Things that always happen on a grant deadline

I can take no credit for this gem whatsoever, it being the sole creative product of my excellent colleague. How he managed to so succinctly and humorously capture all that can go wrong on a tight grant deadline is a source of amazement and enjoyment for me. I hope for you, too.

1. The batteries in my ancient mouse die.
2. The rechargeable replacement batteries are missing (usually in service of a noisy toy stuck in loud mode outside my door).
3. My browser crashes.
4. Recent browser history is wiped out upon restart.
5. Dropbox hangs on to the 27 MB document I need to be revising.
6. Router craps out. Probably from overheating trying to communicate with Dropbox.
7. Computer can’t find wifi upon router restart.
8. Document miraculously downloads, opens, and crashes Word.
9. Autosave didn’t.
10. Upon reopen, document automatically prints, using the last of the red ink in a printer that won’t print in any color if one cartridge is empty.
11. The garbage disposal sprays something yucky all over the kitchen, and it must be dealt with NOW.
12. Maybe it was a kid and not the garbage disposal.
13. PI emails and says disregard the 27-MB doc. See the new (31MB) instead. On Dropbox, of course.
14. Repeat 3-9 (attempts 10 but is foiled by stubborn printer).
15. Finally get to work. Things go eerily well.
16. Fall asleep at the desk before finishing. Head to bed.
17. Wake up to email from PI saying never mind on new doc. Use the old one.
18. Pretend email server is down and ignore PI. Complete doc and spend the day trying to upload to Dropbox.
19. Tell work taking the next day off to get some fresh air.
20. Wake up sick because it was a kid instead of the garbage disposal.

Share with your friends in research administration and grant proposal development. They’ll definitely get at least one LOL out of it.

What IS innovation, anyway?

Innovation has become a major buzz word in the grants world. Funders increasingly want to support social experiments that will yield positive, cost effective solutions to problems, and they want to do so by investing in models that provide scalable solutions in new, novel ways.

The latest example: First in the World (FITW). This U.S. Department of Education grant program was just announced May 16, and sets aside $75 Million in funding for higher education institutions that can demonstrate innovative models to improve student access, retention, and completion. The grant program is part of President Obama’s larger plan to make college more affordable so more students enter and graduate. The catch: grantee hopefuls must articulate their proposed innovation in their applications. While the Department wants applicants to innovate, it also wants applicants to outline their strong theory of action and existing evidence of promise for the proposed methodology. Bottom line: what truly defines innovation?

While the answer may vary depending on the subject area and population of focus, there are some foundational concepts at the core of understanding innovation.  For FITW innovation will be defined by the evidence that supports it, how it addresses the national problem of retaining traditionally underserved students in postsecondary programs of study, and demonstrating how it is substantially different from what’s been tried before.

These “innovation grants” always attract many applicants, yet few will be chosen. How best to package your proposed program as an innovation? Generally speaking, innovation will break from the status quo and present a new way of achieving better results.  For grantseekers targeting funders that require innovation, the program concept can be better mapped out by answering the following key questions:

1. How is the proposed project different from traditional practices in its field? How does it exceed and improve upon existing methods?

2. What initial testing, demonstration or prototyping has occurred to develop the innovation concept? What resources have you invested into assessing its viability?

3. What is the potential for impact beyond your organization? How might the innovation be scaled to serve other communities?

4. What are your organization and staff experience, knowledge and skills to successfully implement the innovation?

Advance planning and preparation is key in developing an innovative program or practice. The basic rule of thumb is to think outside the box and propose something unique. Repackaging existing programs as an enhancement or expansion simply won’t pass the innovation test. If your organization is truly ready and able to innovate, take the time to know the existing practices in your field, what works well and what does not, and work with appropriate collaborators to build a solution that will bridge the gaps. This level of exploration, expertise, and due diligence will be readily apparent to funders and well worth the effort. Aside from getting grant funds to do good works, the best part of innovation is that we have the opportunity to testnew models for social change that can actually move the needle in our chosen area of impact. Grantseeker or grantmaker, this is a bottom line we can all agree on.






When a foundation wants to be besties (and other miracles in grantseeking)

Last month I worked with a client to prepare and submit a letter of inquiry to a well known national foundation. This client heard back from a foundation program officer in a matter of one week to discuss the project further. The foundation program officer had questions and suggestions, including targeting a portion of the proposed population to be served and (get this!) making a larger grant than originally requested – about 100% larger.

Now, when my client shared all of this with me, I could hardly believe our incredible good fortune. Those of us who work in the field know this is not a common occurrence. It’s not every day that foundation staff get back to you with specific insight on pitching a project they want to fund, and for more money than you thought possible. 

We got to this stage through consistent effort. We conducted strategic research to identify funders for this particular program based on their grantmaking priorities, granting history, and geographic scope. We reached out personally to a foundation program officer to discuss our ideas and obtain their input and advice. We proposed a program based on that conversation, and now here we are.

When my client asked me: “What do we do now?”, my first thought was: “Anything they want!” But within reason, fellow grant seeking hopefuls. The balance here is to remain true to your organizational mission and program goals, and not end up creating a program solely for alignment with a foundation’s. In this instance, we have a program that has been planned out, we can document the need, we have the partnerships in place. All of this will be emphasized to the foundation in our next conversation so that they understand we’ve done our due diligence, we have the capacity to successfully implement this program, and with their support we can hit the ground running. In this way, we have positioned the foundation as our partner in this effort, and together we can establish and advance the level of evidence for this program. The potential for program replication and scalability has tremendous funder appeal, which we will also make clear in our discussions and in our full proposal.

While this scenario is not a guarantee of a grant, it is nonetheless a success story because it underscores the importance of a strategic approach to grantseeking. The time and effort expended in thoughtful prospecting and program development goes a long way. Those efforts can only be of benefit in making friends in the funding sphere, and ultimately finding the dollars needed to make a difference.

Turning a denied grant request into a relationship

I encourage nonprofits to consider a denied foundation grant as a beginning, not an end. Often the first try is an introduction, and it can take a few separate asks before getting to “yes”.


It’s perfectly reasonable to request follow-up communication with foundation program staff. As the grant seeker, you have the right to ask questions and get more information. This process can be extremely valuable for two reasons: first, it more personally introduces your organization and its work to the potential funder, and second because it allows you to reframe a future grant request to be more closely aligned with the funder’s giving priorities.


Reach out to the foundation and thank them for reviewing your grant request. Then, ask if they would be available for a brief phone call to discuss how you might partner in the future. During that call, ask for specific feedback and guidance about how you can better position your next grant request. This may include a different program or population focus, more discussion about your organization’s work and planned programming, or a discussion of the unique needs of your service area and innovative solutions the foundation would want to support.


My best advice: don’t be shy. Too often grant seekers take rejection to heart and either take the prospect off the list or resubmit an identical request in a future grant cycle. Not following up is a missed opportunity to build strategic partnerships with funders. If nothing else, there’s certainly no harm in asking: “how can we do better?” Make it an organizational practice, and see how things might change.

Nonprofits, show your supporters the love. Please!

There’s an old rule that’s simple and true: mind your manners. When my kids are headed out the door to spend time at a friend’s I remind them to say please and thank you. Perhaps we all need a reminder every once in a while.

It should be standard practice for nonprofits to not only thank their supporters (volunteers, donors, etc.), but to also keep them informed of their work. Here’s an example of what not to do. Last summer, a well known and fairly large environmental organization sent canvassers to my door. I politely listened to the pitch, gave $25, and never heard back from them again. No thank you note, and not a word about what my support went towards. Guess who won’t be getting my support again?

There’s something to be learned here. Bad manners is bad business. Nonprofits: it’s worth the tiny bit of extra time and effort to add donors to the mailing list, pay proper respects by saying “thank you”, and keep those donors informed of the good works your organization is doing. If donors only hear from you when you need money, or worse yet, never hear from you at all, it’s safe to assume you will quickly lose that support.

In the spirit of good manners, I wish you all the best in building long term, mutually satisfying relationships with your organization’s supporters. And THANK YOU for reading this post!Image

Calling all nonprofit professionals

The Grant Professionals Association (GPA) is actively seeking contributions to our peer reviewed Journal. Contributors need not be GPA members.

 Contributing scholarly topics in the grants field is a great way to share information, stay abreast of developments in our profession, and increase the rigor of our peer-reviewed publication as an industry standard of excellence. With over 1,800 current members internationally, publishing in the Journal also provides many opportunities to showcase our membership skills and subject matter expertise.

Our priorities are articles that address new ideas in our field, contribute research-based information, provide a case study or best practices, and examine any of the competencies and skills described in the GPA Table of Validated Competencies and Skills.

Submissions are welcomed on a rolling basis throughout the year. As a first step, prospective authors should submit a 100-300 word summary of the proposed manuscript.

Please submit your contributions and any questions via email to

 Thank you for helping us make the GPA Journal a great resource for all grant and nonprofit professionals.

Frontier Community Health Integration Project Demonstration

The CMS Frontier Community Health Integration Project Demonstration aims to develop and test new models of integrated, coordinated health care in the most sparsely-populated rural counties with the goal of improving health outcomes and reducing Medicare expenditures.

Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) serve as the hubs for healthcare activities in frontier areas, but they often serve few inpatients. In this Demonstration, CMS expects CAHs to increase access to services that are often unavailable in frontier communities with the goal of avoiding expensive transfers to hospitals in larger communities. CMS will evaluate whether providing these services in frontier communities can improve the quality of care received by Medicare beneficiaries, increase patient satisfaction, and reduce Medicare expenditures.

The program is limited to CAHs in Alaska, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Wyoming. Applications are due no later than 5PM ET, May 5, 2014.