FAQs or Ask Our Trainers

Here are answers to some of the questions training alumni have asked The Grantsmanship Center. If you're enrolled in The Grantsmanship Center's Membership Program, click here to send our trainers your question .

The costs of planning and writing a grant proposal are the responsibility of the applicant organization. It is extremely rare for a funder to allow a grant to pay for work that has been done before a grant award is made. In those very rare cases when a funder will allow pre-award costs to be covered by a grant, that will be addressed specifically in the application instructions. In general, you cannot include proposal writing in the budget.

Track back to the federal agency source and ask them. Sometimes their website will list things like who got the grants. Other times a phone call might be necessary.

Both. You must provide information about the applicant organization because it will manage the grant and will be responsible for financial management and reporting, and for program implementation. But you must also provide information about your partner organization because its capacity to carry out the work is critical to the proposal's credibility. Any funder will want to know about fiscal management and program oversight, and also about the competency of those doing the work. Clearly define the role of each organization.
The design of the project may also be called methods, approach, or program plan. The funder wants to understand the activities your organization will implement in order to produce the expected outcomes -- and will also want to know why you chose the approach and why you expect it to work. Be as specific as possible. Include the number to be served, the hours and locations of services, the types of services or programs that will be offered, etc.

You should communicate with the funding agency's grants management staff about your desire to negotiate an indirect cost rate. Even if you can negotiate that rate now, it may, or may not, be possible to use it for this particular grant since it has already been awarded. IF it is possible, its likely that the total amount of the grant would not change, but rather the direct costs would be decreased in order to cover the indirect costs.

It is strange that there was no allowance in the grant budget to cover staff and other direct program operations. Did the Federal agency not allow other costs? Were the program management costs committed as a required “match” for the government funding? Or did the applicant not think about those costs?

As a matter of course, costs for things such as program staff, supplies, and paper clips would be direct program expenses and not indirect costs. Indirect costs are really those related to operating the entire agency that cannot be directly attributed to any one program. In preparation for future federal grant applications, your organization should proceed with negotiating an indirect cost rate. Then, it can be included in grant proposal budgets if the funding agency allows indirect cost rate reimbursements (within the maximum allowed for a particular grant program).

Your organization should talk to the federal agency from which it now receives funding about negotiating the rate. Also, review the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) circulars relevant to the organization. They can be found on the OMB website http://www.whitehouse.gov/OMB/circulars/.

First, check out the National Endowment for the Arts (www.nea.gov) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (www.neh.gov). They may have grant programs relevant to your need.

You'll also want to check out companies that do business in your community and that have an interest in the arts, the Hispanic population, or both. Companies may support your work through their corporate giving programs.

Contact your local community foundation. It may be willing to help, but even if it can't make a grant, it is likely to be a great source for ideas and information. For a project such as this, individuals may be a primary source of support. Look for people of means in your community who are of Spanish descent and ask them for help and for ideas.

Do some research, ask around. Try to locate other theatre groups that have received funding for similar work. Once you find them, contact them and ask for advice.

When you use The Grantsmanship Center’s funder databases, or any other database, be sure to think broadly about the key words you’ll use in the search. Don’t focus entirely on one key word, such as "Hispanic," but branch out and also use words such as drama, theatre, accessibility, under-served, literature, Shakespeare, etc. When we limit our search to just one specific term we are less likely to bring up all the possibilities.

"Grants management" relates to all of the administrative tasks required to handle the money, reporting, and program implementation in a way that meets generally accepted standards as well as the requirements of the funding source.

You don't necessarily need a software program. The funder wants to know that the accounting and financial systems are in order and can adequately keep track of and report on income and expenditures--it’s great if you’re able to state that your books are audited annually by an independent CPA. The funder wants to know that your organization can handle the required reporting (both fiscal and programmatic) and has a track record of meeting deadlines.

You also need to address how your organization will oversee program implementation. Is strong leadership in place that will ensure the program operates as planned, document progress, and manage it appropriately? Application guidelines usually lay out the information the funder wants to see.

By the way, what one funder calls "grants management" another may call a "management plan." Some funders may expect to see this sort of information presented in the section on “applicant background” or “applicant experience.” Check out The Grantsmanship Center's publications on grant management written by Henry Flood. They're on the Publications for Purchase section of this website, under the RESOURCES section.

First, this is not legal advice. We encourage you to consult with an attorney who has expertise in this area prior to making any decisions about the organizations structure or desired tax exempt status.

There are two subgroups of 501(c)(3) organizations: private foundations and public charities. Private foundations generally receive their money from one source, such as a business, individual, or family. With their income tax exempt status comes certain responsibilities, including minimum distributions each year.

Within the subgroup of a private foundation is another subgroup of “private operating foundations”. The word “private” does not mean that the control is vested in one person. It means that it is a private foundation that operates its own programs or services. So, rather than distributing grants as a private foundation does, a private operating foundation may meet its required distribution amount by using its money to support its own programs–although it might also award some grants to outside organizations.

All 501(c)(3) organizations have governing Boards of Directors that are responsible for the organization. If your organization becomes a 501(c)(3), it would no longer “belong” to the founder. The organization would also have certain responsibilities in return for its tax exempt status regardless of whether it is a private foundation or a public charity, and governance would lie with the Board of Directors in any case.

Private foundations are generally interested in seeing broad community support, involvement, and investment in the organizations they fund. Public charities that have only the minimal number of Board members, or where the Board members are related to each other and/or the staff, are generally viewed with at least a bit of skepticism.

This IRS website offers more information about private operating foundations (as well as other types of 501(c)(3) organizations): http://www.irs.gov/charities/foundations/article/0,,id=136358,00.html The organization may also wish to check out the following resources regarding various standards that many nonprofit organizations work to meet: Standards for Charity Accountability: http://www.bbb.org/us/Charity-Standards/ Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector: http://www.standardsforexcellenceinstitute.org/public/html/explore_b.html Independent Sector has some very helpful information available as well: http://www.independentsector.org/issues/accountability/standards2.html#

First, a reminder that there is a difference between a Letter of Intent and a Letter of Inquiry.

A letter of intent is simply an expression of your organization's intention of applying for a grant. A letter of inquiry, on the other hand, seeks to determine whether a funder would be interested in considering the program you wish to propose.

Government funders may ask for a Letter of Intent (either mandatory or optional – read carefully!). They generally do this to get an idea of how many proposals to expect so they can begin organizing the review process. Usually, but not always (again, read carefully!), they simply want a notice from your organization that it intends to apply. Do not wait for government agencies to respond to a letter of intent. Unless the application instructions provide different guidance, proceed with developing the application.

Many private funders ask for a Letter of Inquiry, and use it as a preliminary screening tool. Consider this letter to be a mini-proposal. Follow the funder’s instructions exactly, including the information requested in the order in which it’s requested. Absent any guidelines from the funder, use The Grantsmanship Center’s proposal format components and limit the letter to two or three pages. The funder will usually request a full proposal if that’s needed. But unless the funder’s directions instruct otherwise, it’s a good idea to follow up after a few weeks if you haven’t heard anything.

Information on private philanthropic support is prepared annually by the GivingUSA Foundation (http://www.aafrc.org). You can purchase the book, Power Points, etc. However, the Chronicle of Philanthropy always publishes the newest statistics once they're out. (http://philanthropy.com)

Some federal agencies recruit reviewers on their web sites. Visit the websites of agencies related to your area of expertise and search out reviewing opportunities. Talk to federal and state staff who are connected with grant programs within your area of expertise. You may need to find them through internet research, talking with colleagues, or making a few calls. Tell them about your expertise and your interest in reviewing proposals. Contact your congressperson and ask for assistance. Congressional staff can help you find the right avenues to pursue.

The proposal belongs to your client organization. If you would like to share a copy as a sample, you must get permission from your client organization first. Another option is to recommend that potential clients talk with previous clients about your work.

Yes. Generally, it's best not to lump capital projects (building projects) and operations into the same funding request. Submit requests for capital projects to grantmakers who have a history of providing that specific variety of support. And submit grant requests for program funding to grantmakers with a demonstrated interest and funding history that's appropriate for that request.

But, start by laying out the big plan, and always keep that in mind. Stages or Phases are logical ways to break down the big plan.

Generally, you cannot use money that originated at the federal level as matching funds for another federal grant program. However, each federal agency grant program has its own rules and regulations. Read the instructions of the funding source and if it is not clear, make a call to the program officer.
Your company can develop grant proposals that will be submitted by a government entity or not-for-profit organization that is an eligible applicant for a particular competition. It is the applicant organization's responsibility to make sure the proposals are accurate and that the budget is appropriate. It's their responsibility to carry out due diligence and adhere to the procurement processes of both the grant-making agency and their own organization. Sometimes procurement processes (requiring three bids, or something like that) might be done before you help them develop the proposal. You would be providing a service that is bundled with your product.

Generally, you will negotiate the indirect cost rate with the federal agency to which you are submitting the grant proposal. Once negotiated, that rate will be accepted by all federal agencies. That said, some federal grant programs cap the amount of indirect funding that can be requested regardless of your negotiated indirect cost rate.

For more information: Henry Flood's article on Indirect Costs under Publications for Purchase in the RESOURCES section.

For the most part, reading and commenting on proposals is a courtesy exchange among professional peers and friends. Consultants who are paid for such services should have extensive, successful experience in developing and reviewing proposals. And the ability to understand budgets and provide useful feedback is a critical part of the process. Before providing any paid, consulting services in the field of grant proposal development and writing, youll need to gain deep experience.

Check out The Grantsmanship Center's publication on adapting the Program Planning & Proposal Writing model for the arts. That will provide some guidance.

Outcomes (or what you call objectives here) are measurable changes in conditions, behaviors, or attitudes. The first outcome you propose is specific and measurable.

You might also propose that following the performance, 75% (375) of those who use the tickets will increase their understanding of symphonic music; and that 75% will indicate that they would attend again if possible. To determine the degree to which these proposed outcomes are met, you might consider offering each person who uses a free ticket some small bonus or gift if they’ll complete a very simple survey (only 3 questions) after the performance.

The survey could ask questions such as:

1) Did your attendance result in increased understanding and knowledge about classical music?

2) Did you enjoy the performance?

3) If you had the opportunity to attend another performance, would you?

Talk to the funders to which you plan to submit grant requests. They may have ideas for reasonable and meaningful outcomes. Check out the National Endowment for the Arts website. The Endowment is very tuned into the issue of measurable outcomes.

Funded federal grant proposals are public information, and can be requested with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. However, there are alternative ways to get a copy or two.

• Check the federal agency web site. If you are lucky, there may be samples posted there that you can download.

• Call the program officer in charge of the grant program you’re interested in and simply ask for a copy of the top ranked proposal in the last competition. Because the funded proposals are public information, he or she may provide it to you.

• If that route doesn’t work, your congressperson can get a copy for you. When asking for help from your congressperson, be specific about the program title and ask for the top rated proposal from the last competition.

• If you know anyone who received a grant last year, they might be more than willing to share. Most people are.

• Finally, you can use the Freedom of Information Act to request copies. If you find you must take this route, seek information from the federal program contact and google instructions for the process. You will have to pay for the photocopies, and any proprietary information that the applicant wants removed will be redacted. The Freedom of Information Act only applies to federal agencies. It’s different for private funders–foundations and corporations. Private funders have no obligation to be objective, and no obligation to share proposals they’ve funded.

Salaries for proposal writers vary tremendously. They'll be affected by the location, the competition, the experience of the grants professional, and the size and complexity of the organization that's hiring. Ask others in your community who write grant proposals. See if the local United Way has salary survey information.

Be sure to do thorough internet research, there is a ton of available data. Large organizations like The National Endowment for the Arts can steer you towards more specific information. For example, Americans for the Arts did an economic prospectus about the impact of the arts in America. One could use this type of data to support claims about how theater or dance programs raise a community's economic standing.

All grant proposals should include a plan for evaluating the grant-funded program. But, if the proposal did not include an evaluation plan, here are a couple of thoughts:

1. Contact the person at the federal agency in charge of your grant program. Most federal agencies have substantial information about evaluating the kind of programs they fund. The federal contact person should be able to give you advice.

2. Discuss your agency’s needs with an expert from a local university who is involved in your field and in program evaluation. This expert may be able to provide guidance, provide training, assist you in evaluating your programs, or refer you to someone more appropriate for the task. If you don’t know who to contact, call the department at the university that relates to your field and ask for a referral.

3. Speak with staff members at other organizations who offer similar services and find out how they evaluate their work.

4. Contact staff at state agencies who are involved in your field and ask if they have suggestions.

There are several potential approaches to consider. 1) Find out what organizations have received grants from the foundation. This information can be found on the foundations 990-PF tax return. Tax returns are available through Guidestar.org (free registration required) and the Foundation Center website (Fnd.org). Contact an organization that was awarded a grant--if possible one that is similar to your organization. Ask staff to share insights they may have valuable knowledge about the foundation, how it operates, and who you should talk to. They may even be willing to introduce you, or let you use their name to open the door. If you run into someone who doesn't want to share, be gracious and move on. But most people are quite willing to help.

2) See if any of your board or staff members know any of the Foundation's board or staff members. Use the list of Board members from their web site or from the 990-PF to dig for a connection. For example, did people go to the same school? Do they belong to the same civic groups, faith community, or neighborhood association? If you can find a connection, ask that person to help establish contact with the foundation. They may suggest a brief meeting for coffee, invite a foundation contact to visit your organization, or even just make a quick phone call-- whatever is practical. The goal of that contact is to introduce your organization, establish its credibility, and find out if there is an opportunity to apply for funding.

3) You could try the direct approach. Call the foundations staff or, if there are no staff, call a board member. Tell your contact that you've have been reading about the foundation and that it seems your organization's mission and the foundation's mission are aligned. Then inquire about the possibility of applying for funding. Even if there's not an immediate opportunity to apply for a grant, your contact is in fact beginning a relationship with the foundation. Send a thank you note, stay in touch, inviite the person to visit your organization, ask permission to put the person on your email newsletter list. You never know how things may change in the future, so keep your doors and relationships open. .

Unless the funder gives different instructions, it is always best to use the guidelines provided by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in Circular A-110. This requires that you value volunteer time at the rate your organization would have to pay someone to do the specific work performed by the volunteer.

Here's the excerpt from that guidance. "Volunteer services furnished by professional and technical personnel, consultants, and other skilled and unskilled labor may be counted as cost sharing or matching if the service is an integral and necessary part of an approved project or program. Rates for volunteer services shall be consistent with those paid for similar work in the recipient's organization. In those instances in which the required skills are not found in the recipient organization, rates shall be consistent with those paid for similar work in the labor market in which the recipient competes for the kind of services involved. In either case, paid fringe benefits that are reasonable, allowable, and allocable may be included in the valuation."

But always read a funder's instructions carefully. Even some federal agencies will provide a figure that must be used for valuing volunteer time.