If you work in a busy grants office or do a significant amount of grants research, you might be looking for ways to streamline the process. Requests for proposals (RFPs) and grant guidelines often can be lengthy documents—but here are a few tips for how you can scan them quickly to determine if it’s worth the time and effort to read all of the information (which, of course, you must do if it looks like a viable opportunity).

• Look at the Eligibility section.

This will tell you what kinds of entities are allowed to submit proposals.

If you don’t see schools or local education agencies (school districts) listed, then look to see if a collaborative partnership that includes school districts is allowed. You might not qualify to be the lead applicant for the project; however, you might be able to be a partner in a project if you meet the eligibility requirements for partners. This assumes, though, that you have a relationship with the type of entity that is eligible to be the lead applicant.

If you don’t have an existing relationship, it might prove difficult to convince an organization to let you participate in a project when it has no history with you. This is why I’d recommend that you develop relationships with potential partners in your community, such as the public library, a museum, a public health department, a college or university, et cetera—and maintain these relationships even if there isn’t a grant opportunity on the horizon.

• Look at the number of awards that will be distributed.

The smaller the number of awards to be made, the less chance you have of receiving a grant—unless you have a close relationship with the funder and know that your chances of getting funded are fairly good.

Requests for proposals and grant guidelines often can be lengthy documents, but some tips can help.

Requests for proposals and grant guidelines often can be lengthy documents, but some tips can help.

When a grant program announces that fewer than three awards will be distributed, this usually means the funder already knows who the awards are going to. (I have seen grant announcements on Grants.gov that specify who the only eligible applicants are for the grant.) In all probability, the awardees will be entities that have received prior grant awards, have worked with the funder on other projects, and have been quite successful in carrying out these projects.

• Look at the dollar range of the awards to be made.

For large-scale projects, you’ll probably want to apply for grants that will provide either the entire amount of the project costs or a substantial portion (at least 50 percent) of the total amount that you’ll need. Federal grants typically tend to be larger—often in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in funding for multiple years of grant support.

If you have a small project with a total project cost that runs in the thousands of dollars, you probably will not be looking at federal grants. However, this level of funding is appropriate for many foundation requests, so that is the best kind of funder to research.

Keep in mind that many foundations don’t want to be the sole source of funding for a project, so if you can identify and apply to several foundations to support your project, this is a good thing!

If, after reading these three areas of an RFP, you decide that this might be a viable option to pursue, make sure you read all of the rest of the information in the grant guidance—and as you do so, you should continue to make sure that it’s a proposal worth working on.
Carefully check to make sure there isn’t any information “buried” somewhere in the RFP that would disqualify you from applying, or would make your project a poor match to the program’s intentions—and good luck if you submit a proposal!