Writing An Abstinence Education Grant for the Novice
by LeAnna Benn
Don't be overwhelmed. Writing a grant is very much like writing a term paper. The key for a successful paper is to meet the requirements of the instructor. In the case of a grant, the committee reading the application has to be satisfied in several areas. The granting agency or funding source tells applicants what those areas are. Follow the directions, in order including details.
To get the directions for writing the grant, contact the state health department, names vary with each state but the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) will be the department within every state that receives the federal dollars for your state. (A list of those amounts for each state follows.) MCH can be found by calling the capital city phone directory for information. This department can refer you on to the smaller subdivision as is the case in North Carolina where the funds were transferred to a subdivision of the department of education.
When you contact the MCH office, ask for the Requests for Proposal (RFP), regarding the abstinence education funds and request the federal grant proposal from your state to the federal MCH office. This office will send a copy of the application or declare the date that the RFP request will be sent. Ask to be put on their mailing list for when the RFP will be sent. This also applies to Title XX, Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) at the federal level for abstinence education funding. (Alphabet soup powers the flow of funds in the USA.)
The federal proposal by your state are the instructions for the type of projects to be funded as much as the RFP. This document is also a good example of how agency proposal should appear and an excellent source for state statistics. As in a term paper, follow the directions, balance optimism for the project with the reality of resources and observe both the creative aspect and the technical procedures.
What do you want to do, or maybe what do you do best? Outline the goal and the method for reaching it. Answer the who, what, where, when and why of any report. Who will perform the tasks? What tasks or events are involved? Where will the tasks or events take place? When will you begin each of the task? Why would you choose this method rather than something else? Tell a friend about your project and the questions s/he asks will help develop the details of the plan.
To develop this further, review each of these questions. Organize your writing and notes in the computer in separate documents in one file folder or directory by sections of the proposal. For hard copy or handwritten notes divide a notebook into the pertinent sections to store; phone messages, rough drafts, letters of cooperation or research notes.
The who, what . . . questions develop the narrative and part of the appendices.
· Who will perform the tasks? Describe the title and function for the task, for example the camp counselors will deliver the XYZ manual to junior high campers during the five daily camp sessions. Obtain resumes from administrative or essential staff i.e.., director, secretary, bookkeeper, trainer, or counselor. This shows that the agency has the resources to do the proposed tasks. If some staff is not in place, describe how the position will be filled. Write short job descriptions for key staff members or volunteers.
Make a list of desirable objectives. Think of it as brainstorming. Add or subtract as the process progresses. Remember nothing is final until the proposal is submitted and even then the granting agency may change or modify your plans.
· What tasks or events are involved? Break a project into the beginning, middle, end. What aspects of planning or start up are needed? What type of input will be obtained and from whom? During the majority of the time period in which the funds can be used, spend on the program activities that reach the objectives. Describe the final outcome, evaluation or means of continuing the program developed with the grant funds.
· When will you begin each of the tasks? As the first step, your agency's board approval process should be documented insuring that if the funds are awarded that your agency is ready to accept. Draw an organizational chart for your benefit even if the proposal directions don't require one. Write a list of tasks, order them and sketch a time line for each task. File the chart, tasks and time line away in the notebook for later use but you need it now to keep your thoughts clear for the narrative.
· Where will the tasks or events take place? Give the tasks a setting allowing the readers to see and feel the activity of the proposal. Letters stating that the facilities are open for the project's use give credibility. If the site belongs to your agency describe the type of facility, its features and size. If many sites are used, describe the type and what steps will be taken to obtain permission for their use. Remember grant proposals are not science fiction, every aspect must be believable.
· Why would you choose this method of education for abstinence? In a couple of sentences summarize why this is the best method of achieving the objectives. Gather research that backs your position, reference "best practices" from the literature, whether on using peer support teams, adults delivering the message, setting the school climate or the need to establish school curriculum. Research may address various concerns such as the need for; commitment by the educator to pre-marital abstinence and repetition of the message in as many settings as possible reinforces the cultural changes required. Reference sources for methodology and program content or rationale in the bibliography at the end of the proposal.
Ultimately, the Narrative Summary, a one page summary will answer these questions briefly. That one page summary is the first impression and if its interesting the rest of the proposal will be read. However, it is the last section of the document to finalize. Re-revise it until it reflects all the subtleties of the proposal.
Now that the narrative is roughed in, work on the technical sections. Read and re-read the grant application directions and legislation governing the funds. Use the language of the application in your proposal. Underline key words to be used in your proposal. (After the proposal is written review it to insure the use of those key words and concepts.) Assemble the outline of the supporting portions of the proposal and the attachment materials in the exact order prescribed. Find each of the items requested just like those treasure hunts in high school youth groups.
Philosophically and practically speaking, seriously ask if your agency goals match the purpose of granting entity. (For example if your agency does after school programs for middle school children should you apply for a pregnancy reduction program that requires proof of reductions in one year.) Realize that funding will dictate priorities and allocations of resources. If the board does not want the staff and volunteers to spend a goodly amount of effort on the project, establish a separate division or stop wasting time with the application process. The board must make that commitment.
One means of avoiding conflict between funding sources and your agency purpose is to establish a main guiding document with agency overall goals and purpose. Frequently visit those objectives for achieving goals in board and staff meetings. As funding opportunities or directions become known look for a match of agency objectives. A piece of existing programs can be augmented with funds without the risk, while an entirely new program being funded by one funding source can cause calamity when the funding period ends. In this way the agency doesn't lose focus and the funding source is able to see how their funds leveraged an already successful program. For example, click here to see how the Teen-Aid curricula complies with the A-H abstinence education definition.
· Make a list of items to be compiled based on what the application requests. (number of pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births, abortions, current research, etc.,) Delegate others to help gather some of the most likely items, if possible. Write a date beside the item when its requested from the statistical source or agency. Check it off when it arrives in your office then file it in the notebook. The original of each of these letters or items will be included in the grant application so don't fold, staple or mutilate. Unfortunately, as the deadline approaches, a reminder call may be needed and then a faxed item will have to be used in the application.
· Find legal agency documents in the office files.
Not for profit items such as by-laws, charters, board of director list, and past 990 forms may be needed for proof of status in the proposal. Do not send those originals.
· Compile or revise resumes for the staff and curricula vitae for the evaluators or university professors.
· Obtain statistics and document the need for pregnancy prevention. Contact county or state health departments for the vital statistics. Don't be afraid to retype only the portions that are in the geographical service area purposed. Use local data before resorting to national figures. Get numbers on racial mix, abortions, adoptions, total number of pregnancies, total number of teens within the age group your proposal will target.
· Compile a list of agencies in the area that deal with pregnancy, adoption agencies, teen crisis center, drug abuse, child abuse, programming like scouts, neighborhood centers, and schools.
In grant writing circles the word "cooperation" changed to collaboration but the move is now to integration. Cooperation meant that the agencies talked occasionally. Collaboration meant meeting together to solve problems and make direct connection referrals. Integration means all of the above plus sharing staff and or sites and coordinating join activities together.
Know that most grants receive less funds than requested. The budget must be believable. You may be use to achieving monumental tasks on a shoestring but don't expect well funded foundations or government departments to believe it possible to operate effectively on those meager funds.
· Compile the salary portion. This may be the largest portion of the budget. Contact the local library for salary ranges for each job description commensurate to other agencies in the area. Staff can spend 10% - 50% of their time on the grant project, others work full time. Funds for regular activities come from the existing budget and the grant pays for new or increased activities.
Start with a comparable wage but note that when the funding agency awards less than requested, as is often the case, salaries can be shifted back down to what semi-volunteers have been making anyway. Use the state request for the federal funds as a guide to the types of activities they want to fund, maximum size of project to be funded and salary scale for the state worker in MCH.
· Determine the amount of space that will be used by grant activities. Figure the percentage of the total building space. If it is 25%, use that to figure the percentage for electricity, rent, water, cleaning supplies or parking lot rent. Scan the list of agency expenses in your current budget to obtain the figure. For example if your electric bill is $100, calculate the electricity budget item at $125. The increased activity costs that much more, except in the case of fixed costs like rent; if it is fixed. Increasing expenses like; rent increases, new pavement assessment on the building, replace aged copy machine, etc. should be researched and added.
Advice - Not required but strongly advised - Keep grant funds separate from current agency funds. When paying salaries or office expenses write a check from the agency account or the percentage of usage determined to be for their activities and one from the grant for the other portion of the salary. Funding agencies can inspect the accounts where their funds reside. Individual donor records can be kept separate with two accounts. The 1099 form becomes more public as requests increase.
· Activity or educational material expenses may seem small after calculating, salaries and facilities. However in some cases the grant may cover the cost for curriculum purchases as an incentive for schools to participate. If schools pay for curriculum separately, but it is used in the implementation of the project, those become the much sought after matching funds.
Don't forget the cost of travel for staff or if transportation is needed for participants. Private sources are often willing to pay for materials. Tangible supplies needed in a program can generate local funding if the grant amount falls short. "Fees for service" paid by parents and teens attending programs can be raised above and beyond the state grant as they are re-invested in the project.
· Raising Funds - Matching funds doesn't necessarily mean cold hard cash donations. Don't be frightened by the requirement to raise matching funds. Financial contributions from other foundations, businesses, or individuals often are designated to special projects associated with a grant project. The sale of items generated by the project, i.e., tee shirts, popcorn or honorariums for the drama troupe's skit are matching funds too. These funds must be reinvested into the project to pay for the material costs (shirts, screen printing, shipping or oil, salt, bags, signs, popcorn) and if possible use the funds to expand or augment the project.
Matching funds sound ominous but consider the many contributed resources used to complete the objectives. If your organization had to pay for the resources as a new agency, what would it cost? Consider how many volunteer hours are used by your speakers in preparation, travel and speaking, at $15.00 per hour. Put a dollar figure on the janitorial service the volunteer does in your office. Those are matching funds if they assist in the new project. Consider some of these other resources and add them as appropriate, based on current market value and the components of the project.
· Agency Matching - If the project staff had to buy a new copier, desks, phone system, computer, printer, etc. for this project the funds being awarded wouldn't stretch. If there is shared usage of equipment, have the grant pay a portion of the payment or count it as part of the agency's matching effort. Be creative in generating matching funds but above all use integrity. A separate bank account helps with the integrity issues.
· In-kind Matching - Meeting rooms including classrooms are legitimate in-kind matching funds. "In-kind" means resources (services, new or used items, facilities, audiovisual or sound equipment, utilities) used but are non-cash contributions. Use rental rates from the school or center to establish a fair cost for using facilities. Include janitorial services when calculating in-kind donations. Be creative. It may be possible to use in-kind between non-profit agencies or from previous projects that utilized community efforts.
Using religious facilities may be the one area of contention when state funds are used. Read the terms of the state RFP to determine if they will allow programs in religious buildings. Meeting rooms, basements and offices are preferred over sanctuaries or rooms heavy with religious memorabilia. Using several different facilities may help avoid conflict and give a more accurate budget picture.
A portion of the administrator's or teacher's salary of the group being served counts. Divide 36 weeks of the teacher's $25,000 annual salary to find the amount used in the two week project and declare preparation and meeting hours too. Use the average teacher or administrator's salary obtained from the library rather than asking specific cooperating program providers for their annual wages.
Volunteers who help implement the program at a site or assist in any way count. Calculate their time and multiply it by a determined salary amount. Most volunteers who help get programs started could not be replaced for minimum wage staff. "Pay" them a fair wage in the proposal.
Donations of items like printing, pizzas, pens or printed shopping bags from area business contribute to the match. Don't forget to count mother's cookies or boxes of Kleenex used at craft time.
Travel and car expenses for volunteers add up if accounted for at an agreed upon rate.
Service agencies, unless they are large, do not have in-house resources to generate acceptable in-depth evaluations. Don't volunteer in the proposal to do impact evaluations especially the first year. Starting a program is enough work for the initial phase. Once the program is piloted and the bugs worked out, contact a trusted and qualified university professor to assist in sophisticated evaluations.
However, many state MCH offices are requiring evaluations (with statistically significant results within one year to retain funding). Keep expectations very reasonable. Use process evaluations measuring agency/ staff activity whenever possible because that is controllable. Let the local statistics be the gauge of the outcome (because in the end, it will be used anyway).
· Evaluation and program objectives are tied together. RFP's ask for goals and objectives. Limit the number of goals to two or three relevant agency goals and retain a short list of objectives to be used in reaching the goal to 10 or under. If you are not use to routinely compiling and assessing progress, the meanings of goals and objectives may be blurry. The following definitions should help as the evaluation and grant writing process takes form.
Don't alter this to qualify for the grant. Form a subsidiary agency to do the new task if the specific objectives are going to compromise or take current staff off task. However, if possible, expand the vision and use the same facilities and some of the staff or board of directors.
Objectives can be in more than one sentence to link related thoughts and objectives. Use action words whenever possible. A good objective sounds like what you tell the community your agency does. It describes what sells your program.
Use six to seven objectives from the standing program. Frame one or two new objectives for the purpose of the grant that can be measured and achieved along with the current agency objectives. Use a group process and spend time writing each objective because objectives drive programs and the measured results determine the success of the program and thereby the ability of the agency to obtain more grants.
There are three types of objectives:
· What do you want to evaluate? Evaluate only the objectives stated in the proposal and constantly affirm with staff that these are the objectives they want to pursue and are willing to monitor during the project. Evaluate only 6-7 things beyond demographics of the population served, many of which may be done already. gender (M/F), ethnicity, age, sexual activity (Y/N).
"Objectives to Outcomes: Your Contract with the Learner" breaks the domains of learning into specific activities. The following suggested word list may improve your objectives.
Cognitive Domain (Knowledge or Behavior Changes) Cognitive changes include; new knowledge, understanding, or beliefs. Knowledge may measure recall, apply past experience, manipulate knowledge meaningfully, use materials in creating new situations, identify components of relevant knowledge, assimilate element to produce a unique response or appraise or judge a demonstrated behavior.
Possible action verbs that characterize cognitive objectives include; acquire, label, note, state, identify, name, write, contrast, discuss, draw, solve, fine, analyze, diagram, arrange, plan, explain, assess, select, rank, rate.
Psychomotor Domain (Skills) Skills may be job or sports related include mechanical acts proficiency, adaptation or originality.
Affective Domain (Attitudes) Internalizing new attitudes, values, priorities, and new ways of feeling belong in the affective domain.
In the grant writing phase estimate the numbers expected in each of the above categories based on current information on the population. One of the objectives then can be to verify the demographics of the served population compared to the general population. Gathering data is controversial if the questions are specific and about sexual activity but to determine a decrease in levels of sexual activity one must measure before and after the program. Hinging the success of a specific program, unless it is the only sexuality program or unless it reaches each young person several times can be dangerous. Many influences impact teen statistics within a county from incomes to media and other programs in that county. One concern in many states is that abstinence education make an impact in one year. It takes ten months to measure out-of-wedlock birth rates and another one to two years for the state to publish them. Don't build in failures to the evaluation process. Attempt to gain funds for longitudinal follow-up program participants.
· Make questionnaire or evaluation forms simple, readable and as short as possible. Include internal objectives and forms such as attendance levels at each event, teacher/leader response form, opinion of parents when present. These are generated after receiving the funds but identifying them in the grant writing phase helps the funding source see commitment to detail, data collection and the potential to have dependable results.
· What type of evaluation is required ( if any) by the granting source? Don't make the evaluation any more complicated than required. Evaluation is not research; research is far more complex and should be done by professional evaluators. The demonstration of a successful program lies in usage, acceptance, ease of implementation and quite frankly personalities and politics. Good evaluations serve to keep agencies on track and defend the use of funds for funding sources. Use evaluations as a means of improving the project not merely to promote or denounce the final results. Keeping that in mind begin writing the goals and objectives to be measured. Insure that the actions taken in the project be enough to change behavior or recommend that the school reinforce the message with a speaker, curriculum, have the neighborhood center include parents for additional sessions or repeat the lessons.
The following types of evaluation are listed in order of difficulty.
· In process evaluation measure the activities' progress toward the project objectives. Objectives drive the questions to be asked and the type of evaluation that can be done. Internal measurements allow for course correction within the project prior to the final evaluation. Feedback is key. Get as much as possible. If the activities are not achieving the desired objective, change the activities until the outcome reaches the goal.
The number of regular participants (attending 8 out of 10 sessions) will be (1,000). Most participants liked or somewhat liked the program. Teachers rated the program successful due to (participation levels measured during the sessions, ease of preparation, competency of the agency presenter in the classroom, or scores on follow-up knowledge test).
· Inside evaluation consists of quantitative data, process assessments and agency responses so clients are better served. A graduate student or doctoral candidate may be a resource for writing the final report or even helping to generate the initial items to measure. Students are always looking for these type projects and they are free. Staff and administration commitment to the project, politics, or timing may determine if the abstinence education project is merely an exercise in futility or a means of modeling and multiplying future successful projects. This is a legitimate format since the state will be gathering data on STD's, out-of-wedlock and teen pregnancies for their reports. Get a copy of their data by state and if possible by census track so the area surveyed by the project can be watched for changing trends.
· Outside evaluation comes from a need to measure outcomes (actual results in reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies). Funding sources may require outside evaluation but more likely the legislature requests it. The instrument should measure outcomes, gauge whether legislative intent was met and include items that interest the staff in their work with the clients/students. Make sure the findings are usable to change the project for the better.
· Selecting an Evaluator - If the more complex form of evaluation is required, hire an outside evaluator. Local colleges or universities with sociology or statistical departments encourage faculty to be involved in the community. Obtain a letter of cooperation from the university to include in the grant proposal. Select the person based on trust and philosophical commitment. He/She can make or ruin a program. Being committed to perfecting the abstinence message and reducing illegitimacy is biased- its necessary. Ask to see previous report or research and for references of other groups served. Have him/her write the evaluation section of the proposal. Ask him/her to comment on the objectives and construct appropriate measures. RFP's may determine the maximum salary for this position. It's never enough. The evaluator spends countless hours on the project.
Look for the following skills or qualities;
Completing the term paper: Read the directions for submission. Number the pages consecutively. Complete the appendixes with other providers letters of cooperation, bibliography of research, evaluation instruments if prepared, materials if required.
· Deadlines are meant to be met. Even a few hours means the answer is no. Take the final addressed proposal to the post office for an official stamp and send it registered mail if politics is a concern between the funding source and the agency.
· Staple with one staple in the upper left corner if no other specific instructions are given. Use standard size paper. The granting agency makes copies for the approving committee of readers so the use of tabs, fancy or colored paper may actually detract from the appearance for those decision makers. Unless requested, don't send audio or visual materials.
· Address mailing envelopes carefully, copies may go to several places. Include originals in one set and the number of copies requested, making sure one copy is kept in-house for reference. Submit a copy to your agency board and make available for cooperating agencies if requested. Key legislators may want a copy even if they don't have time to read it. The media may want a copy when the funds are awarded to your agency.
If at first you don't succeed - try, try again. Persistence counts in writing grants.