Grant writers might be overlooking a key “gift” from funders that can help them with creating and editing their grant proposals. As a recent participant in a mock peer review process, I was reminded of the importance of looking for review criteria in program guidelines and using these criteria to “score” your own proposal before it’s even submitted.
I have seen review criteria included in many federal program guidelines, and also in some funding guidelines from private funders. More often than not, however, we grant writers are so overwhelmed when putting together a proposal that we don’t take the time to look at the review criteria to make sure we’ve included all the information that proposal reviewers or foundation board members will be looking for as they make funding decisions.
Grant makers often list the review criteria for every section of a proposal, and these can function as a checklist to help ensure you’ve addressed all of the funder’s concerns. Using these criteria also gives writers a “heads up” about what reviewers will be looking for in each section of a proposal. If a funder wants to see certain information in the needs section, but you’ve included this information in the methodology section, it would make sense for you to move the information and make it as easy as possible for the reviewers to find it.
I was surprised, by the way, to hear at a recent technical assistance workshop for a federal department (not the Education Department) that reviewers must give credit for information as long as it appears in a proposal–even if it appears in the wrong section. I have served as a reviewer in the past, and in contrast, I’ve been instructed to subtract points if the requested information was not found in the required section. So, to be on the safe side, I would recommend that you place information in the correct section using the review criteria as a guide.
You also might want to conduct your own internal “mock” review session before submitting your proposal. (Of course, if you want to do this, you’ll need to plan ahead and make sure there is sufficient time available to conduct the review and make any necessary changes to your proposal before the submission deadline.) Select a few individuals, perhaps up to three, and ask them to look at the review criteria and read your proposal, making notes of what they could not find, as well as any paragraphs or sentences that seemed unclear and/or confusing. By choosing individuals who were not a part of the proposal development process, you are more likely to get unbiased feedback about your proposal. Other grant writers also can be effective mock reviewers.
Conducting a mock review is by no means a foolproof guarantee that your proposal will be funded. However, it will give you a chance to make sure you’ve responded to all of the proposal requirements in a clear manner and have included all of the information that reviewers will be looking for when they conduct the actual review. This, in turn, could improve your chances of being funded tremendously.