I Fall On My Sword...OUCH!!!
This project report is a submission to GlobalGiving's 2017 Fail Forward Contest, where organizations are asked to share a story of when they tried something new that didn't go as planned and how they learned from it. Enjoy!
Reliving this story brings back painful memories. I think it was one of those times that I actually broke down in tears but don’t tell anyone. Being a nonprofit, as you know, means we rely on grants and look forward to multi-year grants to help support our efforts. Our youth and families depend on us to provide the services we promise and we depend on the generosity of others and potential funders to help us keep our promises. Like every nonprofit out there, we are used to applying for grants and not getting funded but this one was different.
We had the opportunity to apply for support for The Youth Connection Career Academies that would support this program year round and allow us to open career doors for urban youth that are often unavailable to them. We had to partner with schools and community organizations, engage former gang members and law enforcement. We were ready. Competition was stiff because this was a multi-year grant meaning once we were awarded the grant we had the opportunity to keep renewing the grant year after year!
The most difficult part of any grant application is putting together the coalition of support you need to meet your goals. As the purported fearless leader I went to work and contacted the principals of the targeted schools. I met with and presented to them and their staff and convinced three out of the four that we were the organization to partner with. We demonstrated that we could do the work and had a history of providing the needed services for the schools. We had out-maneuvered the other providers trying to get into the schools!
Our TYCCA Program Director met with the former gang leader and planned how we would engage older youth and what was needed to give them the resources to pursue a career that would connect them to brighter futures. He partnered with us and we were able to include his work and resources in our narrative describing how truly awesome we would be with this partnership. She developed the work plan and designed the programming that was needed to create a stellar project.
Our Communications Director went to work and obtained all the letters of support from former youth who had participated in our program. Because of the long standing partnerships we had with many of our community organizations we had letters of support from leaders in the community who believed, as we did, that we could provide the services that were outlined in the grant and seriously make a difference with youth on the east side of Detroit! He was also responsible for using the narrative to create the budget and the budget narrative
Weeks of preparation and work was coming to a head with the deadline looming. This was not one where we could compile all of our data and information into an electronic file and hit a button before the clock struck the deadline. This was one where we had to complete the forms, write the narrative adhering to the number of pages, spacing and font sizes, scan the letters of support, complete the budget and the budget narrative, include the partnership agreements and number the pages. Once edited and compiled we had to then create five copies of a three ring binder size document and binder clip them making sure on the number pages we had our identifying information. We then had to stuff them in an envelope and drive across town (avoiding all traffic and police) to drop this package of papers that would carry our opportunity to provide expanded services to our youth to the funding agency!
The manual labor involved in actually processing the application was where failure loomed.
The necessary pieces of the application were in place but our lack of coordination to bring the pieces together started the backward slide. We were convinced this was one of the better grants we had written. Because we did not prioritize what was most important to focus on the week the grant was due we continued meetings and kept appointments that had no value added to our agency. Troubled loomed. We assumed we had time to complete the narrative the morning it was due but did not anticipate the power failure that made us redo our narrative, or how long it would take to collate five stacks of 100 sheets of paper per specific guidelines.
With 20 minutes to get to the drop off site. We left our office still binding the packets in the car having to defy the speed limits, praying for no police surveillance along the way. Running behind time we hit the freeway…noooooooooooooooo – it was backed up. We lost serious time and had five minutes to traverse a distance fifteen minutes away. Needless to say we did not make it. We were five minutes late and the doors were shut!
As I beat the steering wheel with tears pouring I felt we had lost a major chance to help a lot of youth in Detroit that needed it desperately! I knew I had to take the responsibility for not planning for all contingencies. But trust me, I did not need to or want to hear it from my son who travels all over the world and is a big time project manager telling me “Mom, you know that was your fault!”
Those were hard lessons learned. We have since written many grants but every aspect is managed with a focus on exactly what it will take to have every aspect of the proposal reviewed and in place to submit long before it is due. The other lesson we learned is to better coordinate everybody’s responsibilities in the grant-writing process. That way we know exactly who is responsible for what part of the grant and how it fits into our timeline.
The results have netted us three major grants in the past year since we missed the deadline - one is a five year grant that is renewable for another five years!
What Happens To Us If TYC Is Not Funded?
Dr. D Said Failure Is Not Final!
Ain't No Stopping Us Now!