In the September 2000 issue of eSchool News, I wrote that serving as a grant reviewer is a terrific way to get the “inside scoop” on a particular program’s funding priorities, thus boosting your own chances of success the following year. Another strategy I have found to be extremely beneficial is referring to copies of successful proposals from the previous funding year.

How can you get copies of funded proposals? It’s my understanding that these are a matter of public record. In fact, many funders post copies of funded proposals on their web sites. I know of a school district in New Hampshire that has posted its winning proposals on the district’s web site; these can be read but not downloaded.

You could also call funders directly and ask them to provide you with copies of one or two funded proposals from the last competition. Frankly, however, this might not get you very far. Program officers are very busy people, and—depending on the support staff they have available to them—they often don’t have the time to make copies and mail them out.

A faster way, and one that can be even more beneficial, is to contact grantees from the most recent program year. Ask for a copy of their funded proposal, and use the opportunity to find out more information from the grantee.

For example, I have asked grantees what the reviewers had to say about their proposal—both the strengths they noted and the suggestions they made. This kind of information is extremely helpful as you’re reading the proposal.

In the case of a private funder, I also ask about the process that occurred before the school district submitted its proposal. Did the grant writers meet with program staff before submitting the proposal? Was there an individual in the district who had a connection to the funder and who took part in the process? Did the program staff make any specific suggestions (or, in some cases, requests) as district officials were discussing their project idea?

If you are very lucky, a grantee might volunteer to read over your proposal and give you some feedback before it is submitted.

Funded proposals can provide information in terms of both content and format. Look closely at the type of language that was used in successful proposals. In most cases, it will be clear, easy to understand, and contain few acronyms or jargon. If the winning proposals are written in language that could only be understood by research scientists, you have a clue as to the level of writing that will be required!

Looking at the various sections of funded proposals can provide further insight and stimulate ideas for your own proposal. By studying the evaluation section, for example, you might learn about evaluation tools that could be used to measure your own project’s success, as well as who has expertise as an evaluator. The needs section might provide you with ideas for how to document needs in your own district, or it might alert you to important studies that you can use to support the need for your own project.

I also study funded proposals to see how they were “packaged.” In other words, did they use a bullet format in an interesting way? Did they convert a section full of statistics into a graph? Did they use a header or a footer throughout the proposal narrative that added to the visual appeal of the document? Did they use a budget format that makes sense to someone who doesn’t understand numbers?

I have saved copies of proposals over the years and borrowed some really great ideas to help make my proposals easier to read.