Sunday, September 1, 2019

Pro Tip: How to Work With an Expert Consultant

Federal grants are highly competitive. These grants can become quite technical and your ability to win may depend on the last minute relationships you build with people who have very specialized expertise. Below, I will give you a peek at the techniques I use to manage these temporary but very important relationships.
Since I do not do academic research full-time anymore, I find I am now more dependent on the goodwill and understanding of national-level research/evaluation consultants. I still remember how to do regression analysis, survey research, or program evaluation; Nevertheless, my expertise is stretched to the limit when it comes to understanding the literature reviews of other fields -- particularly in the hard sciences or in the sometimes obscure details of esoteric educational theory.
Here are some of my best tips for working with experts in your field:
  1. Give Experts Your Best Work: I think the most important thing is to get a very polished draft ready to submit to the outside research consultant. I have found that many of these extremely talented individuals are more than happy to comment on or improve your grant application, but you need to be careful with their time and their attention span. By waiting to send them a virtually finished product, you demonstrate that you are conscientious and that you have gone as far as possible on your own expertise and power.
  2. Follow Up on Expert's Suggestions: I am careful to follow up on their suggestions in terms of additional reading material, theoretical perspectives, or new ways of displaying information. I have found it surprisingly easy to follow up on the outside expert's suggestions simply by looking for the same information on line. I do not need to become an expert in their field. Nevertheless, with a little on-line research, I can get my understanding up to the 80% level needed to win in a federal grant competition. By following up on the consultant's suggestions and being a good student, you win more of their time and their respect. 
  3. Reward Your Experts: I am generous about including the outside expert in the federal grant application. Often, I will include an outside expert as an evaluation specialist, a role that entitles them to at least 10% of the gross revenue coming in from the federal grant. On a million dollar grant, this will give the expert the possibility of a $100,000 payday - more than enough to engage their full attention in perfecting your grant. 
Finally, if you are having a hard time finding a national level expert to help you out, you can sometimes get leads from the folks teaching at major universities. Often the federal government itself will provide you with a list of outside experts that have passed their standards of approval. All in all, it is best to approach the national level expert when you have completely run out of ideas and absolutely done your level best. This way you will demonstrate that your project and your work effort are worthy of their best attention.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Government Grants: Pay Attention to the Questions and the Points

I have enjoyed a rather remarkable level of success in winning government grants. Most recently, I won two prestigious grants from the National Science Foundation. I think the following two tips have made the biggest difference for me.

Tip #1 Answer the Question

Much of my success has been due to my careful habit of answering the questions posed by the government - federal, state, or local - with answers that carefully address the gist of the question along with each separate element of the question.

For example, I am often confronted with questions like the following from a recent federal grant application: "Describe how the impacts align with the goals and objectives."

In my answer, I would be careful to hit on each element of the question so that I have something to say in regard to each of the following words: impacts, align, goals and objectives. I might write something like this: "The impact measures indicated above were aligned with the long-range goals and short-term objectives by searching for tangible evidence of how our ABC Veterans Housing Program was making a measurable difference for all of our stakeholders - especially the elderly in our program. Alignment was obtained by choosing the existing program performance measurements which were the best possible fit with the specific goals and objectives established for each element of our program."

Notice in this example that I am trying to touch on each element of the question. This way the reviewer would have to award me full points for my answer because I was fully responsive to each element of the question. At times, this can lead to repetition, some awkward sounding phrases, and a sort of pedantic approach to the grant topic. Nevertheless, I have found that this method works out quite well and that it forces me to carefully read and consider the questions posed in the government's request for proposals (RFP).

Tip #2 Pay Attention to the Points

The second most important thing I would advise regarding how to win government grants is to simply observe that it pays off to notice how many points are assigned to each question or each element of the grant application.

For example, let us say that you have a 60 page grant application. If the guidelines indicate that the first question they ask is worth 10 out of 100 total points, then I would assign 10% of my allotted pages, that is 6 pages in this example, to answering that particular question. Accordingly, if the second question is worth 20 points, then I would devote at least 12 pages to answering it.

I have found this to be a useful rule in apportioning the amount of text I assign to answering each particular question posed by a government RFP. This is also a useful rule because it helps you trim back your text if you have gone on too long on a single particular topic.

Funder Research: How to Narrow Down or Enlarge the Field

As I have grown my business, I have found I now have to spend more time training our staff on the basics of grant research. It turns out that grant research is both extremely important and surprisingly difficult to do right. Most grant researchers find that they stumble on a ton of possibilities or else none at all. Consequently, they need to know how to adjust their search to find more or less prospects. By and large, I think most grant researchers are unfamiliar with the options available to them when they use a standard grant research database. In particular, they may be unfamiliar with their range of options.

There are four general categories that will be most useful to you: subject matter, location, target population, and type of grant.

Subject matter: The first step, in my view, is to focus on broader terms like education, social welfare, healthcare, or justice. If this gives you too many hits, then you can simply switch to narrower terms like low cost housing, minority education, teen pregnancy, or electronic health records. Of course, it helps if you have a general understanding of the work done by non-profit organizations when you follow this procedure. In my experience, however, this sort of knowledge will just come to you naturally over time and you start researching grants. In a pinch, however, it pays to review sample grant proposals or the project innovator form filled out by the client to get a better idea of the range of wording available for your search.

Location: If I stall out with this option, I next turn to the project's location. For example, I ask if my project is going to have an impact on a specific city, county, state, regional, national, or international location? Most grant funders, of course, focus their resources close to home. Nevertheless, I think that adjusting your geographic focus will increase funding opportunities. In addition, it is generally extremely easy to use geographic search terms.

Target Population: After searching on subject matter and location, I then turn to the target population itself. This is basically the group of people who will most benefit from your grant project. Sample target populations would include single moms, the frail elderly, disadvantaged youth, the homeless, persons with low incomes, at-risk youth, international journalists, HIV/AIDS patients, and so on. In general, I find that there is more funding for children than the elderly and for less stigmatized rather than more stigmatized groups.

Type of Grant: Finally, I focus in on the type of grant that the charity or individual or business wants to win. Most of the database search engines you use will offer to search under a variety of different types of grants such as: capacity building, challenge, conference, construction, consulting, demonstration, dissemination, endowment, equipment, exhibition, general purpose, land acquisition, matching, operation, planning, publication, renovation, research, scholarship, seed, special project, subvention, training, and travel.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Secrets of Success: Speed Up Your Learning with Triangulation

One of the secrets of being a really great grant writer is developing the ability to write quickly about things you know nothing about. Personally, I find this business challenges me to learn new things quicker than a meteor. Luckily, my training as a political scientist gives me unusual advantages when it comes to high speed learning. These advantages have been important to my success, since so much of what I do tends to take place on an emergency basis.

Ironically, I did not get good at learning until I was already half-way through my graduate career at Cornell University.  It was only then that I started to receive higher quality instruction from professors who were paid to share practical tips, useful advice, and easy-to-follow templates.

For much of my life, I had assumed that learning was supposed to be hard, confusing, and solitary. I had come to believe that enduring poor quality teaching was actually good for me. The big break-through for me occurred after I earned my Ph.D. At that point, I started taking post-graduate classes in statistics and something inside of me snapped. I realized that if the professors explained something to me and I did not understand them, then that was their problem not mine.  

One of the best ideas I picked up at the University of Michigan while I was studying statistics was the idea that I should read at least three statistics textbooks at a time.

This way, I found it a lot easier to make sense of a topic. In my experience, reading just one textbook makes study difficult, in part, because it does not give me any sense of what was crucial to know, good to know, or simply useless detail. By reading about the same topic in three different textbooks, I found that I started getting a better fix on the priorities attached to any given topic. This approach made it easier for me to concentrate on the important stuff I really needed to know immediately and to only memorize the details that I would need to hold on to for the future. Looking back, I wish I had an instructor in high school who might have suggested this same idea to me while I was studying physics or mathematics. (I also wish I would have had a high school teacher who explained that learning math and science was a long road to follow, but that it was quite beautiful when it all came together during graduate work.)

As a grant writing consultant, I use triangulation to help me quickly understand the client's field of interest.

Typically, I start by reading the client's literature, reviewing their website, and interviewing their staff. Then, I search on-line to see what other experts have to say about the topic and then supplement this with my own library research.

I have found that this technique of using multiple sources makes me a much more knowledgeable participant in the grant writing process. For example, I have found that the federal government keeps track of role-model programs, measurement techniques, and other things that will improve your grant application. There are resources out there on the issues of responsible fatherhoodhealthy marriage, and substance abuse.  

The main thing, in my experience, is to not rely on a single source of information. There is safety and insight in accessing multiple sources of information on the same topic. At the very least, you quickly learn what it is okay to forget.

Up Your Game: How to Identify the Most Convincing Research

As you may know, I have had a lot of success in winning large federal government grants. In retrospect, I think that my background as a political scientist and as a published author gave me unusual advantages with federal government grant applications because so many of them are based on evidence derived from previous government studies. 

Since I had experience doing my own research and creating literature reviews as a political scientist, it was relatively easy for me to pick through federal websites and identify prospective interventions, programs, and practices that would most likely make a difference for the clients of the charities that hired me to work as a grant writer. 

As such, I apply certain internal standards to help me determine whether or not a particular study will present strong evidence in support of the program that I am trying to get funded. I will share some of these standards that I look for in the section below:  
  1. Peer-Reviewed Articles: In general, I know to look for articles printed in peer-reviewed journals. This is just a fancy way of saying that an article in the journal will not be published unless a jury of independent researchers determined that it met their field's standards for academic research. In most fields there are the prestigious and the less prestigious journals. I look for ones that have been around a long time and for individual articles in those journals that have been cited by other researchers.  
  2. Random Assignment: Next, I am particularly interested in finding studies which use random assignment to establish test and control groups to test whether or not a particular program or intervention works or not. A test group is simply the group of people - or animals, I suppose - who will be treated differently by the experiment. The control group, on the other hand, is supposed to be a group of very similar people who will not be exposed to the treatment variable. What is crucial is that the assignment to either the test or the control group must be random. This is a fundamental assumption behind the statistical methods used to determine whether or not there is a significant difference between the test and control group after the experiment is done. 
  3. Quasi-Experimental Studies: Sometimes, it is not possible to simply assign people at random. In these cases, we might create test and control groups by recruiting volunteers or testing the same people before and after they were exposed to the treatment. These studies are called quasi-experimental studies. 
  4. Population Similarities: The strongest studies are experimental and quasi-experimental studies that are based on populations similar to the one you are looking to serve. For example, you should not justify an experiment on college students, based on a study that looked at elementary school students. 
  5. Multi-Site Studies: You will also be better off in picking larger studies that included multiple sites, meaning that the research was conducted at a number of different college campuses or in different cities around the nation. The problem with single site studies is that the single site might be contaminated statistically with unique people who respond to the intervention in the same way simply because they already have so much in common.
  6. Attrition Rates: You need to pay attention to the little details in the study like how many of the participants dropped out of the study before it was done. This is because the people who dropped out will influence the final results of the study. 
Finally, you should be aware of the possibility for "experimenter bias" which is the tendency of the researcher to confirm their own suspicions in their own study. Sometimes this happens on purpose when the researchers fudge their results or manipulate their data to match their own conclusions. Other times there is an error in the study itself, but the research fails to notice this error because the overall study supports their conclusions. Since the results break their way, the researcher sees no need to double (or triple) check their own results. To guard against experimenter bias, I like to find studies where the researcher(s) appear to be sincerely surprised by their own results. To me, this is at least one indication that they are being honest with themselves and their readers. 

Dusting Off the Classics: Hot Tips for Recycling Grant Proposals

One of the best ways to speed up the grant writing process is to have readily available templates based on earlier, successful grant applications. Frankly, even copies of previous losing grant applications are immensely helpful whenever you sit down to write a new grant

The challenge is that the grant reviewers can often tell that you are simply recycling a previous grant rather than preparing a new, fresh, cohesive application for their benefit. 

Despite this difficulty, I have had a lot of success in recycling earlier grant applications into successful contemporary grants. Part of the reason is that I implement some key changes that insure the revised proposal still looks fresh and relevant. 

First, I am very careful about updating all of the dates in the document related to program goals and objectives. Leaving in a prior date is a powerful signal to the funder that you are simply recycling an old version of a previous grant.

Second, I make sure to update the research used to support the grant application so that the footnotes indicate that we are using the most recent articles in the field. These articles may still have the same information as the earlier articles, but they look sharper with a more recent publication date. 

Third, if I do add some new information to the existing grant, I make sure to balance that additional information out by referring to this new information in three or four other locations in the grant application. This makes for a more consistent application. It also creates the impression that you have thoughtfully revised the proposal rather than simply recycled an existing one. 

Finally, I am also careful to revise the grant so that it reflects a single voice. We all have slightly different, habitual writing styles. The reviewers can often tell that a grant has been recycled simply by noticing the abrupt changes in writing style that sometimes appear in a grant application. My favored technique is to rewrite each line of a previous grant so that it reflects my voice and not the style of the previous grant writer. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Start 2019 Off with a New, Inspiring Resume

One of Dr. Drew's biggest secrets of success as a grant writer is his skill at tweaking the resumes of the charity's key talent so they are more likely to win really big, life transforming grants. In our increasingly media saturated world, a fresh -- strategically designed -- resume can be the difference between winning or losing either a job or a multi-million dollar grant. At any rate, we thought it would be fun to offer a special in January 2019 for everyone who is seeking to find or get a better job. Here are the details of Dr. Drew's resume writing package.

Here's What Dr. Drew Will Do to Improve Your Prospects for 2019 

This is a special service of Drew & Associates.  Dr. Drew will ask you to email him a copy of your existing resume or curriculum vita which he will 1) read and analyze, and 2) discuss with you by phone for one (1) hour.  Then, he will 3) rewrite your resume curriculum vita, improve its format and look, so that it will tell a positive, uplifting, and attractive story about your life, your value to others, and the special skills you bring to the marketplace. 

Discounted price: $400. 

Regular price, after January 30, 2019: $500.

Payment by Check

For payment by check, mail to: Drew & Associates, 1231 E. Dyer Road, Suite 215, Santa Ana, CA 92705.

Please make checks payable to “Drew & Associates.”


Payment by PayPal


Read What One Professional Says About Dr. Drew's Resume Writing Services and Why a New Resume is a New Life.

I highly recommend John Drew's resume writing services for anyone in the job market. As a full time community college faculty member and department chair, I decided to expand my job goals to seeking a position in administration. John helped me immensely with updating my curriculum vitae and creating a new cover letter tailored to the specific job I am seeking.

I felt his knowledge of the community college system, strong writing skills and his connections were extremely valuable to me - helping me gain insight and add information that I would not have considered myself.

He gave me a lot of time from our first phone conversation until we came up with a final product I felt good about. His interpersonal style made me feel as if I were speaking to a motivational coach who was helping me discover my strengths and abilities to move toward my career goals. 

I strongly recommend his services - personable, well-qualified, knowledgeable and outstanding writing skills. With his help, I got a great new job. Thank you!

-- Dr. Irit Gat, Antelope Valley College

Monday, November 12, 2018

How to Make The Most of December: Planning for a Great 2019

For better or worse, the last two weeks of December is clearly the worst possible time for fundraising activities. The problem is that your donors - individual, corporate or foundation - are too busy during the holidays to worry about the needs of your charity. Nevertheless, you can make the best use of the last two weeks of December if you turn your attention to planning ahead for a great 2019.

"Christmas Pears," John Drew.
The first thing to do to have a great 2019 is to ask all your management level staff fill out the project innovator form. This is their chance to define a specific project they would like to see funded. It is a terrific exercise for this time of year. It allows your staff to dream about the future. It also helps everyone make those dreams come real by committing them to paper. 

The second thing you absolutely have to do is schedule your grant writing chores for the year ahead. This means noting the exact due dates for the funders that set due dates. It also means spreading out the grant application chores over the rest of the months in order to make sure you cover a lot of ground by pacing yourself. In that spreadsheet, I like to include the name of the funder, the name and phone number of the primary contact, the due date, and any comments which are appropriate including notes about past wins with that funder. In general, I prefer to put this information into a spreadsheet. I know there are software tools out there that help you organize grant funders, including the Foundation Center's On Line Directory. Nevertheless, I haven't found anything easier to use or easier to share than a simple spreadsheet. 

Third, make sure that your grantsmanship library is up to date. As a refresher, remember that your grant library has the following items. 

  • Resumes
  • How to Books
  • IRS Determination Letter
  • State of California Determination Letter
  • Photos
  • Project Innovator Forms
  • IRS 990 Tax Forms
  • Annual Budget
  • Program Budgets
  • Audited Financial Statement

It is important to have all these items updated and ready to go so that you don't have to slow down in 2019 trying to find them. As I like to say, if you can't get hold of a document in 10 seconds, it is useless to you.