I recently received a telephone call from a school district on the West Coast asking for help with writing a grant proposal. I’m a grant-writing consultant, so that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Well, there’s a little more to the story.
I received the call on a Monday at 5 p.m. EST and the proposal was due that Friday, less than five days’ notice. Plus, the application had to include some important pieces of information from a report that an outside consultant had spent the past year working on. When the district called me, officials still were waiting for the report. The staff member who called me was frustrated and sounded defeated, and understandably so.
I’m using this example to highlight the importance of preparing far enough in advance and leaving adequate time to put a proposal together. I know this has been mentioned before, but it seems there are still an awful lot of folks out there who operate in the “last minute” mode, trying their very best to put a proposal together as those last minutes are ticking away on the clock!
First, I would like to appeal directly to school districts’ administrative staffs. If there isn’t a system in place in your district to disseminate information about grant opportunities to the appropriate staff people within a day of the receipt of this information, please consider putting such a structure in place. In many cases, your staff will need every second that is available to them to polish a project idea and to construct a well-written proposal.
How many of you read the “Grant Deadlines” section that appears in this publication every month? For some of these grants, only two months’ notice (or less) prior to the deadline is not enough time to collect all of the information and work out all of the details needed to submit a comprehensive proposal. However, even if you don’t have time to apply for the current funding cycle, you can still use this information to prepare for future competitions under the same program.
When you see a new grant program, do you check to see if the funder will fund the types of projects you’d like to implement in your district? If so, do you get in touch with the funder or check the web site right away to find out more about the program and what is required in a proposal? Most people who see an impending deadline will become discouraged and let this opportunity pass by. If no follow-up steps are taken immediately, in all likelihood this information is forgotten. However, you can turn this into a proactive situation by taking a few simple steps.
If the description of the grant program seems to fit with some projects that your district would like to implement, do the research as soon as you see the information. (Better yet, do the research as soon as you identify some project ideas!) Contact the funder and ask for the RFP (request for proposal) or giving guidelines, or find out if this information is on a web site. Ask if there is a mailing list that you can join to receive more information.
When you get the information about applying, review it and make a reasonably quick decision about whether it is worthwhile to apply for the upcoming competition. Realistically examine what material must be included, and ask if this material is available. Do you meet the funder’s eligibility requirements? What kind of time do staff have within the time frame to actually work on the grant?
A decision must be made that is not influenced by the amount of the grant award, because a poorly-conceived project that is translated into a hastily-written proposal is not likely to be funded, anyway. If you decide not to pursue a grant opportunity this year, note when the competition was announced and whether a new one is expected next year. Make a list of all the items you’ll need, and start collecting them now. Design a simple database to include information about funders for easy future reference. Also, keep copies of funders’ RFPs and guidelines on hand, so you can get a jump on the competition for next year.
Using these steps to achieve proactive grant-seeking should help reduce the stress of proposal writing and lead to better applications that contain well-developed projects. Always strive to avoid the “last minute” proposal whenever possible!