Saturday, February 19, 2011

How will the Senate moratorium on earmarks affect your nonprofit?

Despite the good nonprofits do, they're being hit six ways to Sunday with funding cuts.

The Senate Appropriations Committee recently announced a two-year moratorium on earmarks. Many nonprofits have depended on earmarks, especially for capital projects or start-up funding for new projects.

How will the moratorium affect the people your nonprofit serves?

How many of your employees will be out of work because of the cuts?

How close is your agency to closing your doors?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What is a Social Impact Bond?

The Nonprofit Finance Fund just received a $400,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to explore the feasibility of social impact bonds in the United States.

I’ve been missing in action from this blog as life, budget cuts, and same old, same old got in the way. But suddenly I’m feeling energized again, thinking about how nonprofits will survive the aggressive budget cuts that the Republican House is proposing.

So, what do you think about this idea? NFF press release

A Social Impact Bond is a concept that aligns the interests of the public, private and philanthropic sectors around a shared vision of desired social outcomes. Instead of creating compensation based on the number of services delivered, incentives are tied to positive results. Social Impact Bonds have the potential to save taxpayers money while concentrating investment in proven, high-impact interventions that create measurable social benefit.

The Social Impact Bond was piloted in the U.K., where investment is focused on a program designed to reduce re-offending rates among released prisoners. The U.K. government will make payments to investors based on the program's measurable success stemming returns to prison. If the Social Impact Bond model is moved beyond a pilot and brought to scale, it is expected that the payout to investors will cost the government significantly less than housing re-offenders in prison – thus saving the tax payer money in the end and providing a sustainable, long-term solution to a social problem. Adapting the Social Impact Bond model for the U.S. could have tremendous implications for the way social needs are funded.

If you’re interested in following this development, check it out here.

NFF also just launched a new open, online community for any organization interested in exploring this topic and sharing resources. The group will host its first in a series of web chats on February 23, 2011 at 1:00 pm EST. The first chat will feature expert panelists on the topic: 'The Federal Government's Role in Implementing the Social Impact Bond in the United States'. All are invited to join the group and the web chat, which are designed to facilitate idea-sharing around this new concept. Visit www.nonprofitfinancefund.org/SIB for details.

How the Obama Administration Will Grant Money

This Washington Post article by Ezra Klein lays out how the administration will spend it's program grant money. It’s great to see this rationale in plain English. In the past, we’ve usually had to read between the lines. Each RFP and each agency handled each project differently.
The Obama administration's favored funding structure involves a three-tiered test. The top tier is for programs that have tested themselves using a randomized control trial in multiple sites, or something close to it. That's the gold standard in evidence, and those programs get the most money. The second tier is for programs with preliminary evidence, and they can get some money. And then there are programs that can make a case for why they're worth trying, and they can get a bit of money -- enough, essentially, so they can develop evidence and come back to qualify for a higher tier. Program funding is being moved to this model across the government, in education and energy and transportation and more. "This is one of the few times I've regretted being a Republican," Haskins says happily. "I just think this is the exact right thing to do, and they’re being so thorough about it."
Then there's the systemic level. The model here is the Race to the Top program, which has been at the core of the administration's efforts in the education space. That initiative ran a competitive grant program in which states needed to submit a reform plan, then pass it through their state legislatures, before they could qualify for cash. The money, essentially, was used to buy votes for a broader reform vision.
I love the Ron Haskins quote. Haskins was senior advisor for welfare policy in the George W. Bush administration.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Conflicting Trends in Grant-Making: What do you think?

Chicks hatching (Gallus gallus domesticus)Image via Wikipedia
Popularity funding vs. greater outcome accountability
Years ago, when I lived in Chicago, I read an article detailing the method used for determining the most popular exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry. The method was simple -- how often the tiles in front of the exhibit needed to be replaced.

The most popular exhibit was the incubator where chicks were hatching day in and day out. How did the tiles play into it? People stood there quite fascinated, watching the miracle of birth, shuffling their feet, wearing out the tiles in front of the exhibit. (Perhaps this was the origin of the concept of voting with your feet.)

This story came to mind when I read yet another article about funders looking for ways to hold agencies, museums, arts programs accountable. We've talked about the struggle to find meaningful, short term, and do-able measures of accountability before. It's a challenge.

The same afternoon I received an email from a local soup kitchen asking me, and everyone else on their email list, to vote daily for their program in Pepsi's Refresh Everything campaign. And, get all our friends to do the same. Pepsi is giving away $15.6M in grants ranging from $5000 to $250,000 -- all based on which agency got the most votes. Kohl's retail chain ran a similar popularity-based grant program this summer, Kohl's Cares, $500,000 to 20 public and private K-12 schools.

Whether we're talking $5K or $500K, we're talking real money here. Money generating a lot of publicity for the sponsors, Pepsi and Kohl's, without any accountability for whether that money will "do good." Is this a viable program that will benefit the community? All we really know is that the winning agencies can get out the vote.

This "social media grant-giving" is heavily weighted in favor of communities that are digitally sophisticated, the digital-haves,leaving behind those with less access to digital tools and a social media-savvy population -- the digital-have-nots.
So, there we have two conflicting trends. Traditional foundations seeking ways to hold grantees more accountable while corporate foundations seek ways to make grant-giving into tax-free advertising. (Pepsi Refresh site on Facebook notes 92,000 monthly active users. KohlCares indicates 2,729,440 people "like" this.)

Hmmm. Your thoughts?
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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

#76: What should a grant writer charge?

337/365: The Big MoneyImage by DavidDMuir via Flickr
How do you determine what to charge a client? I can tell you that my rate is an amalgam of what I need to live, what the market will bear, what I think the competition is charging, how poor the nonprofit is, how complicated the RFP, the turnaround time, and a bit of hocus-pocus, divided by the phase of the moon.

That's not a rational way to develop a fee structure, so I was interested to read a post by Alan Mutter at Reflections of a Newsosaur. He was writing about the exploitation of journalists -- writing for "exposure," not money. While arguing that writers should resist the exposure argument, he addressed what to charge and included a spreadsheet-calculator for determining freelance fees.

The post generated a lot of comments, including one from Greg Smith with a link to an alternative calculator developed by the National Press Photographers Association for for freelance photographers that will work for writers; just change some of the expense categories. Greg offered a rule of thumb that sounds about right -- you need to bring in two-to-three times what you expect as salary to cover your overhead and expenses.

How do you determine your fees? If you try one of these calculators, let us know how what you actually charge compares with what the calculator suggests you should charge.

Personally, I hate thinking about fees and would probably do this for nothing if I could. So, I'll probably stick with the phase of the moon.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Grant Writers: Comment on this Notice of Funding

the 44th President of the United States...Bara...Image by jmtimages via Flickr
Here's an opportunity to get up to speed early and share your thoughts on the NOFA -- press release from the Corporation for National and Community Service:

National Service Agency Solicits Public Feedback on Social Innovation Fund

Anticipated $200 million in public-private funding will support transformative solutions to major social challenges and improve nation's challenge-solving infrastructure


WASHINGTON, DC – The Corporation for National and Community Service released a draft Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for its 2010 Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant competition today. The Corporation is soliciting public feedback on the funding notification through January 15, 2010.

“The bottom line is clear: Solutions to America's challenges are being developed every day at the grass roots – and government shouldn't be supplanting those efforts, it should be supporting those efforts,” remarked President Barack Obama at a June 2009 gathering of nonprofit and philanthropic leaders. “Instead of wasting taxpayer money on programs that are obsolete or ineffective, government should be seeking out creative, results-oriented programs like the ones here today and helping them replicate their efforts across America.”

The SIF, a new public-private partnership authorized by the 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, is designed to create new knowledge about how to solve social challenges in the areas of economic opportunity, youth development and school support, and healthy futures, and, improve our nation's challenge-solving infrastructure in low-income communities.

“These are challenging times, and marginal progress is far short from being enough today,” said Stephen Goldsmith, the Chair of the Corporation's Board of Directors. “We have to do business differently to ensure that Federal resources are touching the lives of those that need it most, and that is what these funds will do. The SIF will identify creative, effective programs to meet critical needs and provide public-private capital to broaden the reach of programs to more communities.”

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, the Corporation expects to award an estimated $50 million in Federal funding to five to seven intermediary organizations. Annual awards, which will run for five years, are expected to be in the range of $5 million to $10 million. Intermediary organizations – grantmaking institutions – will apply for SIF funding and then make sub-grants to a portfolio of promising nonprofit organizations.

The network of SIF grantees and sub-grantees will leverage Federal investments through partnerships with the public, private and philanthropic sectors to ensure greater impact. The funding mechanism calls for every $1 in Federal funding to be leveraged by $3 in private funding, for a total public-private investment of $200 million. Critically, intermediaries will also be expected to provide a range of strategic supports to their portfolio organizations, including in the areas of management, fundraising, and especially, evaluation.

The draft funding notice reflects months of outreach to stakeholders in the nonprofit, private and public sectors. These conversations particularly influenced three key decisions.

The SIF will require funded intermediaries to focus resources on promising nonprofit organizations with “rigorous evidence of impact.” By establishing a clear evidence and impact standard, the SIF will drive greater resources to those organizations with strong potential to make dramatic progress on some of our nation's most critical social challenges.
     
To ensure that intermediary and nonprofit organizations from across the country have an opportunity to benefit from the SIF, applicants may apply and propose to host an open awards competition. While a preference may be given to applicants with a ready portfolio of promising nonprofit organizations, this open awards provision recognizes the benefits of building new intermediaries committed to searching for transformative solutions.
     
The SIF prizes geographic diversity among intermediary and nonprofit organizations, acknowledging that solutions to critical social challenges adversely affecting all Americans must be given the opportunity to thrive anywhere in America. Applicants with a rural focus are encouraged to apply. To further contribute to the spread of innovative approaches across the country, funded intermediaries will be required to collaborate and share their knowledge broadly through a learning community.

Click here

for more information about the SIF and click here to listen to a conference call held on December 18, 2009. Feedback can be emailed to SIFinput@cns.gov. The deadline for feedback is January 15, 2010. The final SIF funding notice is expected to be released in February 2010.

The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that engages 5.5 million Americans in service through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs, and leads President Obama's national call to service initiative, United We Serve. For more information, visit NationalService.gov
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Sunday, December 06, 2009

So You Want My Job: Ghostwriter | The Art of Manliness


So You Want My Job: Ghostwriter | The Art of Manliness: "Continuous education is the best part of the work. I get paid to learn new things and explain them clearly to others. When I do it well, it’s quite a rush."

My nephew and I share interesting articles through our Google reader accounts. He's in college and exploring career ideas. Today he shared this interview with Dean Zatkowsky about the career of ghostwriting.

Zatkowsky describes my life -- what I love, what I don't, difficult clients, and my relationship with my long term clients. He's got it all. But, I never thought to call myself a ghostwriter. Kinda cool, eh?

Maybe I'll get myself a hat like that, too.

It's a great interview. Treat yourself. If you're a grant writer, you'll probably recognize yourself, too.
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

# 75: nonprofitlocal's "How-To" Web Resources for Grant Writing

I just discovered a new  resource for community benefit organizations - nonprofitlocal. It's pretty new, and it's a membership site (free, though). Looks like it might be a good place to browse for tips and post when you're looking for a solution.

One of the resources that I'm planning to check out is the "How-To" Web Resources for Grant Writing guide (pdf) that's posted here. I have to admit it -- I was disappointed not to find this blog listed. But, that doesn't negate the value of the resources they do list.

So, take a look around and let us know which resources you find most helpful.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Political genes?

Other deadlines interfered with my good intention to post on climate change on Blog Action Day yesterday. But, deadline behind me, I've spent some time reading what others posted. It led me to this post on Planetizen.

The post sheds some light on what I've often thought of as people being born with a Republican or Democrat gene. "Egalitarian" and "individualist" may be a better description, though, and linking such disputes to "clusters of values that form competing world views" is more useful than waiting for science to discover the politics gene.

in reference to:

"Some of my acquaintances believe that climate change may end human life (or at least civilization) and that the only way to save humanity is to massively reduce economic growth and consumption. Other acquaintances believe that climate change is, if not an outright hoax, a minor problem—and that even the slightest attempt to regulate emission-creating industries will itself destroy American civilization.
Whole lotta head-shakin’ going on.Most of these people are not scientists (let alone scientists specializing in climate-related science), so I strongly suspect that their opinions come from Al Gore’s movie and Rush Limbaugh’s talk show, rather than from a comprehensive review of the footnote-filled scientific papers addressing climate change. Nevertheless, they are as certain in their opinions as real scientists are. How come?"
- The genesis of the climate change stalemate | Grist (view on Google Sidewiki)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

National Punctuation Day - Today, Sept. 24th

National Punctuation Day:

Think an ellipsis is when the moon moves in front of the sun?

Well, today is National Punctuation Day, and as someone for whom punctuation does not come easily, I'm not so sure it's a day to celebrate. It's probably more a consciousness-raising day. But, however you feel about punctuation, you may enjoy founder Jeff Rubin's advice about how to celebrate National Punctuation Day today:

Here’s a game plan for your celebration of National Punctuation Day®. A few words of caution: Don’t overdo it.

  • Sleep late.
  • Take a long shower or bath.
  • Go out for coffee and a bagel (or two).
  • Read a newspaper and circle all of the punctuation errors you find (or think you find, but aren’t sure) with a red pen.
  • Take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words.
  • Stop in those stores to correct the owners.
  • If the owners are not there, leave notes.
  • Visit a bookstore and purchase a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
  • Look up all the words you circled.
  • Congratulate yourself on becoming a better written communicator.
  • Go home.
  • Sit down.
  • Write an error-free letter to a friend.
  • Take a nap. It has been a long day.
Visit their site for lots of information, pictures submitted by readers of egregious punctuation errors on signs, punctuation games, and plenty more.

Well, I'm off to look up all the punctuation I circled that I'm unsure of. There are lots of red circles on the articles I read this morning.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Federal Grand Jury Returns Charges Against Grant Writer

Last year we reported on the investigation of Jean Cross, her alleged forgeries, and her $5M fee (15% of the grant). Thanks to an anonymous comment on my "About" page, here's an update.

The money was returned. The investigation moved from the State to the Feds. And now, the Grand Jury has indicted her. If found guilty -- up to 35 years in prison.

The interesting thing is that the investigation is closed without others being charged. I guess that's why some clients are so ready to pay a percentage of the take. It seems only the grant writer is at risk.

Image: A page of the Indio Youth Task Force's grant application to the state shows some of the 32 allegedly forged signatures.
Writer of local grant indicted | MyDesert.com | The Desert Sun: "A federal grand jury has indicted grant writer Jean Michele Cross on charges stemming from her involvement in a $35million-plus federal grant that had to be returned.

Cross is charged with mail fraud, document forgery to obtain money and making false statements.

According to a federal grand jury indictment, Cross altered and forged signatures and documents in the grant application and omitted her 15 percent fee from the projected grant budget.

She faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in federal prison if convicted of all charges."

If you prepare Federal applications, you know that the budget cannot include work prior to the contract start date, which is why she wouldn't have included her contract in the grant budget. It will be interesting to see how her contract was structured, who was aware of the terms, and the number of times and amount of money she earned with this type of contract in the past.

To read the local news accounts:

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

# 74: Punctuation Matters: Are Hyphens Obsolete?


I'm not one to obsess about punctuation when I'm writing a grant, but I make an effort to ensure the text reads clearly. I like to be correct, though, so I pause during my final edit to look up things I'm not sure of, unless that deadline is minutes instead of days away. (Where do the commas belong in that last sentence?) But, I'd swear I never learned anything about hyphens in school.

Marilynne Rudick has a post about hyphens that I find useful. Maybe you will, too.

Writing Matters: Are Hyphens Obsolete?: "So, are hyphens obsolete? Can you use them willy-nilly? Before you jettison the hyphen, consider the hyphen’s most important raison d’ĂȘtre: clarity.

1. Use a hyphen to avoid ambiguity (relay / re-lay; re-sent / resent).
2. Use a hyphen when it clarifies the meaning (little used car / little-used car; twenty odd people / twenty-odd people).
3. Use a hyphen to avoid “letter collision” (shelllike / shell-like).
4. Use a hyphen to indicate that the word is con-
tinued on the next line. (Happily we don’t have to think about this too often since most word processing programs hyphenate automatically.)"
I both learn and enjoy reading Marilynne Rudick's and Leslie O'Flahavan's Writing Matters blog and recommend you take a look.

Photo by dvs
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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Become a Federal Grant Application Reviewer

The Writer, temporary structure in 2006Image via Wikipedia

If you've ever wondered, as you reviewed the comments and scoring on a grant application that got rejected, did this person even read what I wrote? then here's something for you to consider. Try being a reviewer yourself.


Don Griesmann recently published some resources for people interested in becoming a grant reviewer. Federal reviewers even get a small stipend.

I've never done any grant reviews, but as I've written before, it's an interesting way to learn about grant writing. I may do it yet.

If you'd like to learn more about becoming a reviewer, here's the link:

Don Griesmann's Nonprofit Blog: Federal Grant Application Reviewers Needed – W/Stipend #2

As a grant writer, you are probably a regular reader of Don Griesmann's blog and his weekly list of grants. If you don't subscribe, do it now. Don provides wonderful information to the nonprofit field on a purely voluntary basis. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

#73: The Magic Formula for Replacing Initials

I use acronyms or initials all the time when I'm writing, but unless I'm really pressed for space, I spell them out in the final version. I don't want to lose my reader in a morass of initials. (I wrote about avoiding acronyms here.)

CBO, NYS, DV, OJJDP, SAMHSA, NYC, DOH, clients names, DOE, DOJ, HHS, UNICEF,

I just found a neat trick that will save time in editing -- find and replace acronyms.

Of course, there's a secret code: <[A-Z]{2,}>

You plug the code into "Find what:" on the Edit menu, rub your magic mood ring, and click on Find or Replace. Make sure you've checked "Use wildcards."


If you don't see the Search Options above, you'll see "More" where it says "Less" in this image. Click "More" then "Use wildcards."

Yes, it really works. Now, you can happily and quickly move through the document and decide which acronyms to spell out.

Thanks to LifeHacker reader Scott. And to bigvince1981 who recommended a free a document called "Advanced Find and Replace for Microsoft Word" at [www.editorium.com] As he said, "Who knew you could write 20 pages about find and replace. But it's an excellent (and free) read."

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Competing with the Big Guys -- Tech Giants Help Clients Tap Stimulus Funds - WSJ.com

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...Image via CrunchBase

Did you ever imagine that as a grant writer you'd be competing with Microsoft and IBM? Well, this Wall Street Journal article reports that some of these tech companies are providing their clients grant writers in an effort to boost their sales. Who are their clients? Our clients -- school systems, courts, and large nonprofits with significant IT budgets before the crunch.
Tech Giants Help Clients Tap Stimulus Funds - WSJ.com: "With the recession forcing corporations and institutions to cancel projects, technology suppliers are eyeing the economic-stimulus package as an elixir to keep revenue flowing. It earmarks more than $100 billion that could be spent on information technology, according to research company IDC.

The stimulus legislation doesn't provide checks directly to tech companies. Instead, it will parcel money out to needy health-care providers, school districts, governments and rural phone companies, among others. It is too soon to tell whether providing a grant-writer will produce a bonanza for any institution, but that hasn't stopped Cisco, Microsoft Corp., or Oracle Corp. from offering advice that could help customers land stimulus grants."
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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Valuing volunteer time in your grant application, an addendum

Resource #68 addresses valuing volunteer hours for your grant application. Blue Avacado has a nice article, Tracking Volunteer Time to Boost Your Bottom Line: A Complete Accounting Guide, by CPA Dennis Walsh that expands on that topic.

I recommend that all grant writers read and share it with your clients/organizations. Three of the five reasons Walsh gives for tracking volunteer time relate to grants and funders.
  1. "Our funders see volunteer inputs as a measure of effectiveness." Funders and donors want to know what resources your nonprofit already receives and from whom.
  2. Too often volunteer inputs are not factored in properly, giving a false sense of the true cost.
  3. Volunteer time can help you meet requirements for matching funds. Certain grants stipulate that the nonprofit must match a percentage of grant funds and that the value of volunteer time may qualify toward satisfaction of the match requirement.
The article gives specific advice, examples, and reference sites for collecting, valuing, and reporting volunteer time. It's a good reference for us all. [Article link]

By the way, I recommend you sign up for the free subscription to Blue Avacado, published by the Nonprofit Insurance Alliance of California, CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, and the Alliance of Nonprofits for Insurance, Risk Retention Group. It's informative and well written.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

#72: Six Grant Writing Tools That Keep Me Sane & Productive

Typewriter "Hermes"Image via Wikipedia

Here are the tools that keep me productive and sane as the clock ticks down the minutes till deadline.

Two monitors: I thought two monitors was overkill, but G. pushed me into it. Now, I can't imagine how I worked on anything complicated without them. When working on a grant I have my notes, background documents, and the RFP on one screen and my narrative on the other. Some days I have fantasies of adding a third.

Evernote:
If you aren't familiar with Evernote, watch a couple of the quick videos on their site. I use Evernote to organize my whole life. I use it for my funder database, research database, assignments, recipes, favorite quotes and images --- my whole life, including an idea journal.

You can save your notes, clip info from the web with its address with one click, tag each item innumerable ways, keep several different notebooks, some public and some private, and never lose anything. Whew!

It self-synchronizes the notes saved on my desktop machine, web account, and laptop so I have the same information everywhere. I could use it on my cell phone, too, but I live in the mountains -- cell coverage is too spotty to bother. (Free and premium versions available; I recently upgraded to the paid version, mostly because I felt they deserve my support.)

Basecamp: this is the project collaboration site I use. I've used it for years. All but my most technology-averse clients love it; and even the tech-haters are delighted that when they need a file or a copy of the grant, it's right there. Basecamp handles milestones, messages, to-do lists, and keeps track of every version and revision of files loaded. I love having everything in one place. No more opening and closing emails and files to find what I'm looking for. It's not free, but it's well worth the price.

WetpaintImage via Wikipedia



Wetpaint:
While I love Basecamp, I find the writeboards (on-line white boards) awkward. I started using a Google-groups wiki for the team to explore issues. Then, one day in the middle of preparing a grant, Google sent me an automatic message that I had exceeded my limits!?! What limits???

Scratch Google groups. I transferred the project to a Wetpaint wiki and haven't looked back. [There's a short video on their home page that explains a wiki.] No one seems to mind the ads, so I use the free version.

LiveScribe Pulse: When I first saw this pen I wanted it. I was afraid it would be another of those gadgets that sit unused, though, so I resisted. Months went by and I couldn't get it out of my mind, so finally, last August, I bought one. If you're unfamiliar with this pen, watch the videos on the site.
I am thrilled with it. I've thrown my other pens away. It's great to have my notes transfer from my notebook to the computer. It's also great that I can search my notes. But the very best is the ability to record the conversation that accompanies the notes. Now, when I wonder what 'that' meant, I touch 'that' with the pen and the conversation at that point plays back. Magic!

The sound is terrific. The search capability, terrific. And the service is terrific, too. I dropped mine and the camera broke. I called them, they sent a new one immediately with a pre-paid envelope to return the broken one. No hassle. (Registering at the LiveScribe site extends the warranty to a full year.)

Automatic backup and synchronization: I'm forever running out of the office at the last minute. I used to find myself at meetings with the file I needed back on my desktop machine instead of on my laptop. No more.

I'm fortunate to have G. take care of the geek side of my business. He knows he can't count on me to initiate any of the back-up, updates, maintenance, or synchronization that needs to occur. And, he knows I can't afford to be without the right file or to have computer problems when a deadline looms.

So, he's always improving on the way to make all that happen automatically. He's not free, and he's mine. If you're interested, I'll ask him to write a post about the pro's and con's of the different approaches he's tried to keep me in-line and on-line.

If you aren't a geek and don't have someone like G. already, find someone. There's nothing worse than worrying about the technical stuff, or wasting time trying to figure it out when you should be writing.

*****
I realize now that I've told you what I use, I haven't said much about how I use them. I'll take them one at a time in future posts. And, I'm happy to answer questions.

I'm even happier to hear what tools you count on. Tell us. Please.
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Friday, February 20, 2009

Soup-Kitchen Accounting - NYTimes Op-Ed

MARSHALLTOWN, IA - DECEMBER 11:  Guests at the...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Did you read this op-ed column in the NY Times this week? As a grant writer and citizen, I don't know which I think is better -- make the bailout more like the government grant-making process for nonprofits or make grants to nonprofits more like the bailout.

Op-Ed Contributors - Soup-Kitchen Accounting - NYTimes.com: "Executives of banks that have received TARP cash have said that it is too hard to account separately for how they spend their federal dollars. Money is fungible, they argue, and therefore they cannot readily distinguish between outlays of their own resources and those provided by the government. But that’s the type of doublespeak that would get the head of a town’s homeless shelter thrown in jail. If bankers are unable to segregate cash by source and specifically account for expenditures, why are they in charge of banks in the first place? ..."

"...However, this is where additional practices common to federal financial assistance come into play. Before a charity can receive a federal grant, it must prepare a proposal outlining precisely what it will do with the funds. Bailout recipients should do the same, or at least sign contracts agreeing to spend the money in accordance with terms set forth by the Treasury and to refrain from certain types of expenditures during these troubled times."

Which do you like better? Easier terms for us or tougher terms for them?
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Who'd Believe It? Forbes on Grant Writing


When I saw Forbes in my Google-Alerts for "grant writing" I should have known it wouldn't be about grant writers becoming millionaires. (Only the unethical ones, I guess.) But I enjoyed seeing Katie Krueger, grant writer, in a Forbes article about starting your own business when you find yourself unemployed.

Grant writing is a wonderful business for people with the right temperament. Every nonprofit needs grants written.

The new RFP for 21st Century Learning Centers in NY State actually recommends that you include the expense of a grant writer in your project budget to ensure future sustainability. That's a first, I think.

It May Be Time Now To Start Your Own Business - Forbes.com: "Katie Krueger dreamed for years of starting her own grant writing business. She loved the idea of being her own boss, choosing her own projects and scheduling her own time. 'I wished I could be courageous enough to do it, but at the end of every school year I'd say to myself, 'Oh, I'll stay another year,'' she says."


Katie was let go by the school district she worked for and is now, according to the article, working quite happily in her own business.

Way to go, Katie. There are lots of independent grant writers out there to keep you company.

If you're thinking of working independently and have questions or just want some encouragement, let us know in the comments. And, if you have a story to share about going independent, tell us!
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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

#71: Simple checklists help grant writers save lives

HOLON, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 15:  An Israeli medica...Image by

Okay, so a checklist won't help a grant writer save anyone's life, except maybe their own, but this article on the benefits of simple checklists saving lives in the surgical suite reminded me that I haven't shared with you the simple lists I use as templates at the beginning of every grant.
The Associated Press: Study: Basic checklist cut surgical deaths in half: "Scrawl on the patient with a permanent marker to show where the surgeon should cut. Ask the person's name to make sure you have the right patient. Count sponges to make sure you didn't leave any inside the body. Doctors worldwide who followed a checklist of steps like these cut the death rate from surgery almost in half and complications by more than a third in a large international study of how to avoid blatant operating room mistakes."
I've mentioned before that I use Basecamp as my collaboration site. I've set up templates of to-do lists there that I then tailor to each grant and client, adding who's responsible. They look like this (these are images, no time to retype):








So, if checklists work for surgeons, pilots, and astronauts, I guess they're good enough for me, too.

Do you have a checklist you use? Tell us about it and how you use it.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

#70: Grant Writer, Don't Research

EFF says Cory is a superhero and they mean it;...Image via WikipediaI really like this tip from Cory Doctorow, co-editor at BoingBoing, and a prolific writer. It further refines something I do when I finally settle down to write.

Locus Online Features: Cory Doctorow: Writing in the Age of Distraction: "Don't research
Researching isn't writing and vice-versa. When you come to a factual matter that you could google in a matter of seconds, don't. Don't give in and look up the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, the population of Rhode Island, or the distance to the Sun. That way lies distraction — an endless click-trance that will turn your 20 minutes of composing into a half-day's idyll through the web. Instead, do what journalists do: type 'TK' where your fact should go, as in 'The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite.' 'TK' appears in very few English words (the one I get tripped up on is 'Atkins') so a quick search through your document for 'TK' will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards. And your editor and copyeditor will recognize it if you miss it and bring it to your attention."
When I'm finally writing, all my research and data gathering behind me, I just write. FAST as I can. (No editing, either. Just write.) When I come to something I have to look up, even in my notes, I type a question mark or two and highlight.Then I keep writing.

The yellow highlighting makes the points that need attention later stand out, but the action of highlighting takes me away from the keyboard. I wonder if I can use TK and highlight all the TK's later with a "find and replace."

I'll try it out today. I just finished a big YouthBuild grant last night (I don't need to remind those of you working on it that today's the deadline!), so I'm cleaning up and playing today.

BTW, Corey's whole article is worth reading. I can't imagine writing without Word, though.
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

#69: Should Grant Writers Appeal to the Right Side of Their Brains?

This is an image taken from a typical PET acqu...Image via WikipediaRecently Scott Flood posted about appealing to both sides of the evaluator's brain.
Anyone who has ever prepared a grant application for a nonprofit or for-profit organization would probably tell you that it’s a left-brained process. After all, there is usually a lengthy list of elements and questions that must be addressed in a specified length and a particular order. Given that “order” is one of the left brain’s favorite words, it’s no surprise that the left-brain crowd is adept at gathering all the information and putting it in its proper place.

But the people who view developing grant requests as a wholly left-brained process are missing what separates very effective and memorable grant applications from the ordinary ones.

That something is the right side of the brain....

The key is recognizing that there are also two sides to the way people think, and addressing both of them....
I heartily agree. In fact, in sales they argue that we make our decisions based on emotions and then use the facts to justify them. You need to create an emotional commitment first.

I work very hard to appeal to both sides of the brain. It isn't easy within the given space constraints. Take the YouthBuild grant I'm working on today -- seems like they take more than 20 pages to ask the questions than the
20 page limit they give me for answers.

How to do it?
Well, the first place to focus on -- the need section. I try to paint a picture of the need that brings all those statistics alive.

How do you appeal to the right side of the evaluator's brain?


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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Limits on Exec Compensation in Grant Applications

337/365: The Big MoneyImage by DavidDMuir via FlickrNow, here's a clause in an RFP that I've never seen before. This is from an OJJDP Gang Prevention RFP that came out this past week. I guess if Wall Street had to give up their bonuses, nonprofit managers have to make sacrifices, too.

Limitation on Use of Award Funds for Employee Compensation; Waiver. No portion of any award of more than $250,000 made under this solicitation may be used to pay any portion of the total cash compensation (salary plus bonuses) of any employee of the award recipient whose total cash compensation exceeds 110 percent of the maximum annual salary payable to a member of the federal government’s Senior Executive Service (SES) at an agency with a Certified SES Performance Appraisal System for that year. (The salary table for SES employees is available at www.opm.gov.) This prohibition may be waived at the discretion of the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs. An applicant that wishes to request a waiver must include a detailed justification in the budget narrative of the application.


To save you time, here's the link to the Salary Table No. 2009-ES The maximum compensation for a Federal Sr. Executive Service with a "Certified SES Performance Appraisal System" is $177,000. So, if any of your executives are paid more than $194,700, don't charge any of that compensation to your proposal budget.

My clients are all wishing this was relevant to their compensation! Oh, well...

We'll probably see more of this. Do you think it will be applied to Federal contracts in the for-profit sector?


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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year to All


May 2009 bring better times --

- a new president

- a better economy

- a warm circle of friends and family

- new things to learn and share

and many things to celebrate


Thank you for all your kind words and support.


Ruth Wahtera
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

# 68: The match: How should a grant writer value volunteers hours?

Volunteers fit new windows at The Sumac Centre...Image via Wikipedia

When a grant application requires a match, most organizations will find it "in-kind." And, often much of the in-kind comes from volunteer hours. After all, where would non-profits be without volunteer hours? Many programs just couldn't fly.

So, how much are volunteer hours worth?

Independent Sector makes a rate available each year that's accepted by the Feds— currently $19.51/hour. They also list the value of a volunteer hour by state -- in NY state, where I am, the 2006 value was $26.18.

In addition, if a professional volunteers their professional services you can value them at their standard billing rates. Make sure you have documentation from them about their rate.

Points of Light Institute now has a calculator that uses Department of Labor rates to assign acceptable values for different kinds of volunteer labor. Careful, though. The rate is for the work, not the person, so, using the example from the Independent Sector, a doctor volunteering to paint a fence is worth a painters rate, not an MD's.

My clients use these different rates without any problem for both the grant application match and for valuing the documented in-kind hours for reporting purposes.



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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Will funders take the GEO's advice?

day in the life: lunch moneyImage by emdot via FlickrPhilanthropy Journal reports that Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), a coalition of funders, has sent its membership of 1,700, representing 350 grant-making organizations, an open letter urging five actions that can help nonprofits make it through these tough times.

Those recommendations:
Funders urged to show leadership | Philanthropy Journal:

* Hold 2009 grant budgets steady at 2008 levels, a move that could mean paying out more than 5 percent of assets.

* Look for 'no-cost' ways to boost nonprofits, including releasing restrictions on current grants, and thus allowing nonprofits to react to the changing environment.

* Give grantees more flexibility to update, alter or replace programs by providing operating grants; consider providing cash-flow loans or access to credit.

* Continue making high-dollar, multi-year grants, investing in leadership support, and funding efforts to learn and evaluate.

* Engage with key stakeholders to better understand the challenges they face and how funders can help."


Hat tip to Mike Burns at Nonprofit Board Crisis blog, one of the blogs I keep in my RSS feedreader.
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Sunday, November 30, 2008

What Can Grant Writers Expect from the Obama Administration?

Barack Obama speaking in Houston, Texas on the...Image via WikipediaOne of my clients sent me a link to this article anticipating what the new administration may focus on. I pass it on to you.

eCivis: Improving Grants Performance: "Grants in the Obama Administration

With the election of Barack Obama, many in the grants world have been reviewing campaign materials, speeches, and debates to determine what is likely to happen in terms of grants. In general, funding can be expected to increase dramatically in many areas, including programs for low-income individuals and families, child education, and law enforcement. eCivis has reviewed many of the recent materials, and while there are no guarantees of what will actually happen versus what has been promised, there are some indications of what grant-seeking organizations are likely to see: read more here"


For most of us, the news is good -- more money for after school programs, head start programs, community development.... Of course, to quote an earlier presidential campaign, "It's the economy, stupid." So, we'll see.
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