Grant Writing Process Misconceptions

The Research Phase

Grant writing, just as any other professional activity, can be broken down into a series of phases or stages. Perhaps the most important phase in the grant writing process is the research phase where the background, research, and planning are undertaken.

This particular phase can literally mean the difference between success and failure. When seeking to obtain grants from foundations, corporate entities, or similar institutions it is critical that you develop a familiarity with the particular institution’s history and track record of grant awards.

Each grant making body develops a unique approach to deciding and awarding grants and it is important to recognize each one’s individual requirements, interests, and type of grants awarded historically.

After all, if you are applying for a research grant in assisted living, for example, and the grant making body that you are petitioning for an award has a history of awarding grants in K-12 related research or similar, there is not much point in petitioning that particular entity.

Do your research.  There are myriad resources to research grant making bodies online as well as numerous books and other research material but it is vital that once you set your sights on a grant making organization that the research doesn’t stop.

You must actively review the organization’s award history, its specific requirements, and how long it typically takes to review applications in order to ensure that it also matches your funding requirements and constraints.

Grant Application Phase

One thing is very important to point out up front. Making the grant application is not a shotgun approach. You cannot simply cut and paste the majority of the application in applying to several grant making bodies. For one thing, this is unprofessional and the grant application reviewers will detect this type of language immediately.

Each grant application must be tailored to match the needs and requirements of each awarding organization. More often than not the grant making body will have its own downloadable application form to which other information can be attached and returned.

The nice thing is, as discusses later, that usually grant applications generally contain the same sections and sub-headings which simplifies things considerably.

Once you have settled on a suitable grant making organization to make application to then the real work begins. The very first item to be aware of in making the grant application is to review the application itself provided by the organization and to make not of all the application deadlines. Failure to follow the guidelines and deadlines exactly assures your application of failure.

The typical grant application process involves following the instructions in completing the grant proposal and submitting it to the relevant organization in the proper format by the given deadline.

Alternatively, some organizations may ask for a Letter of Inquiry first, which is nothing but a short single page letter outlining the character of your own organization and the project proposal prior to making a full grant application.

This saves everyone a lot of time if the type of project is something that the grant making body is simply not interested in.

However, in most cases and certainly following the Letter of Inquiry, the completed grant proposal is the primary device which funding agencies utilize to determine granting decisions. The grant proposal itself accomplishes the following items:

  • Who are you
  • Why you are asking for funds
  • What is that you intend on doing with the award
  • How you are a suitable match with the goals of the granting organization

Examined in this light, the grant proposal makes much more sense to the novice grant writer. At this point, it is time to begin the grant writing process which is where most people get intimidated. Don’t be. Grant writing can be complex but when the different components are broken down individually and their overall purpose is understood, actually writing the grant proposal becomes much easier. Certainly knowing in advance what type of grants the funding agency usually makes helps.

The Grant Review Phase

This is the phase of the grant application process that you do not have any control over. The grant review phase is the period of time that the funding agency takes to review your, as well as other, grant applications. The funding agencies all require different review periods to make their decision but the nice thing is that each agency usually posts this information on its website or places this information on the actual grant application.

Each funding agency has some sort of screening process in which administrative staff weed out the grant proposals that do not match the agencies grant making objectives, are illegible, poorly thought out, or a simply late. Once these grant proposals are weeded out then the remaining grant proposals are discussed and researched further and recommendations are formulated for each. Following this step, the organization’s review board is given the remaining grant proposals and makes its own decisions based on their own review as well as the recommendations of the staff reviewers.

It’s important to realize that each funding body has its own review process and this process can include site visits, requests for personal interviews, or further information—Be Prepared!

Sometimes the board might only see a synopsis of the grant proposal prepared by the initial reviewers and sometimes a particular board may dispense with the screening process entirely and review every application. This is why research is important and following the instructions, guidelines, and deadlines exactly is one of the best ways to ensure success.

The Grant Award Decision Phase

The denial of a grant proposal usually results in a form letter informing you of your proposal being turned down. These form letters normally do not contain much information about why it was turned down since funding agencies may not track such data and certainly do not have the staff to respond on such an individual basis to each and every denied grant proposal.

Basically, get used to being turned down in the grant writing world. There is only so much money and a limited number of organizations making grant awards and a whole lot of applicants. Grant writing is formulaic and can be accomplished with a high degree of success but everyone gets turned down at one time or another.

Funding organizations have award budgets and often the only reason you may be turned down is your application got to towards the end of the award cycle and the funding agency is simply out of money.

Apply again the following cycle if you truly believe your proposal ideally matches the needs of a particular funding agency. It is a common understanding in grant writing circles that many grant proposals are only accepted after two or three submission cycles.

If your grant proposal is accepted then you will receive either some type of cover letter along with a check or the funding agency may have some sort of contractual documentation which it requires you to follow. These types of contractual agreements that accompany the funding award most usually require you to submit a final report upon completion of the project.

However, when you receive one or the other types of award acknowledgement is good form to confirm the award and, in the case of a contractual agreement, returned the signed document immediately making note of all the requirements.

And, speaking from personal experience, whether the funding agency actually requests a follow-up report or not, you should submit a write-up of the project and its outcome to the funding agency just as a professional courtesy.

Another factor in actually receiving an award is the consideration of whether you received the full amount budgeted for a given project.

Failure to receive the full amount budgeted requires you to either adjust the budget and inform all funding agencies of the revised project plan, or, alternatively, request to apply the funds to another related project, or to simply return the money. Some funding agencies will only award a percentage of the total budget requiring you to seek other funding sources.