About eight years ago, I wrote a column that described what I considered to be the top 10 grant-writing mistakes. I recently read the list again, and it seems like the mistakes are pretty much the same, even after all these years! However, as I read over them, what I realized was that many of the mistakes probably occur when someone is rushed to put together a grant application and submit it by the deadline.
Those of you who apply for federal grants might have observed that the application window appears to be shrinking. Whereas before it was customary to receive six to eight weeks of notice before the deadline, now the Requests for Proposals typically go out about a month before the proposals are due. As a colleague of mine and I were recently discussing, with only a month’s notice, it’s almost impossible to develop a project idea, develop a budget, develop objectives, secure letters of commitment, and write a proposal narrative and budget narrative in such a short period of time.
With only four weeks, it seems like there is just enough time to put the finishing touches on a project and budget narrative that have been sketched out beforehand, and to make sure you’ve included all the information that the guidance says must be found in the application package before you send it in.
The point I’m trying to make is that now, savvy grant writers who are looking for federal funds will have to plan projects in advance, understanding the various opportunities that are likely to come up and being ready to respond at a moment’s notice.
Luckily, most private funders (such as corporate and family foundations) still offer multiple opportunities to submit proposals throughout the year. But I’m a firm believer that better proposals are created when advance planning takes place.
Here are the top 10 mistakes that I identified eight years ago, and which are still common today:
1. The project doesn’t match the funder’s objectives or areas of interest.
2. The writer ignores the instructions that are outlined in the guidance or RFP.
3. The writing in the narrative isn’t succinct and doesn’t make sense.
4. The proposal narrative contains typographical or grammatical errors.
5. The proposal narrative is filled with jargon or acronyms.
6. The proposal narrative is full of buzzwords and clichés, and little or no substance.
7. The objectives in the narrative are vague and open to individual interpretation.
8. The budget doesn’t correlate to the information that is included in the proposal narrative.
9. The estimated costs in the budget are inaccurate, incorrect, or inflated.
10. The proposal was hastily assembled and is missing required sections and/or contains many errors.
And, here are a few more that I would add:
11. The description of how the project will be evaluated is vague.
12. Letters of support are submitted, rather than letters of commitment.
13. The writer is not familiar with the funder’s instructions for how to upload and submit online applications well in advance of the deadline. (This could lead to a missed deadline; imagine trying to submit a proposal at the last minute, and discovering you aren’t familiar with the procedure. Savvy grant seekers take the time to learn the process well before they need to submit their proposal.)