Grant Writing 101 Part Two

Almost any grant, from the most complicated government grant application package to the simplest query letter sent to a private foundation, follows the same basic formula composed of six components or steps. These are: 1) the Problem or Need to be addressed; 2) Program Goals; 3) Measurable Objectives; 4) Methodology or description of the program proposed to achieve the objectives; 5) Evaluation; and 6) Budget, which may also include a budget narrative. Each of these components flows one to the next in a logical progression that should allow a grant reviewer to easily understand the problem or need in the community that you propose to address, what the program intends to achieve, how it will achieve it, how you intend to evaluate the success of the program, and what it will cost. So let’s look at each of these components more closely.

Problem or Need: Every human service program from support of the arts to establishing a t-ball league to shelter for the homeless and everything in between starts with a problem or need that the program intends to attempt to solve in whole or part. The problem statement is a crucial element of any proposal, because it both sets the tone and established the context in which every other component fits. The better a grant reviewer understands the need to be addressed, the better he or she will the reason and flow of all the other components of your proposal.

What is the problem you are proposing to address? Be as specific as possible Who is affected? How many are there? What is the impact of the problem on their lives? Use concrete statistics and demographic information as much as possible, and be sure this information is specific to your target area. If you propose to address homelessness in your city but can only cite national or state-wide demographics, you are not really describing the scope of the problem in your target area. Of course, it is always helpful to use national or state-wide information to put the local problem into perspective. Again, if you are addressing homelessness, and you can cite that on average in metropolitan areas of your state one in every 100 people is homeless, while in your city it is three in every 100, you dramatically demonstrated the urgency of the need in your target area.

In terms of who is affected, what is the estimated number of homeless on the streets of your city at anyone time. How many are families? How many are women and/or women with children. Again, be as specific as possible. And, finally, describe the impact of the problem on the lives of those affected. For example, show the impact of homelessness on the education of homeless children, or provide the statistics on the percentage of homeless children who become involved in crime later in life, or show the suicide rate among homeless women.

Goals: Goals are broad statements of purpose which do not involve specific numbers. However, you should always establish goals which are achievable within the context of the resources available. Sticking with the problem of homelessness, no grant is going to be sufficient for the goal of reducing homelessness in the world, and most likely not even in your city. However, establishing a goal to reduce homelessness in the down town corridor of your city among homeless women with children is an example of a goal which is perhaps achievable with the resources you are requesting from the funding source. And in the process, you have established your specific target area and target population, which will be important when setting measurable objectives for the program.

Objectives: Objectives are specific, quantifiable and achievable plans intended to show how the proposed program will accomplish the stated goals of the program and to provide a rational for each of the proposed activities of the program. The key word is “achievable” given the resources you are requesting from the funding source. They provide the basis for evaluation of the program’s success.

A separate objective with specific numbers or outcomes to be achieved must be developed for each of the activities of the proposed program. Sticking with the program for homeless women and children, activities might include Outreach, Intake and Assessment of Need, Counseling, Referral for Services to other agencies such as Drug Rehab, Respite Childcare, Nutrition Services, Placement in Transitional Housing, Job Search/Placement Assistance, etc. A program might include some, all or more of these services. The point is that for each and every activity you do propose, you must develop specific objectives regarding the number of participants and the number of successful outcomes (which you must define.) For example, you may propose make contact with at least 300 people in your Outreach component, of whom 180 (60%) will subsequently seek services from your program (successful outcome.) For Intake and Assessment, the 180 who seek services becomes your number of participants, of whom 135 (75%) are enrolled in the program (successful outcome.) This process would continue for each of the proposed activities.

Objectives, of course, are always developed in coordination with program management. But there is another factor that in some circumstances will form the basis for your numbers. Funding sources, particularly government ones, issues requests for proposals (RFP) that specify the types of activities allowed with the funding and include what are called “costs-per.” In other words, given that the RFP allows all of the activities listed above, the funding sources may set a maximum cost per participant and cost per positive outcome for both the program as a whole and for each individual activity. These maximum costs-per determine the minimum number participants/outcomes you propose. For example, the RFP may provide for a total of $300,000 with a maximum cost per participant of $2,500. This means the minimum number of participants you can propose is 120. The 135 you propose to service exceeds the required minimum and so makes the program more attractive.

Methodology: This is the detailed description of your proposed program design. Again, this is something that would be designed by the agency staff, unless you are a Program Developer in addition to being the Grant Writer. Either way, it’s a pretty straight forward section. Obviously, you describe the structure of the program, including staffing, office location(s), administration, etc. Include a clear description of each component as outlined in the Objectives section, indicating how the service(s) will be provided, outcomes achieved, and how the component will coordinate with the other components of the program. Remember that just as the Objectives section flow out of the Goals, Methodology flows out of the Objectives. Each component of the program design must relate to a stated objectives, and the description of the component must demonstrate how it will achieve the objective(s) and related outcomes(s).

Evaluation: The basis for evaluation of the success of a program is contained in the Objectives. Obviously, a successful program is one that achieves its stated objectives and outcomes. However, since any plan is really a best guess, most funding sources allow a leeway of +/- 10%-15%. If the program is under achieving by more that 15% from plan during the course of the program, a corrective action plan is called for. If the program is over achieving by more than 15%, the funding source may feel that you have under stated your objectives and require a revised plan to more accurately reflect what the program can and should accomplish.

The Evaluation portion of your proposal should at a minimum accurately describe what data will be collected, the record system used to maintain that data, who will be responsible for reporting the data, how frequently the reporting will be done, and what the process will be for developing corrective action plan(s), if required.

Budget and Budget Narrative: Grant Writers, particularly those who are freelance, usually do not have a lot of responsibility for budget development. This usually done by agency staff who project the number and types of staff needed and have already established salary rates and benefit packages for those staff. Other direct costs for things like equipment, space requirements, utility costs, etc. are based on staffing and the proposed activities of the program. There are, however, two budget concerns for the Grant Writer. The first is Administration Costs. These are costs that are not directly related to providing the activities/services of the proposed program and include such items as the Executive Director’s time managing the grant. Accounting services, Personnel, etc. and costs associated with these items. Funding sources normally set a maximum limit of 10%-15% of a grant as the amount that can spent on Administration. You will be required to make certain that the proposed budget does not exceed this limit.

Administrative costs can be handled in two ways. They can be direct charged to the grant based on the amount of time the various administrative function directly spend on the program, and this will require verification, such as time studies. For example, if a time study shows the Executive Director spends on average two hours a day out of an eight-hour day directly managing the program, then 25% of percent of his/her time can be directly charged to the program. The second way administrative costs is through an Approved Indirect Administration Rate. Large agencies, usually with multiple funding sources, often go through an involved process with a major funding source, such as United Way or the U.S. Department of Labor, etc. It is not part of the purposes of this discussion to go into how an Indirect Rate is negotiated. Just be aware that if an agency has such an approved rate, use it. If not, you will need to justify direct charging administrative costs to the grant.

The second concern for the grant writer is addressing the “cost pers” set by the funding source. These were discussed above, and they are generally taken into account by agency staff when they set the program Objectives and design the mix of program activities. However, the Grant Writer has the ultimate responsibility to insuring that after all the numbers are crunched the minimum requirements are met or exceeded.

The budget, of course, is just numbers, often detailed on forms supplied by the funding source as part of their RFP package. The Budget Narrative details the how and whys of the numbers proposed, and it deals with such things as how administrative costs are charged, justification for staffing, how the required cost-pers were achieved, etc. This is where you would address the Indirect Administration rate, if applicable, or discuss matching funds. Matching funds are monies, equipment, staff time, etc. which the agency brings to the program and which would otherwise be a cost to the proposed grant. Basically, the Budget Narrative is intended to provide a clear understanding on the part of the grant reviewer of the rational for the numbers proposed in the Budget.

This article is intended to demonstrate the basic flow and structure used almost universally in grant applications. It is obviously not an exhaustive discussion of the subject, but it hopefully shows that grant writing is within the scope of many freelance writers. Additional information is available. Many local community colleges and other education institutions provide classes or even certificate programs in grant writing and funding development. If interested, I encourage you to explore these sources.

Patrick is a 20 year veteran of the freelancing industry, specializing in grants, fund-raising and writing.

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