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Keys to Writing Federal Grants - Ten ”Musts” for Successs

Keys to Writing Federal Grants - Ten ”Musts” for Successs

1. Be honest about “fit”
  • If the call for proposals is directed at health care access for kids, don't expect that you can be a creative enough writer to seek fitness building services for the elderly.
  • The call for proposals clearly defines the intent and goals of the funding agency. If the fit isn't strong, even the best proposal will be denied.
  • Remember that writing a federal proposal takes from 60 to 100 hours or more. Make sure you invest in good research to find the program that matches to the greatest extent possible with your program needs.

2. Partnerships matter
  • Over the past several years, Federal grant programs, in general, have more strongly favored projects that include collaboration and partnerships. Demonstrating how groups are working together adds significant strength to a grant proposal.
  • Make sure partnerships are well-documented. Memoranda of agreement and other formal documents outlining how agencies work together demonstrate strong alliances
  • NOTE: General “letters of support&lrquo; without specific commitments are of MUCH LESS VALUE than letters with commitments.

3. Write to connect with BOTH “heads" and “hearts"
  • Some people are more analytical. Others are more feeling. Be prepared to include a strong mix of documented facts on the need coupled with case study profiles and anecdotal evidence to convince both types of readers.

4. Evaluation is more than just a “section"
  • Accountability is the “key&lrquo; with growing emphasis on outcomes that be documented. Make sure the evaluation section can carry the weight of these demands.
  • Consider how the evaluation of the project can be integrated in all sections of the proposal, calling the readers' attention to your goal of strong accountability and outcomes.

5. The budget tells a story, too. Make sure it matches the narrative version
  • Nothing should be in the budget that is not clearly described in the narrative of the proposal. There should be no unexplained budget elements.
  • Include calculations and other rationale for budget amounts requested. This is especially important in travel. Only people from the “big square states&lrquo; understand that a catchment area serving 100 people can span hundreds of miles of travel.

6. Read, study, and follow the Request for Proposals to the LETTER!
  • If the RFP calls for the Introduction at the end, put it there. If they say 12 point type, they don't mean 11.5.
  • Study the RFP thoroughly before you begin writing. Create the table of contents from the RFP. Reread the RFP thoroughly as your last step in final review of your proposal.
  • Expect that the readers of your proposal will have evaluation tools set up using the RFP. Help them by making the document match the format.

7. If you feel inadequate about writing, buy an English major
  • First and foremost, grant writing is about the ability to tell your story in a compelling way.
  • Don't feel bad if your writing skills are rusty. Get your thoughts and structure on paper, then hire a skilled technical writer to address grammar, style, and continuity issues. It will be a good investment in your professional development as well as having a good end product.

8. Grant proposals are not read, they are referenced
  • Remember that most federal peer reviewers will read and rank between eight and 15 proposals. They will do this task in under three days. Because it is impossible for them to read each thoroughly, they will most often go through the proposal sections looking for elements needed to rank. Help them with good table of contents, pagination, section headers, and other details to ease finding information.
  • Make sure attachments are clearly labeled and paginated. Refer the reader to specific pages when referencing the appendices in the narrative.

9. Don't expect it to all make sense
  • Experience will tell you that Requests for Proposals are not always consistent. They may ask for one formatting detail in one area of the request and contradict it with another direction later on. Be prepared to use your best judgment when these situations arise.
  • If questions cannot be solved, go to the phone and/or web site for assistance. You don't always get assistance, but is worth the try.
  • If you clearly don't know from the RFP, document your actions in a cover letter.
  • When in doubt, include items requested (e.g., IRS letter documenting tax exempt status, letters of commitment/collaboration)

10. Try, try again!
  • Going to the hard work of developing a federal grant application is not wasted if, at first, you have a negative result. Once written, sections of the proposal can be reworked for other federal grants. For example, a well-crafted research-based evaluation design can be restructured for other grant proposals you may choose to write.
  • Templates of budget designs, charts, needs data, and other tools, once developed, can easily be reworked for new proposals.