Grant Writing Tips



     Here are some tips and hints for both the experienced and novice grant seekers.

About Writing Winning Grant Proposals:

  • Never write a proposal if you have not first fully developed the project. Otherwise, you have nothing to write about.
  • There is no such thing as a fill-in-the-blank proposal that can be just mailed to a list of potential funders.
  • Have multiple, fully-developed projects on the shelf, ready for proposal writing and you will always be able to meet proposal deadlines.
  • Each grant maker should receive a different, highly personalized proposal, fitting "to the letter" whatever guidelines s/he requires.
  • Write persuasively - you're selling a concept. You're not writing a term paper.
  • Remember the reader, above all. Write so the reader, any reader, from any profession, can read your proposal.
  • No jargon. No "bureaucrap." Simple, clear, concise sentences.
  • Writing is easy. It's about 20% of the issue in grants acquisition. It's only hard if you have nothing to say!
  • Never, ever cheat on margins, pages, words - on anything. After all, if you will cheat on the proposal then what in the world will you do with the money!
  • No matter what you've been told, don't shotgun – don't write one proposal and then mail it out to a bunch of potential funders.
  • When developing a budget, think project budget first.  List every penny it will take to run the entire project.  Don't forget support staff, copying charges, postage, memberships, telephone charges, meeting costs, and all the "hidden" expenses.  Then think, what part of this budget is appropriate to request from the funder.  No grantmaker will fund every cent of a project.  They want to see your investment.  Then put together an itemized list for the part of the overall budget you're requesting from the funder, the request budget.  Use this request budget to fill out the grant maker's summary forms.  Remember the forms you see are just summaries of line items, not the budget itself - the budget itself are those line items you used to complete the summary.
  • Grant makers want good proposals.  They will help you.  Call them and ask questions - but be sure you've done your homework first and that you're not asking a question already answered in their literature.
  • There's no trick to grant seeking.  It's not a game.  It requires good planning and hard work.  Planning the project out thoroughly is the single best thing you can do to insure a good proposal.
  • Be careful not to write sentences that sound pretty but don't say anything.  "We will put the project to the test by studying factors that have some opportunity of enhancement of its various facets to lead to successful working partnership."  Huh? There are some nice words in there - they flow off the tongue trippingly, but do they say anything?  No.  How about this?  "Project evaluation will include a pre- and post-questionnaire of participants with questions specifically designed to measure their perceptions of the effectiveness of the community partnership (Objectives 1 and 2)."    

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About Designing a Fundable Project:

  • There are a number of steps in the Project Development Process, including, but not exclusive of: Identify Needs, Specify Problems, Design the Project Idea to Solve the Problem, Determine Fundability, Fully Develop the Project, Profile the Project, Find a Matching Funder, Write Goals and Objectives, Develop a Project Budget, Develop the Funding Request Budget
  • Project Development is the critical element in successful grants acquisition.
  • Projects are sometimes funded by just one source, but that is rare. Normally a project will be funded by a partnership of several sources.
  • Once a project is developed, many proposals about it can be written and submitted.
  • Whether you request funds from Federal, foundation, state, local, or a corporate source, you will be asked to describe the details of your project.
  • Grant funders normally don't just fund a piece of equipment, but rather, a project for which equipment may be needed.
  • You should provide evidence in your proposal that your project has a reasonable chance to work.
  • To be fundable, a project proposed must solve a problem in which the grant maker is interested.
  • Be realistic. If you win an award, your project and the proposal you wrote about it are a contract.

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About Finding a Matching Funding Agency:

  • Each grant maker is an individual and should be approached in a different way.
  • Design the project before you go looking for a matching funder.
  • Funders match when they're trying to solve the same problem you are.
  • Funders match when they fund projects in the area in which your project will be operated.
  • Funders match when you are eligible according to their policy and your tax status.
  • Funders match when you're asking for an amount of funds they can and will appropriate.
  • Proposal review is a subjective process.
  • Grant seeking is a process, not an event.
  • Grant making is not a charity.  It's an investment.
  • Your only real relationship with the potential funder is the problem.  You are both trying to solve the same problem.  The proposal tells the potential funder how you intend to do it and why they should invest in you.
  • Grant makers like to partner on a project.  If you have one grant maker willing to invest in your project, it's likely you can attract more.
  • Most foundations like to establish a personal relationship with potential grantees.  Site visits are common.
  • When approaching a grant maker, be honest and realistic.  Don't play games with your project or your budget.  They've heard it all.

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Before Applying for a Grant:

  • Start early. This is the single best advice for the prospective grant writer. Make it your goal to get the Internal process completed one month before the grant application deadline. To do this, you need to submit the internal Grant Proposal Information Sheet six weeks prior to the grant application deadline. The internal Grant Proposal Information Sheet with the grant announcement and / or guidelines and your grant budget draft is due in the Grant Finance Coordinator’s office not less than two weeks prior to the grant application deadline, but don’t wait that long! Often, many people will need to be consulted once the process of completing Section III of the GPIS has begun. GPIS forms received by the Grant Finance Coordinator later than two weeks prior to the   grant application deadline will not be processed.
  • Choose grant period wisely. Give yourself plenty of time to complete the project. If you’re not prevented from doing so by the grant guidelines, allow an extra month or more than you think you will need at the beginning and, particularly, the end of the grant period. Compilation of financial data for final grant reports will  be smoother if enough time is allowed for the drawn-out process of University accounting to run its course.
  • Keep it simple. Make your grant budget as simple as the guidelines will allow. Don’t volunteer detail not required by the guidelines, particularly in the area of matching and in-kind contributions. Remember, you are required to support all claims of in-kind and other matching support with documentation that passes muster with state auditors. Keeping phone and copy logs, etc. to document in-kind support is very time consuming.  

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Additional Grant Writing Tips:

  • State the obvious - Assume reviewers know nothing about your library
  • Be direct
  • Get outside reaction
  • Layout of proposal

                      Use spacing, sub-headings, and underlines
                      Use wide margins
                      Use Library of Michigan application form
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Funding Your Best Ideas: A 12-Step Program

    Part I -- Before Writing

  1. Innovate -- and if you can't think of anything brand new, do something unexpected. This is your angle; now feature it.
  2. Do your homework. Find your niche. What are others doing about this issue? Show that you know, and place your project within this context.
  3. Build a team. Mix things up. Build and cross bridges--among departments, disciplines and schools. Between academia and business. Between schools and colleges. Include students and administrators. Be generous: share work and ownership. Appoint an advisory committee of famous people in your field--to get a head start on dissemination--but don't give them much work to do, and you won't need to pay them very much.
  4. Find the right funding agency. Know agency interests, culture, and style. Submit applications to more than one agency (but, of course, don't accept multiple grants supporting the same activities).
  5. Use the phone. Call a program officer, briefly summarize your idea, and and prepare specific questions. Take the program officers's advice very seriously, but exercise your own best judgment. Some agencies are more directive than others.

    Part II -- While Writing.

  6. Use a journalistic writing style. Use the "W" words of journalism: Who, what, when, where, why and how. Also use bullets, lists, outlines, diagrams, tables. Don't obsess on any topic, even if important. Make it interesting; let every sentence do a job. Assume that your reviewer is reading in bed, falling asleep--which is very likely true.
  7. Follow guidelines to the letter. Keep them before you as you write (but don't quote them back to the agency). Match headings in the proposal to headings in the guidelines so the reader doesn't have to hunt for needed information. Use "signposts": I am about to explain why... I have just argued that...
  8. Build in continuation, evaluation, and dissemination. Factory installed, not an add-on and not postponed to the last year. Continuation plans are an indicator of institutional commitment. Evaluation should be independent and objective, but doesn't need to meet standards of the Journal of Psychometrics--use common sense. What would you want to know about the success of an idea before you would consider adopting it? Evaluate "politically" -- i.e., with an eye toward later publicity. What would you want to see in headlines? Note the difference between passive and active dissemination. (The first disseminates admiration, not innovation.)
  9. Watch the bottom line. Share costs. Know how to cut costs without hurting the project: request replacement salaries instead of released time, charge actual instead of estimated benefits, follow agency recommendations on indirect costs.
  10. Leverage funds. Solicit funds from third parties, contingent on grant funding. This can be done in advance (to beef up cost share and make proposal more attractive), as well as after project is funded.
  11. Get a sharp (toothed) reader. Best: someone unfamiliar with your field, your project. Not an editor/proofreader. Have them read final draft without taking notes. Then ask them to tell you--from memory--what the project will do, how it will do it, why it is significant, and how it is different. Rewrite proposal if these answers aren't clear and correct, or they don't flow effortlessly.
  12. Write the abstract last. Put in your key innovation. Write 3 versions: one page (first page of proposal, whether requested or not), one paragraph (if requested), and one line, the proposal title--which you should think of as a mini-abstract (descriptive and intriguing). Don't repeat abstract or proposal text. Prepare for the possibility that some sleepy reviewer might read only the abstract.

    Other good advice:

  • Request reviews. Use the phone to ask agency staff why the project was or was not funded. If you are rejected, you can always try again.
  • If you get funded, let your agency help you. Brainstorming. Troubleshooting. Running interference with administration. Leveraging funds. Making you famous.
  • Help your agency.

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