I recently had a very traumatic experience with a grant submission, and a program officer helped save the day. We experienced technical difficulties with an online submission process, and the program officer helped us to determine what went wrong and worked out a plan for us to resubmit our proposal for consideration.

The experience reminded me once again of how helpful program officers can be—and how we, as grant–seekers, should not hesitate to work collaboratively with these individuals, both before the proposal is submitted and after funding is awarded.

I find that many novice proposal writers are intimidated by the thought of contacting a program officer. There seems to be a perception that program officers are powerful individuals (which they are) who should be admired from afar but never approached for assistance. This, of course, is silly! There is a reason the program officer’s name, telephone number, and/or eMail address is published in the request for proposals (RFP) or funding guidelines: because this is the person who is most familiar with the program and is available to answer any questions that come up and provide you with technical assistance as you work on your proposal.

It is important to remember, however, that most program officers are incredibly busy people, just like the rest of us. Do not waste a program officer’s time, for instance, by calling for general information that can be found by reading the guidelines carefully. Instead, call program officers for clarification of information that is contained in the guidelines, for answers to questions you have that cannot be not found in the guidelines, or when you are experiencing difficulties.

For example, you might need to call to clarify whether, in fact, your project idea is a close fit with the funder’s interests, or if your organization can be a lead applicant for one proposal and a partner in someone else’s proposal.

I recommend that every proposal writer attend the RFP workshop if one is held. This gives you the opportunity to have your questions answered and to see who else is considering applying for the grant. Just as important, an RFP workshop will give you the opportunity to meet the program officer face to face to chat briefly about your project. It is easier, I think, to call someone for additional help once you have met him or her in person.

Keep in mind that an important part of the grantsmanship process is the relationship aspect. When you accept a grant award, you are entering into a relationship with a funder—and if you’re very fortunate, this can signal the start of an ongoing relationship that might result in sustained funding. Your main contact with the funder will be the program officer, so it’s important that your relationship with this person be a positive and productive one.

I would encourage you to view program officers as members of your team: individuals who are there to assist you with troubleshooting, to guide you through the funding process, and to help you carry out your project successfully. Remember that program officers want to see you succeed with your project—probably as much as you want to succeed yourself.