It could just be that we’re in the throes of our own version of March Madness, but it’s a particularly hilarious time at TGP. Thankfully, humor is one of our values and grace under pressure is one of our behaviors. This might just be a cathartic experience for me, but I thought maybe you all would enjoy hearing about (and empathizing with?) the daily lives of grant writers.
We love our funders. We do! We love them. We love their obvious love for our clients. We love their ideas. We love their connections to others working in the same realm. We love their commitment to our community. We love their ability to fund critical projects in our community. We love them! We have great relationships with funders, especially our local foundation and corporate funders.
But if we were funders, we would do it just a little differently. Here are a few true-story pain points, some of them even illustrated.
There are some basic tenets that we’d avoid. If TGP were a funder, we would NOT:
- Be closed on the day of the deadline.
- Have no single representative in the office at any given time on the day of the deadline when responses must be hand-delivered and signed for.
- Forget to tell people that the office is closed from 11-1 for lunch on the day of the deadline for hard copy responses that need to be time-stamped by 3PM.
- Require 8 hard copies in binders with tabs. And we would not require separate binders for technical and cost proposals. This week we submitted 20 binders for one organization to respond to a single RFP. We had to use a hand truck to deliver the boxes. For reals!
- Issue RFPs that are longer than its own page limits for the applicant’s response.
- Insist on the onerous process of subdividing program budgets when the grant period and fiscal years don’t align.
- Require third-party organizations from the applicant to submit references directly to the funder for each RFP that funder issues (rather than utilizing the same references over the course of a year, for example).
- Use technology for technology’s sake – “cool” IT means hidden questions and pop-up windows.
- Along the lines of IT, we also wouldn’t use an IT system that our help desk doesn’t understand and have to escalate issues to the developer.
- Require an MOU with the public school district in order to be approved for funding without talking to the district about the requirement, making the district scramble to provide letters of commitment (because of course they won’t sign an MOU for an un-funded project, especially one that needs to be routed through legal, which takes longer than the application period is open).
Here’s what we WOULD do:
- We would have a clear and well-thought-out application that did not include redundant questions and had reasonable length limits.
- Have an open format, not limiting the words within each area, but rather providing a page/word limit for the document overall. Essentially, one larger box instead of lots of little ones.
- Be clear what areas you’re actually interested in, rather than wasting my time and yours. On a portfolio view, know what we are trying to do accomplish.
- Stick to our own deadlines (we emailed a state office to ask about an RFP’s FAQs – they were supposed to come out 3/10 and were not yet posted as of 3/15… time’s a-wastin’) (Response: “We do our best to adhere to the time lines within the RFP, however, there are times when delays occur. We anticipate the Q & A response will be posted by 5:00pm today.” – This is from the same state agency that won’t accept a proposal 1 minute after the deadline and that will toss out an entire application if one form is missing, even though people’s lives are literally on the line because of the services that our clients provide.)
- Provide scoring and review information.
- Provide accurate preview forms.
- Have the amount of work involved in the application make sense in terms of scale to the average grant award size.
Cheeseburgers are what TGP calls answered questions that don’t actually answer the question at hand. It comes from a true story of asking important questions in order to craft a proposal, but then we get a response that doesn’t *quite answer the question, or the answer could go either way. Here’s some examples:
- FAQ #5. I have a question regarding the Personnel Services Budget form. If we are not asking for funding for salaries and staff, may I write ‘not applicable’ on the form or do I need to complete it?
- Response: Yes.
- Nomination question: What is the timeframe to submit nominations? The breakfast is in December, but the website doesn’t say when nominations close.
- Response: Go ahead, it’s open to submit now.
- FAQ #18: Is the rate of $17.42/hour the same whether services are individual or group based?
- Response: The rate of $17.42 per hour is for direct service to the identified clients.
- FAQ #16: Does the travel/transportation line item on the budget include mileage?
- Response: Travel will be billed in unit rates in 15 minute increments for travel related to the Scope of Work.
Note: Cheeseburgers are not limited to funders. We have clients who use them and even internally, we confess to using cheeseburgers ourselves on occasion.
- Question: For supplies, do you have a listing of needs or can you let me know the types of tools and supplies?
- Answer: The construction of the project has increased $15,000.
- Question: Just checking in on this to be sure you have someone able to attend the conference tomorrow. Also, what did you think of the SAMHSA opportunity I sent a couple weeks ago?
- Answer: Cheryl is attending tomorrow’s conference.
We have had so many Cheeseburger responses that we ordered shirts for our team that said, I Love Cheeseburgers (note that much of our team does not actually like cheeseburgers in their conventional form, and/or are vegan/vegetarian/flexitarian). Perhaps luckily, the shirts turned out to be remarkably small, even for non-cheeseburger-eaters. At least two of ours are now on our daughters. Here’s Erin’s incredibly cute daughters wearing the cheeseburger shirts.
Here are my actual Easter eggs from last year. These are not what I’m talking about in TGP. Easter Eggs are hidden items (inside jokes on the part of the funder?), usually in online grant applications, that we don’t know are there until we are in the thick of applying.
These are actual quotes from our rock stars. See if you can find the Easter eggs (a hunt!).
“That was a doozy since I didn’t test answers and the instructions said 200-word limit – it was actually 1,400 characters except for one answer, which was 200 characters. Crazy! It doesn’t count down characters or anything – it just surprises you after you input an answer to say you’re over the character limit.”
“Organization Mission Statement limit for this response is 75 words. I’d tested one and not gotten push back, and no limit indicated on field in online/template. Rework your magic as necessary for your assignment, ladies…. Their word-count counts hyphenated words as two words, not one like Word does. So if you are up against the word limit AND you are hyphenating words, you will have to carefully extract…”
“…I set up a TGP account and there are a couple Easter Eggs – a narrative response of 100 words compared to 250 indicated in RFP; as well as a shorter set of questions for Section 4.3. There are likely more…”
Fun TGP tidbit. We are professional grant-writers and had a message string of sixty-two (62!) clarifying messages on our system for our local United Way’s online application process. These messages are in addition to any client-specific questions. My favorite thing about this message string is that it starts with creating a template of the online application, which contains several Easter Eggs (the best one is the bonus one at the end asking the date of the board meeting in which this application was approved), FAQs that offer Cheeseburgers (including one message that ends with #Curlingintofetalposition) and concludes (sort of) with message 50 in which we start scheduling happy hour. Due to the presentations, the string just opened back up and will surely contain some more delight. Here’s our U-Dub happy hour pic.
Where does this leave us?
Frankly, with job security, as our clients hire us to navigate these processes. But that’s not the long-term solution. We are in the process of creating a nonprofit division called The Grants Collective, which will be focused on talent development among grant seekers as well as a cooperative network that creates efficiencies using some of the tricks we’ve learned to overcome Cheeseburgers and Easter Eggs.
We have also counseled a couple funders on their grant-making processes (our favorite case-in-point is a re-work of the Coalition for Literacy’s online application). Shout-out to other funders who have sought assistance with their grantmaking systems and procedures – unfortunately some of these are in the state procurement world, so the likelihood of change for the better is on the low side.
The good thing about Cheeseburgers and Easter Eggs is that they make for some great fodder when we need to find humor in the face of frustration. They also enable us to use one of our favorite phrases… Thith ith hard. Its origin dates back to one of the great sitcoms, Will & Grace, circa 2000. Here’s the gag reel.
Here’s a few Thiths from a search of our online project management system.
When I searched our project management system for Cheeseburgers, Easter Eggs, and Thith ith hard while writing this article, I laughed out loud several times (and cringed). It can be tricky business to get all the details right to meet a grant deadline. Luckily, we have a team that isn’t afraid of hard work or of laughing it off. Thanks for letting TGP come along and join the fun!
Now, for some basketball.
Contact: Tara Gohr, President/CEO, firstname.lastname@example.org
 We don’t get funded by funders, but play a critical role in the funding process. We are an S-Corp (for profit) and are paid fee for service. A shout out to our fave funders that have a straightforward application process!
This post was filed under: Grant Writing