Archive for Federal Proposals


Slow Grants

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I have been grant writing for 20 years and raised over $60 million and yet I just did something for the very first time that I didn’t think was possible. I wrote a grant proposal at a leisurely pace over the course of a year. So, I thought I’d share with you about the lessons that I learned from the experience.

About a year ago, I got a phone call from the Director of a Ronald E. McNair program – it’s part of the Dept of Education’s TRIO suite that includes Upward Bound and Talent Search. I have successfully written several of these and they are HIGHLY HIGHLY competitive. He had not been involved in writing the initial proposal and so asked if I would mentor him through the process of resubmission.

Now, like most grantwriters I am used to working to tight deadlines and putting something together in a matter of weeks and, on rare occasion, days. I had never had the opportunity to write a proposal over the course of a year.

These were my hesitations

  1. The final RFP would change things significantly and make the pre-work moot.
  2. I would end up tweaking and twiddling with it and spend way more time than necessary on the proposal.
  3. That I would lose my train of thought while working on it in bite-sized chunks.

None of these hesitations were warranted

  1. RFP changes: Unlike other federal programs, the grant proposal guidelines for the TRIO programs are written in the authorizing legislation. This means that while the program officers can adjust the competitive preference priorities and page length, the basic structure of the proposals is set. They published the draft guidelines in the Federal Register a couple of months before the real ones so we had a good sense of what was probably coming. This year, they made a couple of big changes in the line spacing and added a new section worth 5 points. But, by and large, the format and content remained similar to previous years.
  2. Endless Tweaking: I found that it took about the same amount of time to complete the draft as usual even though I was spending a few hours a week on it versus being consumed by it for a solid month. I did notice that I ended up with 17 drafts (versus the usual 12) but that just meant we had a more polished product in the end.
  3. Losing Track: This was not really a problem at all – in fact, in some cases it worked to my advantage. I had to pull up a LOT of statistics for the needs section. Because we had so much time, I could ask the data guru’s at the institution that I was contracting with to pull up precise data and give them several months to do it. So, I ended up with up-to-date information that was highly detailed.

In other instances, when something was being laborious or not working well, I could just walk away and come back to it the next week – and by that time it just flowed. There was no need to push or stretch myself or anyone else.

This is what I discovered

It is totally possible to write a grant proposal at a leisurely pace and keep coming back to it. In fact, it was highly pleasurable and resulted in a refined product.

The caveat is that not all programs are so static – but many are and yet we don’t take advantage of that.

We are trained by school and college to cram and pull all-nighters and we take this habit into grant writing because the RFPs usually have a 6 week response window. But, in truth, when we step back it is often possible to know 80-90% of what is coming and we can prepare a lot in advance.

I am a convert to Slow Grants – and I encourage you to try it too if the opportunity should arise.

What if I were a Gift I gave to the world each
and every day?

What if the receiver experienced Forgiveness in
the presence of my gift?

What if emotional and physical Healing
happened as I was handed to a new recipient?

What if I received in return what I gave?

What gifts will I give today?

Source: Seven Stones Leadership Daily Sufficiency


Tis the season, and we have gifts for you in this installment of our LINKY Party! I don’t usually gush but my friends have really spilled the beans here and shared some truly valuable planning and design tools – that are the amalgamation of years of experience – so definitely check them out.

These five incredibly useful tools that will help you develop more compelling and competitive grant proposals. If this gift seems like a boring pair of socks to you, remain patient, we all use these tools to run successful grant writing businesses – they work and will save you time and make you more effective and efficient – so you have more time to enjoy the joys of life.

From Jo Miller: A Social Media Template – Strategy and Planning

From Heather Stombaugh: A Grant Decision-Making Matrix

From Diane Leonard: Two Grant Readiness Tools for new and seasoned organizations

From Mark Whitacre: A Grant Alignment System Spreadsheet/Process

From me, Jana: How much to charge for grant writing contracts tool

How to figure out how much to charge for grant writing contracts

One of the questions that I get asked the most is how much to charge for grant writing. It’s always a little tricky to answer because the Sarbanes-Oxley Act precludes discussion of rates in order to stop price fixing…which we can all agree is never a pretty thing.

Having said that, I have learned a few things when negotiating contracts that have served me well over the years and I’d like to share those with you.

Number One: Figuring out how long a grant will take you to write

The first step here is to see who how long it takes you to write a grant application. I have collaborated with other grant writers over the years and found that it can vary quite a bit. So, if you are just starting out as a consultant, I recommend that you carefully track your hours to get a sense of how long things take you. On the scale of things, I am very fast, partly by nature and partly because I have been writing grants for 20 years so I’m just much more efficient.

Foundation Grants

For simple foundation grants I calculate a minimum of 15 hours and more typically in the 25-30 hour range. But, please track your own hours and find out what is true for you.


Government Grants

Government grants are a whole different kettle of fish. Diane Gideon Martin generously shared with me her formula for calculating how long it takes to write a state or federal grant and I have found it to be remarkably accurate. Her formula

“for calculating the time it will take me to complete the entire grant application. I’ve found that 2 hours per double-spaced page allows me to complete the narrative, abstract, all SF 424 forms, work with the client on the budget, edit the budget narrative, create attachments (MOUs/MOAs, logic model, bio sketches,etc.), and any other tasks necessary to get the application ready to go.”

I have tried this out for several years and it works like a charm for me.


Number Two: Know who you are working with

The biggest key determinant in how a grant process goes along is how easy a client is to work with. These days everyone is busy and getting a grant prepared often takes a lot of extra work on many people’s behalves. Everyone starts out with good intentions but along the way you may end up doing a lot more work than you bargained for.

Number Three: Good fences make good neighbors

Given that, whenever I am working with a brand new client I will increase my initial quote by 20% and tell them that it is high because they are an unknown entity. I tell them that if they are responsive, helpful, and provide what I need on time, then the process will do smoothly and I will not charge them the full estimate. However, if they aren’t then I have a cushion and don’t feel resentment if things go awry.

When I do charge on an hourly basis, I have a sentence in my contract that says the client shall deliver requested materials within 24 hours of my request. If the client fails to deliver the requested materials within that time, my recorded hours will be multiplied by 1.5.

I also tell clients that I do not work on weekends and that I do not work in the evenings…and I don’t.

Now, these might sound a little hardball to you, but I can only do my best work when my needs are taken care of. And when I do my best work, I take care of the needs of many people in our communities. So, all of these conditions make for really happy client relationships for me and by extension the people that I serve through my work.

On several occasions, I have not charged a new client my full initial estimate because they were easy and fun to work with and their team was responsive and professional. And on a couple of occasions, I was really, really glad that I had built in a cushion.

Only once, have I actually charged extra on an hourly contract when a client wasn’t responsive – they didn’t object because they knew that they had let the ball drop and that I had picked it up and run anyway. I also did tell them that they could expect a higher bill so that it wasn’t a surprise.

And, on the issue of working evenings and weekends, I have found clients to be remarkably respectful. Only on a couple of occasions has someone asked me to work on the weekend and they have done so with the acknowledgement that it was in extraordinary circumstances (severe illness and a family’s member’s death in the team) and so I was happy to accommodate them.

I hope that these practices and tools are useful to you in developing healthy, harmonious and respectful relationships with your clients in 2015.



As always, my book is always available on a gift basis.

And, I’m also offering 30 minute introductory session with me for people who are interesting in Grant Coaching. Don’t worry  it is not a sales pitch – it is an opportunity for me to answer your questions and to get to know each other.

And finally, if you are looking for the perfect experiential gift for the person who has everything, consider giving an Insight Session with me. I’ve just been doing some interviews with clients and a couple of words keep cropping up – mind-blowing and life-changing.  One person said

I am a social scientist with an Ivy league Ph.D. and a skeptic at heart.
My session with Jana was mind-blowing. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind as to her abilities.
It was one of the most healing, joyful hours of my life.

If you’re intrigued check it out.

Please pass along the 2014 Grant Professionals Gifts to anyone who could find value from this post and the other posts in Link Party.

I wish you all a warm and joyous season of giving and receiving!




A couple of months ago, I let you know that I had space in my calendar for a new client and I had a really interesting project turn up that I wanted to tell you about.

I got a call from a lovely lady, let’s call her Shana, who works in a low income community that often ranks the lowest in the state for many health indicators. The community has a remarkably strong history of collaboration and as a result there is an active and strong coalition of non-profits who are working together to improve the health and well-being of the community.  They have great programs, trusting relationships, vision and passion. They have won a couple of large foundation grants but have scored a couple of points shy of the cut-off on several key government grants. Read More→

Recently, someone asked me to review a couple of their grants that were almost, but not quite, funded. I took a look and sure enough they were well-written but there were a few tweaks that could really help them stand above the crowd. The first one being….space. Read More→

In order to become a certified grant professional, people have to demonstrate my competency in 8 areas as defined by the Grant Professionals Certification Institute.  These eight competencies are critical to the work we do. Five GPC’s have written a series of short articles about the competencies to coincide with weekly grantchats on each one on twitter. The links to the articles are below:

1: Effective Grant Applications by Diane Leonard

2: Program & Project Design & Development – Jo Miller

3: Funding Resources  – Diane Leonard

4: Organization Development – Jo Miller

5: Ethical Practices – Heather Strombaugh

6: Grant Management – Jana Hexter

7: Cultivate & Maintain Relationships – Mark Whitacre

8: Raise the Level of Professionalism – Heather Strombaugh Read More→