Grant seekers have many tools available to them that can be used to write winning proposals. One of these tools that does not receive a lot of attention is the scoring rubric.

If you have served as a grant reviewer, you will be familiar with scoring rubrics. These are the scoring checklists that reviewers use to score points for proposals. Having served as a reviewer for several grant competitions, I can tell you there are some very good scoring rubrics—and, unfortunately, there are some very bad ones.

As a savvy grant seeker, you should be familiar with them and use them as a tool to help you draft your grant proposal. Look carefully in the Requests for Proposals that you have in your files to see if any of them contain the scoring rubric for the grant review. You may be surprised to find the rubric “buried” in the back of the RFP among pages that you never looked through before you wrote your proposal!

How does a scoring rubric become an important tool to a grant writer? Scoring rubrics will give you several pieces of important information. First, by looking at the rubric, you will be able to see the different categories that will be scored when your grant is reviewed. After you have written your proposal, but before it is submitted, be sure that every category that is listed on the scoring rubric is found in your proposal.

Under each category, check to see what specific items will be addressed. For example, what will be scored under the Personnel section? Will reviewers be looking for the student/teacher ratio? Will the quality of the faculty be scored? Will reviewers be looking at the use of support staff?

A very helpful scoring rubric will give you the various points that are available and, under each point value, tell you the kind of information that needs to be present in order to score that number of points. You should read these point value determinations very carefully, because they may provide you with enough information to determine what you need to score a “4” versus scoring a “3,” with four being the highest number available.

You might be surprised to see that the minimum that is recommended in the Request for Proposal in terms of the number of students served or the number of trainings held each year may, in fact, only earn you an above average score. Going beyond the minimum levels may be required in order to get the highest score.

Checking the point value determinations under the methodology section may give you a better idea of the types of project activities that reviewers will be looking for. A close inspection may yield clues as to the degree of vision and innovation that will score highly, the types of learning styles that will score high points, and the types of assessments that will yield the highest score. Doing an honest assessment of your own methodology section in advance of submission can show you the areas that you are going to score well in and those that will earn you an average or below average score.

Looking at the budget category of the scoring rubric may give you an idea of the number of partners that will earn you the highest score, as well as the weight of in-kind contributions in the review process. This will enable you to assess your possible score for your project budget and make you look more closely at the budget you have developed.

If you do not see a scoring rubric in the RFP, contact program staff and ask them if it is possible to get a copy. In some cases, rubrics will only be shared with grant reviewers, so your only option will be to contact former reviewers and ask them for some helpful pointers. Do not overlook this important tool in your quest for writing better proposals that get funded!