, thanking us for whatever role we played in securing that particular grant.

 

  1. They understand our role. Our role is not to win the grant award. It is to present the best case for funding possible. Often, we can get a client to the next step – the site visit, the presentation, the due diligence – but then it’s up to them. We do what we can, but ultimately, it’s their financials, it’s their presentation, it’s their choice on how to present themselves. When we get the client to that next step, and then it doesn’t work out, our ideal client understands that we did the legwork to get them there and the rest was up to them. Or even that the funder had a difficult decision to make, in a world of limited resources. It may have been the best written proposal, but the funding was given to a different organization for one of a variety of reasons (focus area, geographic preferences, board president’s pet project, etc.)

  1. They take us with them. As we all know, the nonprofit sector has a lot of turnover, especially among human services providers. This is a natural reaction to compassion fatigue. However, most of them stay within the sector, perhaps moving laterally to another organization that relieves some of that weight held too long over one’s shoulders to improve lives, or moving vertically into more of a management or leadership role with another organization. We have worked with some of our ideal clients for more than a decade, not because of the organization, but because of the person at its helm taking us with them when they move onwards and upwards. This is when we know, really know, that we’ve hit that trusting relationship we all crave.

Yes, we track return on investment, grants outcomes, and average award size. (We also track type of funder, location of funder, request versus award amount, and other quantifiers that are on the grant maker versus grant seeker side.) Those quantifiers are in addition to our qualifiers – working in partnerships, in trusting relationships, and as friends – that create grounds for success.

Thank you to our clients who have become trusted partners and friends, as we work through this process together of improving the quality of life for New Mexico residents.

 

With appreciation,

Tara Gohr, President/CEO

tara@thegrantplantnm.com

Change has Come to Washington: What are the Possible Impacts on the Grant Funding Landscape?

March 13, 2017

PART 1: Federal Grantmaking and Budgeting Processes

By Aly Sanchez

We have been getting a lot of questions about what to expect over the next months and years when it comes to federal grant and contract funding streams. We have a change candidate elected to the White House and we have same-party majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. This creates the potential for a more dynamic grant landscape than we have had in a long time. As countervailing forces, we have the processes, power division, and overall heft of the federal government.

Covering this topic, even at a basic level is complex, so we are breaking content into a four-part series. This first article is a refresher on federal grantmaking and budgeting. Subsequent articles will detail anticipated shifts in federal funding, how existing funding impacts New Mexico, and how government and nonprofit agencies may want to adapt their grants approach.

How is a grant born?

To understand the potential changes in the grant landscape, we first need to understand how grants are created. In part this depends on the grant type (formula, block, program, or entitlement) and the general way it’s funded (via mandatory or discretionary spending). We’re going to focus on the type that are awarded through open competitions.[1] Those are what most of us think of when it comes to seeking federal funds directly from the federal government by applying to a call for proposals. Most competitive awards are program grants funded through federal discretionary spending, which is determined through annual spending budgets.[2] Discretionary funding totaled $1.2 trillion in FY 2016.[3]

Competitive awards from discretionary funds (also known as project grants) come in two flavors: grants and cooperative agreements. As they are similar, we’ll simply use the term grants to describe both.

Grant creation and policy development is governed by the Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act of 1977.[4] The basic process for establishing a new grant is that Congress develops and passes legislation such as laws, regulations, and budget appropriations to establish a grant program. The President and executive branch are then able to massage the implementation by issuing Executive Orders (EOs) and other official guidance. That guidance must fit within the legislative framework and purpose. Next, the administering agency (e.g., the Department of Health and Human Services) creates administrative policies and procedures related to the grant process, grantee expectations, and for their own agency, as needed, to support the grant.

The point when a grant is really “born” is the next step, when it appears in the Federal Register. The Federal Register is the daily journal and official record of the federal government. Besides posting grants (which fall under “notices”), the register issues proposed rules, enacted rules, presidential documents, notices requesting public comment, and documents available for public inspection.

This register listing does not always guarantee that awards are paid out. A key point to understand is the difference between authorization and appropriation of discretionary spending. A discretionary grant program that is authorized has legislation backing it up but the piggy bank is empty until funds are appropriated.

Authorization laws can set out specific amounts of appropriated funds and the authority for Congress to appropriate funds. The establishing authorization addresses timelines, which can be for specific fiscal years, be set permanently, be subject to periodic renewal, or remain in place until changed by Congress.

The funding appropriation is when a grant program gets funded. There is typically a long timeline for developing grant instructions, holding open grant submission cycles, coordinating federal reviews and reviewers, and ultimately determining a portfolio awarded proposals. Because budgets are typically last minute and often don’t cover the full fiscal year, federal agencies often have to release calls for proposals without having the funding in hand.

While it’s rare, we have worked on a couple of federal grants for clients that were issued, held submission cycles, then didn’t get funds appropriated. After the heavy lift of preparing a federal grant, applicants were informed that no awards would be made. This is a real, big, ugly bummer.

How does that budget appropriation happen?

The federal fiscal year runs from October 1 and ends September 30 of the following calendar year. The discretionary spending that fuels most grants is part of annual spending approved by Congress through the budget process. There is a lot of ink explaining how this happens. We like this simple but informative infographic, “A guide to the federal budget process,” from the Washington Post.

Under current budget law, the President must submit a budget to Congress for the upcoming fiscal year between the first Monday in January and the first Monday in February. This hasn’t happened yet, but that’s not unusual: incoming presidents are cut some slack and the submission can also sometimes be delayed by negotiations. The White House has said that the presidents Fiscal Year 2018 budget will be released this Thursday (March 16).

The President’s budget then goes to the Appropriation Committees of the House and the Senate. It also goes to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO); which analyzes short and long term costs of the budget proposal against a baseline budget representing a scenario where spending and revenue are held at current rates and projects as if no new legislation takes effect.

This is usually complete in March, when—CBO analyses in hand—the 12 budget appropriation subcommittees begin their work in earnest. You see, the federal budget is not a single budget. There are 12 budgets, some/all/none of which might get passed. Each is developed by an Appropriation Subcommittee with a specific spending domain (e.g., Defense). Well, there are actually 24 budgets and subcommittees as both the House and Senate develop their own versions.

Getting budgets passed involves a lot of back and forth resolutions, reconciliations, and other opportunities for delay and disarray with the possible, but frankly improbable, outcome that we get a normal full budget passed before the new fiscal year.

This requires that the 12 budget subcommittees of Congress and the 12 budget subcommittees of the Senate agree on 12 appropriations bills, pass those through both chambers, and get the President’s signature on each before October 1.

What is typical these days is that some of the 12 bills get passed before the start of the fiscal year. For areas without passed appropriations, Congress can enact a continuing resolution, to temporarily fund operations or shut down that particular area of government spending.

What About the Current Fiscal Year Budget?

The US federal government did not pass the 12 appropriation bills constituting the regular, full budget for FY2017. This is not a troubling development—or at least not a new troubling development—Congress has only managed to do so four times in the last 40 years.

Instead, the 114th Congress (which finished in early January) passed a continuing resolution extending funding at prior years’ levels through December 9, 2016. When that deadline loomed, they passed another continuing resolution that extends funding of the government through April 28, 2017.

The second resolution was passed after the election and is set to expire before the fiscal year ends, based on the desire by the Trump administration to have some say over current fiscal year spending. The President’s input and the will of the GOP majorities could include some changes to FY2017 grants funding but so far there are not indications of significant grants changes during the remainder of FY2017.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2: Expected and Potential Shifts in Federal Grant Spending

Contact: Aly Sanchez, Director of Projects, aly@thegrantplantnm.com

[1] The Federal government also makes formula funding awards, which are noncompetitive funds based on a money-per-person/service/match formula, and entitlement grants.

[2] There are some important block grants that come up for governments and non-profits like Community Development Block Grants, AmeriCorps funding, and various housing, medical, and childcare programs.

[3] The other top level spending areas are mandatory spending (determined by legislated obligation) and net interest costs on debt.

[4] The act text can be accessed at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-92/pdf/STATUTE-92-Pg3.pdf but Grants.Gov has an easier to digest summary at https://www.grants.gov/vi/web/grants/learn-grants/grant-policies.html.

Details, Details, Don’t Bother Me with the Details: Why Program Design Really Does Matter

November 2, 2016

According to the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, “the devil is in the detail” refers to the fine print, or “catch,” hidden in the minutiae of something. This concept of caring about the particulars has a number of variants, such as “god is in the detail,” meaning whatever you do, be sure to do it thoroughly because details do matter![1]

In grant writing and the nonprofit world, details are especially important. If you don’t follow instructions you will not be funded, and if your program does not perform well or do what it is created to do, you will struggle to support it. When it comes to designing programs and proposals, the details are paramount. When proposing funding for a program, be it existing or new, you need to build a proposal that navigates a complex system of interests that includes your organizational mission, partner missions, and funder priorities. It can be very tempting to apply for large grants without taking the time to assess organizational fit, capacity, and funder priorities. But, don’t chase the money! If a program doesn’t align extremely well with what you do and/or want to do, it will be a waste of time. Designing a new program that is compelling, useful, and worthy of funding involves several complex considerations, which I discuss below.

Partnerships – Increasingly, funders are looking for programs that are collaborative and leverage existing resources to serve your clients; often, it is not enough to simply do a good job yourself without leveraging other resources for community impact. Strong partnerships can be an amazing resource, but they can also complicate program design and implementation with various priorities and expertise. Competitiveness will often require your organization to forge new partnerships (or take existing relationships in new directions) with individuals, communities, corporations, evaluators, and other nonprofits. Because these relationships are meant to be enduring, it is important to carefully select partners that are vital to your work, complement weak areas, and can augment the success of your program and organization. Collaborate strategically!

Alignment – A strong program should align with your organization’s mission, values, and core competencies, as well as with your partner and funder priorities. Your vision – the “big picture” – should be unifying without changing dramatically over time. Avoid getting into projects or pursuing grants that force you to shift your objectives, or those which cannot be reasonably achieved. This is called mission creep, and can lead to trying to do too much without doing it well! No matter how large the award amounts, do your research and do not apply for grants that do not match your organization’s central activities and your clients’ needs. Keep in mind during the brainstorming and design process that, if funded, your organization will be responsible for implementing your new program. Do you believe you have what it takes to be successful?

Goals, Outputs, and Outcomes – A strong program will be coherent and complete, with fully-realized goals and SMART objectives, clear inputs and outputs, measurable outcomes, and achievable timelines. Goals are the overarching aims of your project, and should lend themselves to your vision. SMART objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Oriented, and Time-Bound. Inputs and outputs answer the question, “What is my organization able and willing to commit to this project (time, money, staffing, facilities, equipment, etc.) and what will it produce (goods, services, an event, etc.)?” Finally, outcomes are changes in attitudes, perceptions, knowledge, skills, and/or behavior that come about as the result of a project. These are critical because they are, ultimately, the metrics that will help you determine whether a program is successful, and you will be bound to them. Thinking through these elements thoroughly at the start of the planning phase will aid your organization in program design, implementation, and getting all partners on the same page early on.

Visual aids – Visual aids are important for any successful design and can help you plan out your program by visually representing it. A logic model can aid you in thinking through goals and objectives, while a timeline can help you think about what is reasonable to achieve. An organizational chart or workplan can show who is doing what. And let’s not forget budgets! The budget is a critical tool to nail down as early as possible, as it helps all partners understand your program’s scope within the award limits. If you can’t visually represent your program in one page or less, it hasn’t been thought through well enough to execute! Visual aids also strengthen proposals by showing reviewers an overview of your program. Once you’ve been funded, these tools can be useful for marketing and recruitment.

Famous designer Charles Eames once said, “The details are not the details, they make the product just like the details make the architecture. The gauge of the wire, the selection of the wood, the finish of the castings — the connections, the connections, the connections. It will be in the end these details that provide service to the customers, and give the product its life.”[2] Eames was speaking about high-end furniture design, while I am speaking about high-end program design, but the sentiment is the same! The details give the program its life and strength. Quality grant writing cannot make up for a lack of a solid program design. Being strategic, thinking through each element carefully, and staying true to your mission and vision will help guide your organization through the proposal process and beyond. In program design and grant writing, either the devil is in the detail or the design is in the detail – don’t let them become one and the same!

 

Contact: Melissa Leonard, Resource Development Officer, melissa@thegrantplantnm.com

[1] Titelman, Gregory. Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings. Random House Reference, 1996.

[2] Eames, Charles. ECM. Eames Office, 1961.

Open House October 7!

September 19, 2016

Mark your calendar! TGP is celebrating its new office space and the launch of The Grants Collective.

openhouseinvite10-7-16

Please join us for champagne and snacks, mingle with Team TGP and our client base, meet the fellows in the Collective’s first cohort of the Talent Academy, and get a sneak peek at the Cooperative Network we’re rolling out to better connect the nonprofit community in New Mexico. Please invite your colleagues and drop in anytime between 4-6PM. We look forward to celebrating with you!

Call 505-226-0171 or email with any questions. We’d love to know if you’re able to make it, but no RSVP is required.

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Talent Academy Fellowship Application is Open!

August 23, 2016

logo

We are excited to let you know that The Grants Collective – a new nonprofit “arm” of The Grant Plant, Inc. – is launching this fall! We have had numerous requests about opportunities in training and internships over the years, and we wanted to deliver on those requests with the work of The Grants Collective. Tara and Erin shared their story about how The Grants Collective came to fruition at Impact & Coffee earlier this month.

ICNM

Because of your past work or contact with The Grant Plant, we want to be sure that you are one of the first to know about the opportunity to apply to the inaugural cohort of the Talent Academy. The Talent Academy is a 6-month fellowship during which nonprofit professionals spend 15-20 hours per week engaged with The Grants Collective and The Grant Plant (TGP) offices, learning and applying TGP processes to projects that benefit their organizations, and sharing theirs with others.

“We know that the nonprofit community is filled with compassionate and resourceful leadership; people whose skills can be shared and built upon in order to better attract philanthropic resources to our state.”

The learning is project-based and relevant — meant to be directly and immediately impactful on participants’ grant seeking for their organizations. Development professionals will have the opportunity to experience working in a rigorous, high-expectations grant seeking environment, on projects for their own organizations, receiving technical assistance and expert advice, and sharing theirs with others. It is an exciting opportunity for Fellows to learn from experienced professionals, with access to the knowledge base that TGP has developed over its 13 years and staff and peer support through the Fellowship cohort. Fellows will also participate in weekly professional development seminars that follow monthly themes. By the end of the six months, the knowledge, systems, processes, and tools can be embedded into participants’ own organizations, making more effective, efficient, and successful grantseeking sustainable long-term. Fellows will receive follow-up assistance as well as access to an online and in-person cooperative network during their fellowship.

Please share this exciting opportunity widely with your networks. Our goal is to embed grant seeking capacity in New Mexico nonprofit organizations, increasing national and federal philanthropic investments in our state.

Interested organizations and individuals should apply before 5pm Friday, September 2, 2016 to be considered for the Talent Academy. Apply online!
Meet our Leadership! (we have a great board!)
About The Grant Plant (we have a great staff!)

Navigating the Ocean of Funders

June 12, 2016

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, less than five percent of the ocean has been explored and “much remains to be learned from exploring the mysteries of the deep.” The Grantmaking landscape is akin to an ocean – deep, shifting, elusive, and even unpredictable at times. Navigating this vast ocean of potential funders is a tricky process. It’s a time-sink for many nonprofits but also an endeavor that can yield vital financial support for organizations. The proper identification and assessment of funders is a key to successful grantseeking; it’s often the first step towards developing a grantseeking strategy, and helps delineate a roadmap and timeline that pinpoints funders to pursue. By devoting time, effort, and deliberation towards funding research over the years, The Grant Plant has compiled a treasure trove of funders that we know support New Mexico nonprofits.

That said, being in-tune with the funding landscape does not by itself make the grantseeking process quick and easy. Every nonprofit is unique, with a specific set of programs, focus areas, and funding needs. The same is true for funders. To ensure that a comprehensive research listing/product (that we term as the “Grant Profile) is compiled, we tailor funding research to the specific needs of each nonprofit with whom we work. We assess every foundation, corporate, and public funder within our research that may fall within the focus areas of the client, as well as conduct additional targeted research through online databases and other avenues to pull in any additional potential funders.

The benefits and importance of proper research is evident, but even we why funding research is so time consuming and cumbersome. In fact, there are a number of time-sink elements that contribute:

Funding-research databases take time to navigate: Comprehensive databases like Foundation Center or Grantstation are awesome tools that can yield beneficial results but they also create long lists of potential funder matches that take time to review thoroughly. These lists are often starting points – not end points – for research. Website checks should be conducted for each potential funder to ensure: 1) that the funder is indeed aligned with needs of the grantseeker; 2) that the funder is geographically compatible with the grantseeker (many times this is not the case despite geography being a search criteria); 3) that the funder entertains unsolicited requests; and 4) that the funder awards the specific type of support needed (e.g., operating, program, or capital support).

Funding needs change for nonprofits: It is not uncommon for a nonprofit to have a new funding need arise. For example, an organization may need capital support for a new building, start-up funding for a new program, or personnel support to improve capacity. Urgent funding needs may arise within a specific time frame (e.g., match requirements), making award turn-around time a consideration. With every new funding need, even the known/compatible funders must be re-assessed to determine those that will support the nonprofit’s new funding criteria.

Grantmakers change their focus areas: Many grantmakers stay abreast of today’s issues and refine their grantmaking focuses and processes to respond to pressing social needs. This may mean adjusting an existing program, abolishing an existing program, adding a new program, or changing geographic focus areas. It also means that grantseekers need to re-assess funders constantly to ensure that they are still a match, or re-assess those funders who were previously not a match.

Grantmakers change their grantmaking processes: Grantmaking methods change over time. Grantmakers sometimes alter their annual deadline dates, stop accepting unsolicited requests, or revert to releasing RFPs on an unpredictable timeline. Grantseekers must conduct monitoring of matching funders for deadlines annually.

Grantmakers are ambiguous or unclear when describing what they fund: One of the most frustrating areas for a researcher is when it is difficult to determine specifically what the grantmaker wants to fund. Sometimes the description of their focus areas is confusing, which adds to research time. Nonprofits should assess the history of grant awards and/or contact the funders, if needed, to better understand their funding priorities. 990s are a free resource that often provides a nice listing of past grant awards (accessible online through sources such as Guidestar or Foundation Center). The downside is that it takes time to review 990s and lengthens the research process.

Grantmakers don’t have a website: While this could be interpreted to mean that the grantmaker is not keen on receiving unsolicited requests, this is not always the case. 990s can also be reviewed to determine if applications are accepted and, sometimes, guidelines are even available.

It is easy to get lost in the sea of funders, especially with the ever-changing needs of grantseekers and the changing tides of funders. It is essential to conduct ongoing research to effectively identify optimal funding prospects. Once a nonprofit has a solid knowledge of compatible funders, grantseeking gets somewhat easier. A planned navigation is key; an organized listing of compatible funders and deadlines is a nice resource that can be monitored and updated, as needed, and used as a starting point as new funding needs arise for the grantseekers. Skillful sailing can lead to a prosperous voyage.

 

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

 

Cheeseburgers and Easter Eggs (Thith ith Hard!)

March 22, 2016

It could just be that we’re in the throes of our own version of March Madness, but it’s a particularly hilarious time at TGP. Thankfully, humor is one of our values and grace under pressure is one of our behaviors. This might just be a cathartic experience for me, but I thought maybe you all would enjoy hearing about (and empathizing with?) the daily lives of grant writers.

We love our funders.[1] We do! We love them. We love their obvious love for our clients. We love their ideas. We love their connections to others working in the same realm. We love their commitment to our community. We love their ability to fund critical projects in our community. We love them! We have great relationships with funders, especially our local foundation and corporate funders.

But if we were funders, we would do it just a little differently. Here are a few true-story pain points, some of them even illustrated.

There are some basic tenets that we’d avoid. If TGP were a funder, we would NOT:

  • Be closed on the day of the deadline.

Closed

  • Have no single representative in the office at any given time on the day of the deadline when responses must be hand-delivered and signed for.

Gone

  • Forget to tell people that the office is closed from 11-1 for lunch on the day of the deadline for hard copy responses that need to be time-stamped by 3PM.
  • Require 8 hard copies in binders with tabs. And we would not require separate binders for technical and cost proposals. This week we submitted 20 binders for one organization to respond to a single RFP. We had to use a hand truck to deliver the boxes. For reals! Binders
  • Issue RFPs that are longer than its own page limits for the applicant’s response.
  • Insist on the onerous process of subdividing program budgets when the grant period and fiscal years don’t align.
  • Require third-party organizations from the applicant to submit references directly to the funder for each RFP that funder issues (rather than utilizing the same references over the course of a year, for example).
  • Use technology for technology’s sake – “cool” IT means hidden questions and pop-up windows.
  • Along the lines of IT, we also wouldn’t use an IT system that our help desk doesn’t understand and have to escalate issues to the developer.

Developers

  • Require an MOU with the public school district in order to be approved for funding without talking to the district about the requirement, making the district scramble to provide letters of commitment (because of course they won’t sign an MOU for an un-funded project, especially one that needs to be routed through legal, which takes longer than the application period is open).

Here’s what we WOULD do:

  • We would have a clear and well-thought-out application that did not include redundant questions and had reasonable length limits.
  • Have an open format, not limiting the words within each area, but rather providing a page/word limit for the document overall. Essentially, one larger box instead of lots of little ones.
  • Be clear what areas you’re actually interested in, rather than wasting my time and yours. On a portfolio view, know what we are trying to do accomplish.
  • Stick to our own deadlines (we emailed a state office to ask about an RFP’s FAQs – they were supposed to come out 3/10 and were not yet posted as of 3/15… time’s a-wastin’) (Response: “We do our best to adhere to the time lines within the RFP, however, there are times when delays occur. We anticipate the Q & A response will be posted by 5:00pm today.” – This is from the same state agency that won’t accept a proposal 1 minute after the deadline and that will toss out an entire application if one form is missing, even though people’s lives are literally on the line because of the services that our clients provide.)
  • Provide scoring and review information.
  • Provide accurate preview forms.
  • Have the amount of work involved in the application make sense in terms of scale to the average grant award size.

Cheeseburgers

Cheeseburgers are what TGP calls answered questions that don’t actually answer the question at hand. It comes from a true story of asking important questions in order to craft a proposal, but then we get a response that doesn’t *quite answer the question, or the answer could go either way. Here’s some examples:

  • FAQ #5. I have a question regarding the Personnel Services Budget form. If we are not asking for funding for salaries and staff, may I write ‘not applicable’ on the form or do I need to complete it?
  • Response: Yes.

 

  • Nomination question: What is the timeframe to submit nominations? The breakfast is in December, but the website doesn’t say when nominations close.
  • Response: Go ahead, it’s open to submit now.

 

  • FAQ #18: Is the rate of $17.42/hour the same whether services are individual or group based?
  • Response: The rate of $17.42 per hour is for direct service to the identified clients.

 

  • FAQ #16: Does the travel/transportation line item on the budget include mileage?
  • Response: Travel will be billed in unit rates in 15 minute increments for travel related to the Scope of Work.

Cheeseburger

Note: Cheeseburgers are not limited to funders. We have clients who use them and even internally, we confess to using cheeseburgers ourselves on occasion.

  • Question: For supplies, do you have a listing of needs or can you let me know the types of tools and supplies?
  • Answer: The construction of the project has increased $15,000.

 

  • Question: Just checking in on this to be sure you have someone able to attend the conference tomorrow. Also, what did you think of the SAMHSA opportunity I sent a couple weeks ago?
  • Answer: Cheryl is attending tomorrow’s conference.

 

We have had so many Cheeseburger responses that we ordered shirts for our team that said, I Love Cheeseburgers (note that much of our team does not actually like cheeseburgers in their conventional form, and/or are vegan/vegetarian/flexitarian). Perhaps luckily, the shirts turned out to be remarkably small, even for non-cheeseburger-eaters. At least two of ours are now on our daughters. Here’s Erin’s incredibly cute daughters wearing the cheeseburger shirts.

LoveCheeseburgers

 

Easter Eggs

Here are my actual Easter eggs from last year. These are not what I’m talking about in TGP. Easter Eggs are hidden items (inside jokes on the part of the funder?), usually in online grant applications, that we don’t know are there until we are in the thick of applying.

EasterEggs

 

These are actual quotes from our rock stars. See if you can find the Easter eggs (a hunt!).

“That was a doozy since I didn’t test answers and the instructions said 200-word limit – it was actually 1,400 characters except for one answer, which was 200 characters. Crazy! It doesn’t count down characters or anything – it just surprises you after you input an answer to say you’re over the character limit.”

“Organization Mission Statement limit for this response is 75 words. I’d tested one and not gotten push back, and no limit indicated on field in online/template. Rework your magic as necessary for your assignment, ladies…. Their word-count counts hyphenated words as two words, not one like Word does. So if you are up against the word limit AND you are hyphenating words, you will have to carefully extract…”

“…I set up a TGP account and there are a couple Easter Eggs – a narrative response of 100 words compared to 250 indicated in RFP; as well as a shorter set of questions for Section 4.3. There are likely more…”

Fun TGP tidbit. We are professional grant-writers and had a message string of sixty-two (62!) clarifying messages on our system for our local United Way’s online application process. These messages are in addition to any client-specific questions. My favorite thing about this message string is that it starts with creating a template of the online application, which contains several Easter Eggs (the best one is the bonus one at the end asking the date of the board meeting in which this application was approved), FAQs that offer Cheeseburgers (including one message that ends with #Curlingintofetalposition) and concludes (sort of) with message 50 in which we start scheduling happy hour. Due to the presentations, the string just opened back up and will surely contain some more delight. Here’s our U-Dub happy hour pic.

HappyHour

Where does this leave us?

Frankly, with job security, as our clients hire us to navigate these processes. But that’s not the long-term solution. We are in the process of creating a nonprofit division called The Grants Collective, which will be focused on talent development among grant seekers as well as a cooperative network that creates efficiencies using some of the tricks we’ve learned to overcome Cheeseburgers and Easter Eggs.

We have also counseled a couple funders on their grant-making processes (our favorite case-in-point is a re-work of the Coalition for Literacy’s online application). Shout-out to other funders who have sought assistance with their grantmaking systems and procedures – unfortunately some of these are in the state procurement world, so the likelihood of change for the better is on the low side.

The good thing about Cheeseburgers and Easter Eggs is that they make for some great fodder when we need to find humor in the face of frustration. They also enable us to use one of our favorite phrases… Thith ith hard. Its origin dates back to one of the great sitcoms, Will & Grace, circa 2000. Here’s the gag reel.

 

 

Here’s a few Thiths from a search of our online project management system.

Thith Thith2 Thith3 Thith4.ong Thith5 Thith6 Thith7

When I searched our project management system for Cheeseburgers, Easter Eggs, and Thith ith hard while writing this article, I laughed out loud several times (and cringed). It can be tricky business to get all the details right to meet a grant deadline. Luckily, we have a team that isn’t afraid of hard work or of laughing it off. Thanks for letting TGP come along and join the fun!

Now, for some basketball.

 

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

 

 

[1] We don’t get funded by funders, but play a critical role in the funding process. We are an S-Corp (for profit) and are paid fee for service. A shout out to our fave funders that have a straightforward application process!

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