Compassion Capital Fund Acquiring Public Grants: Part II Formatting the Application Writing to the Reviewer Grant Award Process Partnering with Washington Formatting the Application
Download Policy: Content on the Website is provided to you AS IS for your information and personal use and may not be sold / licensed / shared on other websites without getting consent from its author.While downloading, if for some reason you are not able to download a presentation, the publisher may have deleted the file from their server.
Acquiring Public Grants: Part II
Formatting the Application
Writing to the Reviewer
Grant Award Process
Partnering with Washington
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?
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.
Your application narrative should:
Following these rules will keep your reviewers happy!
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
Tab 9 in workshop notebook.
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.
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!!!
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.
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:
Objectives and Need for Assistance
Results or Benefits Expected
Budget and Budget Justification
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.
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.
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).
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.”
Now consider the bullet list on pp. 7-8 of the handout, which:
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.
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.
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 . . .
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???
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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. . .
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.
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?
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)
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.
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.
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.
Review and selection after the scoring panels involves:
Applied to applicants with review panels scores above a certain cutoff (such as, all who score 80 or higher).
Program Management Staff considers such things as:
Grants Management Staff looks at your budget and its individual items to see that they agree with the narrative and are:
(Discussed in detail in a later class.)
The programmatic and grants management reviews can produce several negative consequences:
Final selection of grantees is in the Secretary or Director’s name, though actually done at a lower level. Considerations:
Remember that the federal agency doesn’t see you, your staff, volunteers, Board, your program, or your clients.
The federal agency examines your application!!!
Faith and Funding
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.
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
(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.”)
Program participants may be invited to join religious services or events … BUT participation must be optional and have no bearing on services delivered.
Q: What happens if we violate the rules?
(See OMB Circular A-110, sections 60-62, “Termination and Enforcement”)
“Guidance to Faith-Based and Community Organizations on Partnering with the Federal Government”
Available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/government/fbci/guidance/index.html
Tab 15 in workshop notebook.