I am very happy to post another article guest author Betsy Baker! Besty is the President of YourGrantAuthority.com. She has earned more than ten million dollars in grant funding and continues to be a grant writing consultant for nonprofits.
She is best known for her plain-language instructional guidance and offers both ebook instruction and one-on-one coaching in writing grants and starting a grant writing consulting career.
That was the question I posed as an informal survey on LinkedIn’s Chronicle of Philanthropy group. Responses came from a former federal funding officer, a foundation program officer, a research methodologist (whose language was slightly above my pay grade), program evaluators, grant management consultants and experienced grant writers. As a long-time grant writer myself, I expected certain responses such as “make sure the budget fits the narrative” and “proofread!” but what I didn’t expect was the variety of responses I received. Here’s a sampling straight from those in the know:
“Paint a clear picture to the reviewer what the program year ahead will look like. A particularly big faux pas is when the information provided conflicts with text provided elsewhere in the proposal – such as saying that a project is year-round then only budgeting staff for 9 months.”
I love this one: “It raises my suspicion when a well-established, comparatively wealthy organization with a grant writing infrastructure would focus on the slickness of the packaging and handsome ancillary materials (whether relevant or not) rather than the content of the program and/or the proposal. Grants officers usually see through those disguises, particularly when competing proposals show evidence of solid homework, preparation and yes, need.” See? There IS a level playing field, little guys!
Another one for the smaller applicant organizations: “There is a profound difference in how one reads a proposal from a large, established organization and from a small or start-up one. I am not suggesting that sloppiness or inaccuracy is ever appropriate, but it is important to remember that the person writing may well be inexperienced in writing proposals but has had great creativity in creating it in the first place.”
“I hone in on the evaluation design and the appropriateness and alignment of measures to outcomes and whether they are representative of the data from the narrative.” This one’s from my beloved research methodologist who then proceeded to go into lots of detail on ordinal data, likert scales and data sets.
“Although it’s alright to have a template for proposals, each one needs to be tailored for the specific opportunity. I see a lot of proposals that have not been proofed or where language has been pasted in that refers to another foundation.” Ouch!
“What I find offensive (as a former federal funding officer) is the proposal that reflects a total lack of consideration for the reviewers and the review process by ignoring either common sense or the guidelines.”
Finally, get a clue about WHO you’re submitting to! For example, “I worked for a foundation named for a donor with a common last name. Several times, after talking with a prospective applicant about their project, they’d ask just who this donor was or if it was the same guy who invented so-and-so or was in the energy business, etc. Jeez, guys, read the blurb about the donor and the foundation. You’d think you’d want to know a little something about a prospect that lets you submit a seven-figure ask! Wait, let me rephrase that – if you don’t want to take the time to know the donor, the donor isn’t going to take the time to make your grant.”
My response to these? Couldn’t have said it better myself!
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