10 Sep 2018
How many times do you read the RFP when preparing a grant application?
I read the RFP (also known as the RFA, NOFA or FOA) at least twice: initially, to learn about the grant opportunity, and a second time after the client confirms that they will apply, to reinforce my understanding of the program and extract all of the information needed set up the project plan and application components. After that, the RFP becomes more of a reference document, to look up specific information as needed during the application process.
Lately, however, I have realized that doing a third full read of the RFP as the application process is underway, as if reading it for the first time, is valuable, especially for large government RFPs that often have 50+ pages of detailed instructions and requirements. It is possible to have a full understanding of a grant program’s complexities from only two full reads, but it seems more likely that the need to look up details during the application process is partly because these details were not intentionally prioritized during RFP review. For example, an additional full read may help to solidify your understanding of the long list of allowable and unallowable costs, or help you be 100% certain that all of the required attachments are separate documents and not forms to fill out directly in the application portal.
Further, additional full reads of the RFP, even if time-consuming when there are still hours left to go to finish the narrative, help quiet the voice that asks “Are you forgetting anything?”
Self-reflection is important for professional development, and after reflecting on the recently completed NYS Consolidated Funding Application “season,” taking the time to step back from the application and do an additional 1-2 full reads of the RFP without any tasks necessitating or dependent on these reads, even just for reassurance that I am on the right track and will be able to better answer detail questions from clients immediately after they are asked, is a “quality control” improvement that I would like to put into action.
How about you? Do you have processes to ensure that you have not missed any important details in the RFP/RFA/NOFA/FOA/grantmaker’s guidelines, or do you deliberately schedule additional reads as a safety net?
24 Aug 2018
If there is any grant that crushes the myth that “grants are free money,” it is the capital grant. Capital grants are used for physical infrastructure, such as constructing a new building or installing an HVAC system, and are not as prevalent as program grants. Applying for a capital grant, especially from a government funder, typically requires significant planning and expense.
If you are considering applying for a capital grant, here are some questions to help you address your grant readiness (in addition to our free GRASP Tool) and clear hurdles:
- How will you pay for the project?
This is probably not a question you expected to be asked.
Some capital grants are reimbursement grants, meaning that you front all of the costs and are reimbursed later. You may need to secure a term sheet for a bridge loan, or provide bank statements showing sufficient funds to cover project expenses.
- How will you pay for your share?
You may be required to provide matching funds. For example, you may be required to fund 50% of the project cost yourself. The funder may require that this be entirely in cash, or they may allow you to count the value of donated services.
- Are you sure about that capital campaign?
You may be thinking “We will just launch a capital campaign immediately upon hitting the Submit button! In fact, this capital campaign is already in the ‘planning’ phase! We just planned it now!”
This is easy to write, but when your project is funded and you are the newly appointed director of the capital campaign, what will your level of confidence be?
Also, how much will it cost to implement a capital campaign? The grant will not cover this.
- How much will it cost?
To justify your project budget, you may have to (or should) provide professionally developed cost estimates.
For an architect to provide a reasonably accurate construction cost estimate, they need to evaluate your project and produce plans. Capital grant funders do not always pay for pre-development costs, and typically do not reimburse expenses incurred prior to the start of the grant contract. Having plans and cost estimates to attach to your grant application demonstrates “shovel-readiness,” which increases competitiveness.
- Is the Board on board?
Executing a grant contract for a capital project commits your organization to potentially acquiring debt, spending time and money implementing a capital campaign, or spending its reserves. The Board needs to agree to the financial requirements before you submit the application.
- What are you going to do with this building?
A capital grant is an investment by a funder in your project’s intended use. What is the ROI?
Does the project’s intended use align with the funder’s priorities?
How will your project meet the community’s needs, and how do you know? If applicable, have you invested in a market analysis?
Do you have a business plan to guide and fund the operation, marketing, and maintenance of the completed project and the services or community amenities it supports?
If your organization needs funding for a capital project, or an RFA for a capital grant has landed on your desk and you need support, our team is here for you! Contact us to learn how we can help you navigate the capital grant process, from assessing your capital grant readiness to providing a competitive application package ready for submission.
09 Aug 2018
“What are its chances?”
“Do you think it has a chance?”
I was asked these questions recently at the end of an intense, compressed application process for a competitive state grant. Undoubtedly, these questions are ruminating in grant team members’ minds often; whether or not, or how, they express them. This particular application involved a request for $500,000 and required 70 hours of my time alone, not to mention the time and tireless dedication of everyone else on the grant team in responding to requests for information, documentation, and review (which shows one end of the of “How Much Time Does It Take to Write a Grant?” spectrum).
With so much time and resources going into the grant application or proposal preparation process, not to mention the worthy projects – sometimes, someone’s hopes and dreams – riding on an application’s success, these two questions are unavoidable as we seek to assure ourselves that we have done everything that we can to secure a grant award.
Last week we highlighted the importance of addressing required attachments as the beginning of the grant writing process, not at the end. We explored work plans, resumes, cost estimates, and architectural and engineering plans. Here are some more attachments that you may encounter:
List of Services – Recently the team wrote a healthcare grant and the applicant was required to submit a list of services to be provided. Developing something like this early, with the work plan, provides a framework for the narrative, and ensures consistency with the narrative. It is a basic yet critical question for any healthcare program: what services will you provide?
Financial Analysis – A few months ago, the team wrote multiple NYS grants for healthcare system transformation projects intended to improve providers’ financial sustainability. One of the required attachments was an extensive spreadsheet requiring an analysis of costs and the financial impact to be created by the project. Something like this would be very important to complete early, not only because of the time and personnel required to complete it, but because it informs the narrative discussion of the project’s financial impact. You can’t write about the financial impact, and “sell” it to the funder, if you don’t know what it is or how it will happen.
Letters of Support or Commitment – Letters of support (“I like this project!”) and letters of commitment (“I will help fund, implement, or do something else for this project!”) are notoriously difficult to collect. The people who write these letters often serve at the executive level of their organizations and they are busy – they love your organization, but spending an hour writing a letter for a project they may not know much about is probably one of those tasks that gets moved on the calendar from one day to the next for several weeks (we all have those tasks). As soon as possible in your application process, make a list of who you want to collect letters from. Draft a template that includes the funder’s name and a project summary, and indicate where a few sentences could be added to make the letter their own, should they choose not to write one from scratch. The easier you can make this task for them, the better. Send this to everyone who you want a letter from, and give them a deadline at least 1-2 weeks of when you actually need it.
Photos – A photo is worth a thousand words. If you have the option to submit a few photos with your application, do it. Show the funder the poor conditions at the rundown animal shelter that you are going to renovate with their money, or show them the happy and engaged youth doing science experiments in your summer program.
Basic Organizational Documents – Most of the time you will be required to provide proof or your organization’s 501c3 status (your IRS letter), and often you will also be required to submit financial information such as your annual operating budget and several years worth of 990s and audited financial statements. These do not always take much time to get, as they are internal to your organization and you should already have them. However, if you do not have these documents – you are not a 501c3, you don’t have an annual operating budget, you have never filed a 990 or 990-EZ because your organization doesn’t have any revenues, or you have never had an audit, you may want to consider your organization’s competitiveness for that particular grant program (i.e. you are small and new, and have some organizational development tasks to address before you are grant ready).
How do you ensure that attachments aren’t an afterthought in your grant process?
We’d love to hear from you!
Revising your attachment completion strategy yet?
Join Diane for How to Knock Your Grantmaker’s Socks Off on CharityHowTo to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how reviewers are using the elements beyond your narrative and budget to judge your application.
11 Jun 2018
Many grant applications require attachments in addition to the narrative and budget components. It can be easy to overlook addressing the attachments when faced with larger, more pressing tasks of developing a program and writing a lengthy narrative. However, the attachments often help inform – not just substantiate – the application’s narrative and budget. Additionally, some attachments take time to collect or complete. When planning the work of completing a grant application, it is advantageous to plan on completing or collecting attachments as early as possible in the process.
Some attachments you may be required to submit include:
Work Plan – If you are applying for a state or federal grant, you are usually required to complete a work plan. Depending on the agency, sometimes the work plan is a form that you must fill out and upload as an attachment, and sometimes it is integrated into the application. Regardless of the format, it can be tempting to save this for later, especially if it is only a few pages long – however, don’t do it. The work plan, often including major tasks, timelines, and deliverables, is the big picture of what you are going to do with the grant funds, and provides an excellent framework for the narrative. You will save time by developing and finalizing the work plan – what exactly you are going to do – before you start writing a long, detailed narrative. For this reason, the budget should not be an afterthought either – do you want to spend 30 hours writing the narrative for your perfect program, and then have to delete it when you put the budget together and the program is no longer financially feasible?