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William C. Altreuter
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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Although I've been involved with not-for-profits for a long time my involvement with grants and the grant process has largely been to be happy when the organization gets one. ELAB, the organization I am currently involved with, recently learned of a grant that New York State awards that sounded like something that fit perfectly with what we do and would like to do, and one of the requirements was that a board member attend a workshop. I had the afternoon open, so I volunteered. I don't want to knock free money, but the workshop was a colossal waste of time, and it didn't have to be.

New York's process for awarding grants has recently been restructured. There is a common application, which is a sensible thing. The process is initiated on the local level, by region-- Western New York, Finger Lakes, Central New York, etc.-- then filtered up to the awarding agency in Albany. This paragraph is a distillation of the first hour of the program, and although there were a couple of other details, none of the rest of what what said really added to what the people present needed to know to apply for and receive money.

After the first hour we broke out into three groups. One group was for people whose organizations wanted money for "Business Assistance"-- financing, workforce development and public infrastructure projects. One group was for people who represented organizations that are involved with environmental projects-- sewer authorities, utilities, stuff like that. My group was for "Community Development" projects. At my breakout session there were representatives from the New York State Canal Corporation, the New York Department of State's Local Government Efficency Program, the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, the Office of Parks anda couple of others. Several of the speakers made presentations on behalf of other offices as well-- the guy from the Canal Corporation was also there for the New York State Council on the Arts, which is where we'll be going. Here's the thing-- none of what any of these people had to say had anything to do with how to get the money. There were, of course, PowerPoint presentations, but all of these dealt with stuff that was on the most macro level conceivable-- things like the total dollar amount of the granting agency's budget, larded with technical detail that had no meaning to anyone who wasn't usually neck-deep in interaction with the agency on a daily basis. Things like restrictions on alienation for dedicated parkland for example. It was a bizarre waste of time, a fact that was punctuated by each speaker repeating, "More information is available on the website."

I talk for a living, but that's not unique to my glamor profession. None of these speakers betrayed enough interest in their presentations to deviate from their slides, and the slides were almost entirely irrelevant to the process we were there to learn about. $32 million dollars is available, and the agency will award up to 16 grants. Does that mean that the money is being ladled out in $2 million dollar packages, or does it mean that there'll be one $30 million dollar award and the rest of you can fight over the crumbs? Who knows?


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