Grant Writing Tips

Writing grants is not an easy craft and many folks who write successful grants have been in the business for many years. Below is a list of tips that successful grant seekers employ to give themselves an edge. 

Start early.  Allow plenty of time to plan, gather required information, and write your proposal. Submit several days ahead of deadline. Agencies will never accept late submissions. Complex proposals can take six months or more to prepare.

Know your language. The grants world has it's own language. You should know what the application instruction document is called. Request for Proposal (RFP) is a general term. Other terms include Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) and Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA). They're all the same thing.

Don’t hesitate to call.
 If you have questions about an RFP or a federal program, call the program officer listed in the RFP or program website. They are usually quite responsive and can be a valuable resource in your success. Calling with questions is a key step many grant seekers don't take.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships.  Related to the step above, form a relationship with staff who oversee programs that you’re interested in. Call them. Visit them at conferences. Make sure they know who you are. Contact your Congressman’s office for assistance with facilitating this relationship if necessary.

Be an insider.  Sign up to receive e-newsletters from programs of interest. Many agencies send newsletters regularly. They contain information on upcoming competitions, opportunities for technical assistance, staff changes, and funding priorities that can determine the direction of your grant project.

Become a reviewer.  There is no substitute to learning the grant review process than becoming a reviewer for a grant program you are interested in. Agencies often solicit reviewers. Ask the program officer how to become part of a review panel. This behind-the-scenes experience can help you develop better proposals.

Follow instructions.  Place all information in the order requested in the RFP. Don't force reviewers to hunt for information. They may get upset. Adhere to proposal style requirements (e.g., fonts, page limits, single/double space). Not following directions may get your application rejected.

Remember your audience.  Be sure the application responds to the program requirements and that responses are complete. Do not assume reviewers are familiar with your community, organization, or research area.

Use charts & tables.  Using charts and tables is a great idea. They present a lot of information quickly and break up the monotony of reading a long narrative. Be sure, however, that charts/tables are easy to understand and that they agree with information presented elsewhere in the document.

Be brief and clear.  Make your points understandable. Use short descriptive sentences.  Provide accurate information, including candid accounts of problems and realistic plans to address them. If any required information or data is omitted, explain why.

Create a realistic budget.  Your budget should reflect proposed activities. Don’t pad numbers to get more money. Include items, such as travel and support staff, if allowed and necessary for the project. Your budget narrative should describe the calculations and assumptions used to arrive at your figures.

Be organized and logical. Many applications fail to receive a high score because reviewers can’t follow the applicant’s thought process or because parts of the application don’t fit together.

Ask to See a Winner.  If you are applying to a federal program, you can make a Freedom of Information Act request to view a copy of a winning proposal. Likewise, go online to see a list of applicants that won previously. Abstracts are usually included with project director’s contact information.

Use attachments wisely.  Do not use the attachments for information that is required in the body of the application. No one will read them. Upload all required attachments in the order indicated in the RFP.

Proofread. Misspellings, bad grammar, and confusing ideas can torpedo a potentially winning proposal. Ensure your proposal has gone through several revisions before submitting. Have people who didn’t work on it read it for clarity and mistakes.

Continue Your Education.  Attend a grantsmanship class, workshop, or webinar.