Compassion Capital Fund Acquiring Public Grants: Part II Formatting the Application Writing to the Reviewer Grant Award Process Partnering with Washington
Formatting the Application Suppose you have read a Federal RFP several times, highlighted key points, made copious notes, etc. Now you are ready to write the body of the application, normally called the Narrative or Project Description, and the Budget. How do you go about this?
Formatting the Application Every Federal RFP for grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts is supposed to include the precise Evaluation Criteria (also called Selection Criteria) used by the reviewers. The reviewers’ scoring sheets are normally taken directly from the Evaluation Criteria in the RFP.
Formatting the Application Your application narrative should: • Include all required information; • Put that information in the same order as in the reviewers’ scoring sheets (or computer program); and • Use the same terminology or wording as the RFP and scoring sheets. Following these rules will keep your reviewers happy!
Formatting the Application The Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) Targeted-Capacity Building grant (the “mini-grant”) provides an example of how to apply these rules. The RFP is in the Federal Register, Vol. 70, No. 82, April 29, 2005, pp. 22322-31, or http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ccf/apply/announcements.html Tab 9 in workshop notebook.
Formatting the Application Regarding the first rule: “The project description should include all the information requirements described in the specific evaluation criteria under Section V” (22325). Note: the RFP uses the term “project description” eight times without defining it.
Formatting the Application Regarding the second rule about following the same order as the RFP: “Evaluation Criteria . . . Applicants need not develop their applications precisely according to the order presented” (22329). But . . . Not following the RFP’s order increases the likelihood that reviewers will miss something and/or get annoyed with you. . . . So follow the RFP’s order!!!
Formatting the Application Now go to pp. 22327-30: V. Application Review Information 1. Criteria (22327), followed by 5 sections. Evaluation Criteria (22329), followed by the same 5 sections but in a different order.
Formatting the Application The “1. Criteria” come from ACF’s generic Uniform Project Description and are found in all ACF RFPs. They are simply background information, of which the Budget part is most useful. The “Evaluation Criteria” pertain to this particular grant, and the reviewers’ score sheets follow their order of sections and items within each section. So go with the Evaluation Criteria:
Formatting the Application Evaluation Criteria Objectives and Need for Assistance Approach Organizational Profiles Results or Benefits Expected Budget and Budget Justification
Formatting the Application Note the sections, subsections, and requirements within subsections: (b) Needs of Service Area (5 Points): An application will be evaluated on the extent to which the applicant describes the specific needs of the targeted service area; documents that the proposed project will be implemented in a distressed community and/or engages organizations that serve low-income populations; and documents that the project addresses a vital need in a distressed community.
Formatting the Application You could extract the requirements from a hard copy of the RFP, and then type them onto a Word document, but there’s an easier, mechanical way to do this. Go to the website on slide 5 and click on “View the text” (not “View the pdf”) for the April 29 Targeted Capacity-Building announcement.
Formatting the Application Step 1. Copy the full text of the Evaluation Criteria from pages 22329-30 onto a blank document (pp. 1-3 of handout). Step 2. Edit by changing to a font allowed by the RFP (12 pt. Times New Roman or Arial), deleting heading material, adding lines before and after section headings, and getting rid of hard returns at the ends of lines (see pp. 4-6 of handout).
Formatting the Application Step 3. Continue editing as shown on p. 4 of the handout to the final results on pp. 7-8: change each requirement to start with an action verb, delete unnecessary text, and put text in bullet form. Example: change “An application will be evaluated on the extent to which the applicant identifies the specific service area” to “Identify the specific service area.”
Formatting the Application Now consider the bullet list on pp. 7-8 of the handout, which: • Includes all required information; • Puts that information in the same order as in the reviewers’ scoring sheets (or computer program); and • Uses the same wording or terminology as the scoring sheets.
Formatting the Application Step 4. Copy the bulleted list onto a fresh document and edit it into your application narrative, as shown on pp. 9-10 of the handout. Get rid of the point values; change the requirement statements into the opening sentences of paragraphs; and add emphasis through outlining, bulleting, bolding or underlining, etc.
Formatting the Application The bullets and emphasis in the handout’s example on pp. 9-10 may seem a bit heavy-handed. But when each hypothetical opening sentence is expanded into a full paragraph, the value of the bullets and underlining should become apparent.
Formatting the Application The outlined, bulleted, bolded, and underlined format in the previous slide makes it as easy as possible for reviewers to see that your narrative exactly matches their scoring sheets. It encourages reviewers to skim. Moreover, it puts in their minds that you start out with the maximum points for each section. As for the alternative . . .
Formatting the Application If you follow each section heading (Objectives, Approach, etc.) with one or more plain paragraphs, without any emphasis to make the key points stand out, and without sticking to the same order as the RFP, then you start out in the reviewers’ minds with 0 points. Which approach is better???
Formatting the Application You will end up with a higher score if reviewers can see in your text the full and correct organization of each section and then subtract a few points if you didn’t get everything right, rather than if the reviewers have to dig out the information they’re looking for piece by piece.
Formatting the Application Finding the specific format or evaluation criteria or selection criteria may not be easy. ACF RFPs are a bit confusing by giving the generic criteria, followed by the specific evaluation criteria in a different order. Other RFPs may require you to follow links to several sites to assemble the criteria. But keep looking for the specific criteria until you find them.
Writing to the Reviewer Regarding the third rule above, about following the RFP’s terminology: if the RFP says “American Indians,” don’t say “Native Americans.” If the RFP says to state your “goals and objectives,” don’t give them your “aims and outcomes.” These terms may have different meanings that you’re not aware of, and/or they may simply confuse or annoy the reviewers.
Writing to the Reviewer Address each requirement directly and stick to the point. Reviewers are instructed to consider only the published evaluation criteria in scoring. Otherwise the competition would be unfair.
Writing to the Reviewer Also think about how well your responses to each requirement mesh with each other, as well as how well the sections fit together. Reviewers are told to consider whether “the activities outlined in different sections of the application are consistent with each other.”
Writing to the Reviewer So try to maintain consistency or parallelism from section to section. For instance, the mini-grant RFP asks for your objectives in the Objectives section, your activities in the Approach section, and your results related to objectives and activities in the Results or Benefits Expected section. . .
Writing to the Reviewer So make sure your objectives and activities stay the same in each section, in the same order, and in the same words. Try to align objectives, activities, and results with each other, so that, for example, three objectives are addressed by three activities, leading to three results.
Writing to the Reviewer Reviewers are usually not told to score on the basis of spelling, grammar, and punctuation (though all of those could affect their judgment calls), but they are asked: Are the applicant’s intentions clear and specific, not obscured by meaningless jargon? Do the presented ideas flow logically?
Writing to the Reviewer Reviewers are practitioners in the topic addressed by the RFP and are asked: Are the activities proposed by the applicant consistent with current and accepted knowledge and ideas? (More on this matter in the class on Promising Practices)
Writing to the Reviewer The process described above is meant to harmonize your application with the reviewers’ scoring process and materials. Remember that you’re writing for them. IYD has found that federal grant reviewers’ “weakness” comments on applications are keyed precisely to the RFP requirements as shown on pp. 7-8 of the handout.
Writing to the Reviewer Some people feel that writing to a rigid format stifles their creativity. But keep in mind that Shakespeare’s Sonnets follow an even stricter format, and no one complains about his lack of originality.
Grant Award Process Reviewers are usually directed not to concern themselves about the technicalities of budgets, eligibility, and suchlike issues. These factors are examined after the review panels have completed their work of scoring the applications.
Grant Award Process Review and selection after the scoring panels involves: • Program management staff. • Grants management staff. • Final selection. Applied to applicants with review panels scores above a certain cutoff (such as, all who score 80 or higher).
Grant Award Process Program Management Staff considers such things as: • Eligibility criteria. • Bonus point criteria. • Statistics used in the application. • Inappropriate religious activities. • Civil rights issues. • Other technical issues in the RFP or Federal law and policy.
Grant Award Process Grants Management Staff looks at your budget and its individual items to see that they agree with the narrative and are: • Necessary. • Allowable. • Reasonable. • Allocable. (Discussed in detail in a later class.)
Grant Award Process The programmatic and grants management reviews can produce several negative consequences: • Disqualification. • Elimination of selected budget items and/or activities. • A “minus sign” or “question mark” on your application.
Grant Award Process Final selection of grantees is in the Secretary or Director’s name, though actually done at a lower level. Considerations: • Scores from the review panels. • Geographical and other forms of diversity. • “Minus signs” from program and budget staff.
Acquiring Public Grants II Conclusion Remember that the federal agency doesn’t see you, your staff, volunteers, Board, your program, or your clients. The federal agency examines your application!!!
Partnering with the Federal Government or Faith and Funding
Three Commandments Federal funds may not support any “inherently religious” activity. Religious activities should be kept separate – in time or location – from secular activities. Religious participation or nonparticipation may not affect services provided.
Faith & Funding The government can fund faith-based organizations. However, No government money for “inherently religious” activity No religious worship, prayer, instruction, or evangelization with the Federal dollars … But faith-based organizations can still conduct these activities with private funds
Faith & Funding • Cost-sharing funds are not private funds (Note that on the SF 424A, “Budget Information,” Federal and non-Federal funds are listed separately in Section A, “Budget Summary,” but are lumped together in Section B, “Budget Categories.”)
Faith & Funding • Is government funding right for you? • Can religious and non-religious elements of the program be separated?
Faith & Funding • To keep religious activities separate: • Maintain focus of non-religious topics • Separate time or location of religious activities and government-funded services • Be scrupulous in maintaining accounts
Faith & Funding • Voluntary Participation Program participants may be invited to join religious services or events … BUT participation must be optional and have no bearing on services delivered.
Faith & Funding • Keeping the “Faith” in Faith-based: • Religious symbols • Religious names • Board members • Mission statement • Religious activities – as long as they are privately funded and separate
Faith & Funding • Q: Can an organization receiving CCF Funds choose to provide services only to members of its own faith? • A: No. Services must be provided to all who are eligible, subject to your capacity.
Faith & Funding • Q: What about religious activities with staff or volunteers in the presence of those they serve? • A: Staff and volunteers may engage in religious activities so long as participation for program recipients is voluntary AND during a time when staff is not being compensated with government funds.
Faith & Funding • Q: Can CCF funds pay staff salaries? • A:As long as the staffer’s time is spent on program activities and not ministry. If a staffer’s time is split between program and church activities, keep careful and accurate records.
Faith & Funding • Q: Can CCF funds buy religious materials? • A: No. This applies not only to Bibles, Torahs, and Korans, but also other materials used for religious purposes or containing religious content.
Faith & Funding Q: What happens if we violate the rules? • Loss of funding • Repay funds received • Possible legal action (See OMB Circular A-110, sections 60-62, “Termination and Enforcement”)