Category Archives: Grants

I love watching Project Runway, and have since the show began over 15 years ago. I enjoy watching how the designers make amazing creations in just one to two days’ time. It almost seems unreal and is definitely a skill that I don’t have. The season 4 winner, Christian Siriano, was always a fan favorite, and I was thrilled when I started last season as a mentor to the contestants. 

While you might be curious why I bring him up, well, he has recently been in the news but having nothing to do with fashion. Given how the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across all sectors, the fashion industry has not been spared. Christian Siriano’s headquarters is located in New York City, where most of the COVID-19 cases in the US have been concentrated. Rather than sitting idly by, he decided to support the efforts by having his 10 seamstresses work from home to produce face masks for area hospitals and providers in desperate need of essential supplies. Not only that, but he working on getting FDA clearance for the masks, and also coordinating his efforts with Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Others are following suit. Brewers are making hand sanitizer and wipes (including LVMH/Louis Vuitton’s perfume manufacturing arm), clothing manufacturers are making gowns and masks, and celebrity chefs are turning their restaurants into community kitchens. How amazing that these for-profit entities can pivot and support their communities during a time of need.

While nonprofits are working overtime, I have also seen moments that have moved me greatly. I have seen Interfaith Works coordinate with other housing providers to develop a framework for ensuring staff and client health and safety through their housing programs for people experiencing homelessness. I have seen CollegeTracks change their in-person student meetings (that normally take place at schools) to virtual meetings, to ensure that high school students receive college preparatory coaching and support. I have also seen Cornerstone Montgomery offer telehealth services to support clients in need of comprehensive behavioral health care. These reflect a few of the many examples of how nonprofits are pivoting to continue serving their communities.

Before making any drastic pivots, organizations might want to consider:

  1. What are the changes that need to be made to continue offering services to our clients? Do you think these can be adapted in the long-term?
  2. What resources do you have (and what is needed) to make these changes? If you lack resources, can you acquire them in-kind or through COVID-19 related grants?
  3. Are you working with other partners to share services and resources?
  4. What are you doing to document your COVID-19 related expenses?
  5. How will your data gathering be impacted by COVID-19?
  6. Are you communicating with grant funders and donors about these changes and potential impacts?

These are not easy questions to answer, but necessary as these restrictions remain. You might even find your responses to these questions changing as the weeks go by.

RBW Strategy is happy to offer complimentary coaching to review these issues and discuss action items. Our new mantra: big changes start with small steps.

McDonald’s was my favorite restaurant as a kid. I loved the French fries, burgers and getting a toy with my meal. I even had my birthday party at one location when I was eight (my friends and I enjoyed the play area). While my tastes have changed as I have gotten older, I always know what to expect at a McDonald’s and the same is probably true for most chain restaurants. What is it about the McDonald’s model that is important for us to consider in our own work?

  1. Quality vs. Quantity – McDonald’s prides itself on reaching a mass audience and producing the same quality of food each time. As you write grants, are you producing high quality grants each time or are you churning out proposals? Is there a way to improve quality while not sacrificing too much quantity (especially if you have growth goals)?
  2. Fast moving deadlines – Grant writing comes in waves and sometimes there are busy periods in your work. Are you able to keep the line of grants moving? Are there tools that you need to make your work more efficient or other resources to help you during busy periods? Perhaps map out your fiscal year and see how you should build in those requests in advance (if prior approval is needed).
  3. Customer service – Are you reaching out to current and prospective funders concerning your work? How are you engaging folks in what you do and making sure that their needs are met? Your board members and front-line staff can offer that much needed buffer in providing service with a smile to help you with your work.
  4. Using the drive thru – Are there ways to bypass certain bureaucracies in order to maintain focus on certain deadlines? Advanced notice always helps, as this can help alleviate burdens when trying to meet a fast-moving deadline.
  5. Will there be repeat customers? Your goal should always be renewal funding each year. Making sure that they are satisfied with how you have used their funds and engaging them throughout the year will help maximize your chances of renewal funding.

Will you be eating at a McDonald’s anytime soon? Save a French fry for me – they are still my favorite item on the menu!

So, you have that million dollar idea that you know will be funded by a big donor. You have started to brainstorm with your colleagues, and then someone in your office finds out that there is a huge funding and you would be absolutely remiss if you don’t apply. But wait, there’s a big issue. You have the big idea, and now you have no budget to map your big ideas to actual costs. What’s a grant writer to do? You know that you are still mid-planning, and now you are moving up to the application phase. Red flags, anyone? As I wrote in my last blog, a well-written proposal is only as good as the content. If a proposal budget doesn’t make sense, it won’t stand on its own merit. Here are some rules of thumb to think about, coins-1015125_640especially if you have no budget prepared at the onset.

  1. Do you have a budget template to use?
  2. Have you written similar proposals before and can leverage content from other proposals?
  3. Can you work closely with your programmatic and financial teams to itemize indirect and direct costs?
  4. Are there certain organizational policies regarding cost allocation (i.e. fringe benefits, indirect cost rates, cost of living increases for salaries)
  5. Do you have vendor and contractor quotes that you can leverage based on work they have done for other grant awards?

Your budget must align with your proposal narrative, as the two are interwoven throughout the application. Even if the opportunity is a natural fit for your project or program, timing is everything. I firmly believe it is better to wait and have a thorough proposal rather than to submit a sub-par application.

When I have served as a grant reviewer, I have clicked my tongue in astonishment about the poor quality of proposals that I have reviewed. As someone who has worked in this industry for over 13 years, I have seen a wide range of proposals. However, I am sure you can get very frustrated when you hire an in-house or consultant grant writer who may even have a PhD in English or have written grant proposals for over 20 years, and can still not have success. What is the deal?! While a well-written grant proposal will raise the bar in terms of your level of competitiveness, there are many other factors to consider. Let’s discuss……writing-1209121_640

  1. Program Design – Does your program or project make sense? Does it speak to the funder’s priorities and align with their strategic goals and yours? Have you carefully thought through the sustainment of the program/project? A well-written proposal cannot mask a haphazard program design that is not well intentioned and clear.
  1. Budget – Do your financials line up with your program/project goals? Does your budget showcase areas of need and your organization’s commitment to ensuring the success of the program/project? Are you asking the funder to support costs that are allowed by the organization (i.e. they may not be interested in general operating support and this is the basis of your request)?
  1. Organizational Capacity – No matter the size of your organization, your funder requires assurance that you will be a good steward of funding and that you are able to manage the program/project implementation to the best of your abilities. As a grantee, you need to ensure that the staff are adequately trained and prepared to execute the program/project and meet the funder’s requirements. If this cannot be clearly captured by the bios of your staff and board, and documentation of previous support on similar programs/projects, you need to rethink professional development and capacity building.
  1. Timelines and Workplan – Are the activities clearly delineated and the timeline prepared that are in line with the fiscal year and grant period? A one-page workplan can work wonders and provide the context as to how you intend to deliver and oversee your program/project.
  1. Read the Instructions – This one seems so obvious. But, did you read the funder’s instructions as to how to prepare the application and provide an application that has all the requirements addressed? You would be surprised how many people do not do this step, which is the easiest one to avoid.

Happy writing!

As a grants professional, I realize that the majority of people outside of my industry are blissfully unaware of all the intricacies, challenges and difficulties that come with being a grant writer. You have competing deadlines, federal guidance updates and changes, and steep learning curves pertaining to grantee organizations and their programs. The preparation of a thoughtful and comprehensive grant application requires more than just a solid grasp of the English language. This is why I have decided to prepare several posts about the common misperceptions related to work as a grants professional. If you work in this field, I am certain that some of these topics will strike a familiar chord.

keyboard-621830_640As a grant writer, how often do you get asked this question, “What is your success rate?” I don’t know about you, but this question diminishes our value to a percentage. I have found that success rate does not necessarily equate to the capabilities and expertise of the grant writer. Here’s why….

  1. Is this a new or renewal application? If the former, the chances of success are diminished based on competition with other new and renewal funders. Some grant writers focus on new proposals.
  1. Does your organization have a relationship with the funding entity? It should come as no surprise that the stronger the relationship, the greater the chances of funding.
  1. Is the organization grant ready? If your organization does not have clear information and documentation pertaining to a strategic plan alignment to program outcomes, capacity to manage programs or projects, evaluation strategy, alignment to best practices for program implementation, and a host of other items, this can significantly impact the chances of success.
  1. Does your organization have resources allocated to support the grant writer? If you are stretched thin, this can hinder the level of success and ability to ensure grant readiness as outlined in #3.
  1. How vetted are your prospects? Do you thoroughly vet your prospects or do you base your list on a limited number of factors? You may want to focus on the planning side prior to submitting proposals, especially if the funder is not a good match.

Let’s be honest, grant writing is hard and there are no clear cut rules that should be followed. You can prepare the most comprehensive and well-written proposal, but that does not guarantee funding. If a grant writer tells you that he/she has a 30% success rate, I would not dismiss that outright. I find that it is more important to work with a grant writer that has a clear understanding of the process, has the ability to manage multiple deadlines and personalities, and can level set expectations of success. If you want an awareness of the professional qualifications for a Certified Grants Professional, check out the Grant Professionals Certification Institute’s core competencies.

The ingredients to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies are fairly straightforward – flour, butter, sugar, baking powder, milk, chocolate chips, and few other items. You mix then together, bake, and then you get a delicious treat. Well, what happens when you do not have flour and you ran out of chocolate chips? You have the intention, but fail to deliver on the cookies you so desperately desire. The same is true for managing a grant. You want the money, you need the money, but sometimes you just don’t have all of the ingredients.

The question becomes, how you cookies-1264263_640do get the recipe for success when you have limited resources?

Let’s think through some of the resources that may be lacking and how you can build your capacity:

Financial: This is tough, because lack of adequate funds will not allow your organization to achieve its goals. The only way to resolve this is to build an infrastructure to strategically request funding, and to work within your financial limits. Establish short-, mid- and long-term goals with your Board to map out a plan for future growth and establish operational and programmatic priorities.

Personnel: Create a chart of all the responsibilities related to grant functions that need to take place from creating a prospect list to putting together a budget and then post-award processes, such as grant reporting. One person cannot possibly be responsible for all of these items. If these tasks can be shared across a pool of individuals (even if it’s only 3) the weight will be not be as heavy on 1 person’s shoulders.

Technology: There are many free and inexpensive online tools and templates available to support grant tracking, management and software. Determine the resources you lack and then look online through Capterra or some other sites that rate software so you can determine the tools needed to support your work.

Knowledge and Skills: There is a plethora of online webinars and in-person trainings that you can take advantage of so you can enhance your knowledge capacity. Foundation Center, Grant Space, Grant Professionals Association are just a few, but there are many others (include Slide Share) where you can access free content online.

Lately I have received multiple requests to support organizations with post-award support. While the specifics differ between organizations, the general story is the same. An organization experiences a substantive uptick in the number of grant awards received, or are the recipient of one or more large grant awards (generally federally funded). While this support speaks to the strength of the organization able to receive such funding, now they have to come tmodern-technologies-1263422_640o terms with what I refer to as “Post Award Blues.” While most nonprofits spend their time obtaining those precious grant funds, they are less focused on how the receipt of these funds will impact the organization. Due to the crucial importance of this topic, I am dedicating several blog posts on grants management related issues. This post is the first post of the series, and will focus on reporting.

What do you need to know about reporting? Well, let’s think about this scenario. If you lend someone $2,500, you would want to know a few things: 1) How did he/she spend the money?; 2) When will you be repaid?; and 3) Will he/she need additional money? The same is true for funders. In general, reporting on grant funding varies depending on the funder, size of award, and complexity of the grant. In addition, you are generally required to provide programmatic and/or financial reports. Federal agencies generally require structured reports (usually require use of OMB forms) on at least an annual basis, and quarterly financial reports. However, private, corporate, and family foundations may not require financial reports at all, and just expect programmatic status updates.

In order to avoid any problems, just think about these tips:

  • Plan Ahead: Do not wait until the last minute. Use some kind of grants management tool or spreadsheet to track upcoming reporting deadlines.
  • Think of CQI: Reporting should be part of the Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) of your organization. Therefore, you should be continually capturing data and information on the grant award as part of the organization’s focus on maintaining high quality programs, irrespective of the award.
  • Bad Reporting = Less Chance of Renewal: The more robust and detailed your reports, the more the funders will feel that they are getting a return on their investment.

Remember that you want to be a good steward of grant funding, and reporting is the story that you share with the funder to showcase that they made a good investment by supporting your program, project, or organization.

Last week I conducted a training for the National Grants Management Association on internal controls and grantees (and grantors) responsibilities. While I know this topic is as glamorous and as exciting as it sounds, the Office of Management and Budget has put this front and center on their agenda (especially within the context of the Uniform Grant Guidance, or UGG). Essentially, government funding requires effective stewardship. How will this process be managed from a federal level and how can grantees implement this? See my presentation HERE to find out more information.

This infographic from Thomson Reuters below provides some context about how lack of internal controls lead to waste and fraud.