Category Archives: Procurement & Contract Management

Are You Ready for a Federal Grant?

Receiving a federal grant can be a great way to accelerate your impact. There are many positive attributes in applying for and receiving a federal grant. Federal grants tend to be for larger amounts and are often multi-year funding to name a few. However, federal grant applications are complex and not easy to navigate.

We have successfully helped several organizations apply for and receive multi-million dollar federal grants. These grants have really helped to strengthen the organization’s infrastructure, expand their reach, and impact more individuals. There are some times, however, that we recommend a client not pursue a federal grant opportunity.

Before you invest the time and energy with a federal grant application, make sure these four elements are in place to determine if your organization is ready for a federal grant:grant ready blog


1. Compelling Need

Federal grants are very competitive. When they are national, you can be competing with hundreds of proposals. Nearly every federal grant application will begin with a “Need Section” where the applicant is asked to explain the need for this grant funding and support. One of the ways to stand out is to make sure your geographical community and target population fit the profile of need. Then you will want to pull from various public data sources, using citations, to make the case. Depending on the proposal, we might also include some relevant research and citations  that back up the need and proposed intervention (Check out this blog for our go to data sources!). Treat the writing of this section more like an academic college paper.

2. Program Design

When organizations are ready to apply for a federal grant, they need to have a strong design of their program. Many federal agencies are promoting “research-based” and “evidence-based” programs and services (See this blog for more insight!). If your program does not meet those thresholds, which is not always a requirement, then work to make the case for the program’s rigor and (hopefully) close alignment to evidence-based programs and elements of evidence-based programs.

3. Program Impact

There is an overall trend in grant making where more and more funders are wanting to invest their resources in organizations with sound data and results. They want to see the outcomes and solid data to backup your impact. Make sure your program has outcomes and not just outputs (See this blog for some help with outcomes!). If you are a new program or proposing a new intervention, then it is more difficult since you most likely haven’t proven yourself. This is where having a strong, close alignment to an evidence-based program model is helpful and may serve as a proxy for your impact.

4. Fiscal System and Accountinggrants-gov-logo-lg


Last but certainly not least, your organization needs to have strong fiscal controls in place to account for your federal grant dollars. You never know when the federal government will request an audit of your grant funding, so you want to have good systems in place to be able to account for those specific funds. We had one client go through an audit due to some concerning issues with their federal program officer (not anything they were doing wrong), and it was quite laborious and time consuming since this was their first federal grant. They didn’t have all of the separate accounting systems in place. Make sure you are ready to track, monitor and account for your federal funding.

If your organization can check all four boxes, then it may be time for you to consider a federal grant opportunity that could propel your impact and reach forward. If your organization can’t check all of the boxes yet, then you may need some support to help you get ready. The good news is we can help you in either scenario. Give us a call today to schedule a free consultation and see how federal grants may be a good fit for your organization!

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Shared Services: How Can Your Organization Maximize Impact While Minimizing Costs?

Many organizations struggle to secure enough funding to have the maximum impact on the goals aligned to their mission. In addition to seeking new funding to support your organization’s goals, you can examine your current expenses to find ways of reducing costs in order to put more money into programs that help accomplish your mission.

There is a national trend of small and medium-size organizations coming together to “share services,” specifically noncore business services. If your business or organization is small, you may not have the budget to enable you to hire specialists on your staff for all operations, such as payroll, human resources, marketing, and accounting. By participating in shared services, your organization might be increasing your funding by lowering your costs! Shared Services Blog

Is Using Shared Services Right For Your Organization?

  • Shared services can take different forms, but typically a supporting organization has staff that handle operations for member organizations.
  • Member organizations pay fees to receive shared services. These fees are often lower than the cost of employing in-house specialized staff or seeking these services independently.
  • While guidelines can vary, in general, any organization or business—for-profit or nonprofit—can use shared services. Smaller organizations may reap more benefits, but larger entities are not prohibited from participating.
  • Shared services require collaboration.
    • Members must be willing to disclose their financial and business practices. This may feel uncomfortable for some. However, it allows members to get the full benefits of the shared knowledge and expertise of centralized staff.
    • Individual organizations maintain autonomy over some decisions—such as personnel management. However, issues related to centralized services require collaboration.

What Do Shared Services Look Like In Action?

Transform Consulting Group actually uses shared services in our business model! Human Capital Concepts (HCC) provides us with human resources expertise, as well as payroll and benefits administration. HCC is a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), which means that our Transform staff members are co-employed by HCC along with their other clients. Therefore, we are part of a larger employee pool—allowing us to get the best rates for our health insurance and 401K plans. As a small business, we don’t have to worry about having a human resources director in order to maintain compliance with state and federal laws. Because of the services we receive from HCC, we can focus on projects that advance our mission!

Chambliss Center for Children in Chattanooga, TN is a nonprofit organization that operates an early childhood care and education program that serves over 300 children. In addition to operating their own site, they have management agreements with 5 other early childhood programs in the community. Administrative staff at Chambliss Center for Children manage the day-to-day operations of these 5 programs, but each of the programs has their own board of directors. Some of the services include payroll and benefits administration; insurance contract coordination; maintenance; and purchasing of food and supplies. The programs report that some of the positive impacts for them are the ability to increase teacher wages; decreased staff turnover; and improved program quality!

What Can You Do If You’re Interested?

Contact local and statewide partners to learn about shared services providers in your area.

  • Your local United Way
  • Your community foundation
  • Local chapter of the Chamber of Commerce
  • Area small business resource center

Transform Consulting Group provides an array of services related to fundraising strategies. Shared services may be a good fit for your organization as one piece of your overall fund development plan. For more information about increasing your impact while decreasing your costs, contact us for a free consultation!

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4 Tips for Writing an Effective RFP

We are fortunate to work on both sides of the grant making process. We work with funders administering grants to organizations to help carry out their mission and purpose.  We also work with organizations pursuing grants from funders and have written several blogs about grant writing here and here.Tips for RFP

In this blog, we are going to focus on the funder side of the grant making process and strategies that funders can employ to improve the outcomes of their grant awards.  Yes, the structure of a Request for Proposal (RFP) can have a positive or negative impact on the outcomes of grantees and funders accomplishing their goals.

Whether a funder is establishing a new grant program or looking to update their current grant, how your RFP is structured can influence the outcome of how the grant funds are ultimately used.  This is why we are sharing our tips to help improve the overall grant making process starting with the RFP.

1. Have a Clear Purpose for the Grant Program.

One of the first questions we ask funders is what do they hope to accomplish from this grant funding source.  As a prospective grantee, since we work with many of them, it can be really challenging to write a grant application when there is not a clear purpose and focus.  Having identified goals, program priorities and guidelines helps the funder select grantees who are best aligned with supporting the accomplishment of their goals.  It also helps the prospective applicants know how their organization, programs and services are a good fit (or not) for supporting the funder’s goals.

We worked with a funder who wanted to review one of their current grant programs.  They were not seeing the outcomes they had hoped from the grant program and after reviewing their RFP, we saw some areas for improvement.  Their identified goals were very broad and general, so the applicants were submitting proposals that lacked focus and direction.  We worked with the funder to get clear about what they wanted to accomplish with this grant program and revised the RFP to better communicate the goals, priority focus areas and expectations.  The next grant cycle resulted in not only better applications but ultimately grantees with intentional purpose to support the funder’s goals!

2. Seek Partner Feedback and Alignment.

Grant programs are administered by the funder but can be developed through a collaborative process.  We are seeing a growing trend of funders reaching out to partners for feedback and input to inform a grant program.  This is especially helpful when launching a new grant program and/or seeking revisions to a grant program.  When doing this, we recommend including partners who will not have a conflict of interest for participating in the grant development / RFP process.  We also suggest a variety of stakeholders with different perspectives.  This may include researchers, consultants, past recipients, trade association representatives and other funders.

We worked with a government agency to help them implement a new state grant program.  The client could have developed the grant program and RFP internally, but they saw the value (and we agreed!) in seeking input from key stakeholders to help inform the development of the grant program.  Over the course of 3-4 months, the stakeholder group spent time reviewing data in the state, researching best practices in other states and developing the program goals and guidelines. The result was a comprehensive RFP that laid a solid foundation for the new grant program.  While it was more time up-front spent planning, it created tremendous buy-in and ownership in the industry as the new grant program launched.

3. Develop a Well Structured and Organized RFP.

While it might seem mundane and simplistic, the simple details of how a RFP is packaged can make all of the difference to the application, selection and award/ monitoring process.  It truly sets the tone for the grant program.  Here are some simple tips that we find helpful when writing the RFP and responding to them as grant writers:

  • Include a “Table of Contents” that outlines the key elements included in the RFP package.
  • Use “Headers and Footers” to identify page numbers, date of the RFP, and name of the RFP.
  • Use a “Numbering System” to communicate each new section, such as Introduction, Submission Instructions, Narrative Requirements, Forms, etc.
  • Use “Section Headers” to identify different sections within the big Numbering System.
  • Include “Forms” that communicate how you want the information provided.  This could include forms for a Budget, Evaluation Plan, Target Population Demographics, etc.  Forms can also be a great space saver.
  • State the “Selection Criteria” that will be used to rate the applicants.  If you have identified points for particular sections that is even better.
  • Include a “Checklist” with the order of the grant application package.  This not only helps the applicant double check that they have all of the required items, but is also an internal check for the funder that everything needed is being requested.

We worked with a client who awards funding to support before, after and summer school programming.  The program and RFP process had been operating on “auto pilot” for many years being passed on from one staff person to the next.  As a result, the RFP application and forms had become a consolidation of different forms and information that resulted in a disconnected RFP packet.  It was no wonder when the applications came in that they too were not well organized or structured, which made the review process very difficult.  We worked with the client to review the application package and identify what information was necessary, the order in which the information was needed and what could be removed.  We removed half of the RFP from its previous version, and there was much more clarity/ focus in the new RFP!

4. Go Digital with the Application Process.

With the growth of technology, there are a variety of options and systems that can be implemented to help make the RFP process more efficient and effective for both the funder and applicant.  When possible, we encourage clients to use digital forms for posting grant application information and receiving applications.  A free option is Google Forms.  There are several low-cost online options for creating and accepting forms that we encourage funders to consider if their budget allows.  Some funders choose to design their own system embedded on their website to accept grant applications. Whatever the path, there are options available for nearly every type of funder and their budget.  We often see a ROI on time saved through the use of technology, and applicants tend to appreciate these digital systems.

We worked with a funder who still wanted to have multiple hard copies of the grant proposals and on a CD-ROM.  A flash drive was not acceptable.  Many computers are being made without CD-ROMs.  The client hadn’t considered new digital systems available to submit grants that could make the process easier for both them and their applicants.  We presented different options that they might consider for their RFP.  The funder ended up taking a “baby step” of accepting email submissions.  We hope that the next step will be using one of the digital options.

By investing some up-front time in thoughtfully planning and structuring a grant program’s RFP application, the funder will see positive benefits in helping to accelerate their impact.  Transform Consulting Group is available to support funders in accomplishing their goals through the grant making process.  Let us know if you have a new program you need assistance setting up or want someone to take a look at an existing program.

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