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Putting an Application Rejection Into Perspective

Most grant writers tend to blame themselves unduly if an application is rejected. Granted, there are sometimes instances where obvious mistakes have been made on the part of the grant writer. However, I have found that most professionals in this field are sincerely dedicated to their jobs and really want to receive the grant money. This is a very big incentive to do the very best job possible on the grant application.

This field of work has some features which are different from many others. There is a need to remain focused and stay on track, as tangible products must be produced. It is hard to “slack off” when there is a submission deadline to be met. The funding agencies will not accept late applications. Grant writers who do not produce an application on time will not have many more chances to redeem themselves. Not meeting the deadline and therefore not being able to submit an application is considered to be a failure of the worst sort.

This of course produces a pressure to perform, which can, in extreme cases, induce performance anxiety. This is exacerbated by the highly competitive field in which the grant writer operates. In the case of most federal and state grant opportunities, all municipalities, counties, or nonprofits applying are in competition with one another. This does nothing to reduce the pressure.

Conversely, when an application is approved, the grant writer becomes a “rainmaker”. As one can imagine, this is a highly respected person who is given a great deal of importance within the organization.

The purpose of saying all of this is to caution the grant writer to not become overly identified with the results of any one particular application or even several applications. In order to preserve one’s sense of balance, it is necessary to not become overly dejected when an application is not funded or to take too much of the credit for successful applications.

Documenting What You Say in the Grant Application

This is nothing more and nothing less than proof or backup for what the grant writer says in an application and is invaluable in establishing credibility. This also pays off not just in the current application round but in subsequent rounds, as funding agencies begin to see that your agency always presents truthful and complete information.
Examples of documentation include the following:
• Proof of matching funds (this can be a letter from the funding agency or a grant agreement)
• Rejection letters from other funders
• Memorandum of Understanding with a cooperating agency which shows that the applicant has solid partners to carry out the project
• Resumes of key project personnel
• Engineer’s or architect’s estimate of costs
• Income survey results
• Census or Bureau of Labor Statistics maps and tables
• Other research results
• Letters of support from community organizations or groups which will benefit from the project
• Drawings or renderings of the facility to be constructed or rehabilitated with the grant
• Map(s) of the project area
• Progress reports for previous grants from the agency from whom the funds are being requested
• Photographs
• Organizational documents (charter, Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws)
• Certificate of Good Standing issued by the state (for nonprofits; this may have different names in different states)
• Environmental review documents
• Financial statements, audit reports, operating budgets and tax returns
• Proof of 501©(3) status
• List of Board of Directors
• Resolution of support from a local government or the Board of Directors of a nonprofit organization

Putting a Grant Rejection Into Perspective

Most grant writers tend to blame themselves unduly if an application is rejected. Granted, there are sometimes instances where obvious mistakes have been made on the part of the grant writer. However, I have found that most professionals in this field are sincerely dedicated to their jobs and really want to receive the grant money. This is a very big incentive to do the very best job possible on the grant application.
This field of work has some features which are different from many others. There is a need to remain focused and stay on track, as tangible products must be produced. It is hard to “slack off” when there is a submission deadline to be met. The funding agencies will not accept late applications. Grant writers who do not produce an application on time will not have many more chances to redeem themselves. Not meeting the deadline and therefore not being able to submit an application is considered to be a failure of the worst sort.
This of course produces a pressure to perform, which can, in extreme cases, induce performance anxiety. This is exacerbated by the highly competitive field in which the grant writer operates. In the case of most federal and state grant opportunities, all municipalities, counties, or nonprofits applying are in competition with one another. This does nothing to reduce the pressure.
Conversely, when an application is approved, the grant writer becomes a “rainmaker”. As one can imagine, this is a highly respected person who is given a great deal of importance within the organization.
The purpose of saying all of this is to caution the grant writer to not become overly identified with the results of any one particular application or even several applications. In order to preserve one’s sense of balance, it is necessary to not become overly dejected when an application is not funded or to take too much of the credit for successful applications

Historic Preservation Grants

The National Trust Preservation Fund provides two types of assistance to nonprofit organizations and governmental entities. Matching grants of from $500-$5,000 are given for preservation planning and education. Funding is also provided for preservation emergencies. Examples of preservation planning activities may include the services of experts in architecture, archaeology, engineering, preservation planning, land use planning, fundraising, and organizational development.

The Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation provides grants for professional advice, conferences, workshops and education programs which contribute “to the preservation or the recapture of an authentic sense of space”, as stated on the website. Prospective grantees must in general apply for at least $2,500 and no more than $10,000. There are some exceptions to this. Nonprofits and governmental entities may apply for funding for any type of project which meets these general guidelines. Individuals and for-profit businesses may apply only if the project for which funding is requested involves a National Historic Landmark.

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors is concerned with preserving the inside of historic buildings. Again, grants range from $2,500 to $10,000. Eligible applicants are the same as those stated for the Johanna Favrot Fund.

Heritage Preservation (http://www.heritagepreservation.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to assist museums, provides assistance worth $3,000-$6,500 to undertake conservation assessments. This funding is geared toward any non-profit institution which possesses a collection of items which tell a story. This could include museums as well as zoos, botanical gardens, and historical houses. The collection must be small enough to be surveyed within two days. The site also lists other sources for historical conservation.

Statement of Need

Although this is one of the most important parts of any grant application, it also tends to be one of the most poorly written. One of the reasons for this may be that many grant writers just assume that the need for the project is obvious. Do not assume anything. The grant writer must make the case for both the need for the project and the need for financial assistance to do the project in a very clear, comprehensive, concise, and compelling manner. These are the four C’s for writing any grant application. This section is no place for vague, general, weak, or “stretching” statements.

Grant reviewers are not fond of flowery language. They tend to regard this type of verbiage with suspicion. It is as if the grant writer does not really have anything substantial to say and relies upon words designed to disguise the fact that there is no substance to the proposal. Whenever I read something like that, I feel rather insulted, as if I had been confronted with a particularly bad sales pitch. What counts with grant reviewers is a simple, direct statement of the facts. Please let your facts shine through and speak for themselves. They do not need to be embellished or exaggerated. Do not, under any circumstances, tell falsehoods in your application. This will damage your credibility with the funding agencies and word will get around. Your success rate will plummet rapidly. At the risk of sounding redundant, I will say it again: it is not worth the risk.

As I have said before and will certainly say again, it is very important to be specific. The use of statistics, when available, makes a very compelling case. Individual histories and anecdotes are also helpful. In short, anything which can help the reviewer to get a clear picture of the project should be added to this section of the narrative. The basic elements of a well-written project need section are just commonsense. They are as follows: general description of the situation, the number and type of people affected, the extent to which these people are affected, and what will happen if the project is not done.

It is also extremely important to discuss the need for financial assistance in order to carry it out. The applicant must clearly demonstrate that without grant funding, the project will not move forward. If the applicant has been turned down by other potential sources, it is necessary to specify that and to include copies of the letters rejecting the request for funds. It is always helpful for agencies to know that they are not the only source which is being requested to provide funding. An applicant will have more credibility if it can be demonstrated that potential funding sources were carefully researched and a funding strategy was well thought out.

Another angle to demonstrate financial need is to show the allocation of funds in an organization’s total budget in order to demonstrate that no applicant monies are available. This information will show that all available funds are going toward operating costs and cannot be used for new projects or that other needed projects are consuming the entire budget of the organization. In many cases, a copy of the applicant’s most recent audited financial statement must be submitted along with the application.

In the case of municipalities or counties, information regarding the economic situation of the community is critical. If an area is considered to be economically disadvantaged and demonstrates high unemployment, low median income, and a high rate of poverty, then the assessable base or value of the real estate upon which taxes are calculated is low. This dictates that the local government has only a limited ability to raise taxes and thereby realize additional revenue. It may very well be that the population of this political jurisdiction cannot afford to pay additional taxes which could fund new programs.

In the case of nonprofits, financial need may be demonstrated by a statement that the organization has a small donor base or that a reduction in donations over a certain period of time has occurred. Information should also be given on the nonprofit’s operating costs in order to show the amount of money which is being spent to keep the organization going.

Going in With a Great Project

This checklist is being provided so that the grant writer may see how the proposed activity meets the characteristics of a well-designed project. Granted, I have seen several cases where an activity which does not meet all the criteria below has gotten funded. The project may be very strong in several key areas but weak in one or two others and still get funded. Many times funders are moved by what seems to them to be the greater good to be served and go on to approve a project which is not “perfect”.

This checklist is as follows:

 The problem will be fully or partially solved.
 The project is ready to proceed.
 The project will be completed in a timely fashion.
 Matching funds have been committed.
 The applicant has a commitment for funding to sustain the project once the grant period is completed or sustainability will occur through project design such as for a new construction project or an equipment purchase.
 The applicant can demonstrate that an exhaustive search of other sources was conducted.
 The proposed activity has worked elsewhere for a similar problem.
 The activity was developed after looking at several alternatives.
 The results of the project are easily measured.
 An evaluation plan is in place and the appropriate resources have been secured.
 The project has support from the general public, the population to be served, professionals who work in the field, and governmental entities in whose jurisdiction it will take place.
 The applicant has a proven track record in administering similar projects and there have been no problems in the administration of previous grants.
 Collaborative agreements have been secured.
 Construction and rehabilitation activities have been at least partially designed.
 Any professional studies specific to this project have been completed.
 Cost estimates have been carefully documented.
 The project is included in the appropriate planning documents.
 Statistical data has been used to document the need and is included with the application.
 A feasible work plan can be developed for inclusion in the application.
 Any procurement activities can be conducted so as to meet the requirements of the granting agency.
 It can be demonstrated that the activity chosen is clearly superior to other alternatives.

Please, readers, feel free to suggest any additional factors.I personally try to assign a rating of from 1 to 5 for each factor and see how each activity stacks up. The one with the highest score would then be the most fundable and should be chosen to be the subject of the grant application(s).

Organizing Your Thoughts to Write a Grant Application

Writing seems to be one of those difficult jobs for many people. Perhaps many people have an innate fear of expression, afraid that others will say negative things about their work. Be that as it may, this is a skill (or art form) which can most definitely be learned. Fortunately, classes in writing abound.

I learned to write on the job when I started working in the Salisbury, Maryland, Mayor’s office. Prior to that time, I had not done any significant writing with the exception of papers in high school and college. I do not remember feeling intimidated about having to write my first grant application. I just looked upon the exercise as simply answering a series of questions. Mentally, I just broke the application down into the relevant sections and only thought about one section at a time.

I still organize my thoughts in that fashion. In my opinion, this helps to alleviate the anxiety which is naturally associated with writing a request for funds or a book such as the one I authored on grant writing. Although it may seem intimidating to write a book, it was actually easier than I expected. The main reason for this is that I spent a significant amount of time in the beginning organizing the topics and the order in which they would be presented. Having this framework has proven invaluable.

The following steps should always be followed before beginning to write the proposal:

• Read the entire solicitation at least twice from beginning to end.
• Call or e-mail the contact listed in the solicitation in order to discuss the project and to make certain that it meets threshold requirements.
• Determine whether it is possible to gather the data and write the application by the deadline-the grant writer will need to consider his or her own schedule and pace of working as well as the availability of colleagues who will be involved in preparing the grant application.
• Determine the feasibility of obtaining statistical data to directly support the project.
• Determine the feasibility of obtaining supporting information from others.

How do you get organized to write an application?

Sometimes A Project Just Won’t Be Approved

Sometimes even the best applications are not successful. One example that illustrates this beautifully is a story I heard about a municipality who was applying to the state government for funds to rehabilitate a street that was in imminent danger of collapse. There was a very real need here and the only solution was a costly (four hundred thousand dollars) complete rehabilitation of the street. This town had a population of only 750 people, and only about 50 residents on the street would benefit most directly. The application was turned down the first year it was submitted. The funding agency was good enough to make a regular practice of letting the applicants who did not get funded know the reason for that decision. In that case, they mentioned a few minor issues with the narrative which were easily corrected. However, their main problem seemed to be centered on the fact that no other funding sources were being sought. It was obvious that they did not feel comfortable making a grant of that size and being the only funding agency involved in the project.

Unfortunately, grant sources for municipal street work are not plentiful in that part of the country. The town reapplied the next year and made the requested narrative changes. An attempt was made to find other sources to leverage, or match, the state monies. The town was able to show that it had at least tried to find other funds. However, the town itself, with its budget of only $375,000 per year, could not afford to put any money into it. The application was turned down for the second time even though the town did everything that the state asked for with the exception of contributing its own money to the project. This was a very unfortunate case as the project really needed to be done and there was no other place to turn. However, this just goes to show that the best written project can be turned down because of situations beyond the grant writer’s control.

Basic Elements of a Proposal

Never underestimate the importance of doing a superlative writing job on the grant application. This is one of the most critical predictors of success. However, many people are under the impression that the grant writer’s skill in writing is the only important thing. In my opinion, the most critical factor is a well-designed project which meets the identified need with the most economical use of resources. The best written proposal cannot disguise the fact that a project is ill-conceived and designed and will not accomplish the desired outcomes.

The following steps should always be followed before beginning to write the proposal:

• Read the entire solicitation at least twice from beginning to end.
• Call or e-mail the contact listed in the solicitation in order to discuss the project and to make certain that it meets threshold requirements.
• Determine whether it is possible to gather the data and write the application by the deadline-the grant writer will need to consider his or her own schedule and pace of working as well as the availability of colleagues who will be involved in preparing the grant application.
• Determine the feasibility of obtaining statistical data to directly support the project.
• Determine the feasibility of obtaining supporting information from others.

It is very important to write in a style which conveys the urgency of the need and the necessity for the project. The application should be written with feeling and give a sense of the serious consequences to the beneficiaries if the project should not be funded. This is the “human side” of the request. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to teach someone to write with feeling. That generally comes about with practice and a passion for one’s work. Some of the individual stories of the potential beneficiaries can be used to show the very serious and personal nature of their distress.

The Golden Rule of grant writing is to be specific. Vague and general statements will not get the grant money. If the grant writer is working to make a specific point, he or she should be very clear, use statistical support and examples, provide a clear picture of the need, the project, and the outcomes.

Searching for State Grants

All of the individual states offer a wide array of grant programs in such areas as water and sewer, transportation, parks and recreation, economic development, historic preservation, law enforcement, and fire fighting. States award grants to municipalities and counties as well as nonprofit organizations. Some states will also offer assistance to for-profit entities in support of economic development. If your organization is a non-profit, get to know your local elected officials. It is quite possible that they will be able to supplement your list of potential funding sources by making suggestions from among the state programs with which they are familiar.

I always search for state sources of funding first. The state programs are easier to access than federal programs due to the fact that the applicant is competing only on the state level and not against other applicants around the entire country. A number of federal programs pass funds through to the individual states for distribution. Other state programs are funded solely by state revenues.

There are several ways to search for state grant funds without expending an inordinate amount of time. The most straightforward is to go to your state’s website, find the state agency whose name implies that it regulates the area in which you seek to find a grant, and follow that link to the information on grants administered by that agency. If you are working for a county and wish to find grant funds for parks and recreation and notice that there is a Department of Natural Resources in your state, it could be assumed that that agency is likely to make grants in your area of interest. In general, grant writers working for local governments soon become familiar with which state agencies are possibilities for funding their projects.

There is a website (http://www.statelocalgov.net) which contains links to all state websites as well as the agencies under that state. In addition, there are also links to certain counties and municipalities. It is possible to click on the state in which you wish to search and then click again on the subject matter you are interested in. This will lead you to the appropriate agency, and it will then be possible to search for grant programs under that agency. There are also links to the executive branch departments and boards and commissions in that state, which is helpful if you already know which agency regulates the subject matter you are interested in. This site is very helpful if you are a consultant working in more than one state.