10 Tips for Successful Grant Writing

Grant dollars are shrinking
Grant dollars are shrinking

In the world of ever-shrinking federal, state, and private dollars in the USA for research and education, it’s more critical than ever to identify and win foundation support. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, has cut funding 8.2% because of the United States federal budget sequester. And cuts like these are not alone.

Follow these 10 tips for success in grant writing.

  1. Be prepared. Many researchers don’t start working on a grant application until they hear about a deadline. If you do, it will too late; there is too much to do and not enough time. Write up your proposed ideas—even if they’re only in draft form—so you’re ready and can act on vs. react to the deadline.
  2. Research foundation sources. Most scientific disciplines have funding sources that “everyone knows about.” As a result, there is a lot of competition for these research dollars. Try to identify smaller foundations that provide grants in your discipline. While the amount of the awards might be smaller, there is often less competition, therefore increasing your chance for success.
  3. Use professional and personal contacts. Once you know the foundation sources, share the names of the trustees and foundation staff by your board. They often run in the same circles, and one phone call can help put your grant proposal on the top of the pile.
  4. Contact the foundation and ask clarifying questions. Foundations almost always post their applications on their websites. Typically the procedures for submitting a proposal are clear, but sometimes they are not. When in doubt, contact the foundation and ask any questions you have to clarify their submission procedure. You don’t want to not understand or miss an important step when you’re about to press Submit.
  5. Obtain and review the grant application. Once you have the grant application in hand, review the guidelines. in detail If you have any questions about any of the content that is required, contact the foundation again. Because of your pre-existing relationship (see step #3), it’s likelier you’ll get a faster response which will enable you to keep the grant writing process alive.
  6. Identify and assign sections of the grant application to subject matter experts (SMEs). “Many hands make light work,” the adage says. The same is true for success in grant writing. The most successful grants are written by SMEs who contribute their expertise to one or more sections. Depending on the size of your organization and your budget, SMEs may be internal or external. Recruit the right people who have the time to contribute.
  7. Complete the draft grant application. SMEs are experts in their fields. Individual sections will most likely require independent reviews. However, it is important that every section of the grant proposal is completed before a single, complete draft can be reviewed.
  8. Develop metrics and assessments. You need to determine metrics and/or key performance indicators that can be measured. And, once these data are collected, you need to describe what they mean and how they will be assessed. Don’t load up your grant proposal with “big data”; fill it with big results you expect to achieve if the grant proposal is accepted.
  9. Review the grant application. Successful grant proposals need an über alles grant writer or project manager. This person can be an in-house resource or an independent third party. This person must recognize the inconsistencies in style, tone, depth and breadth of the presentation written by the SMEs and smooth them out. A successful grant proposal has a single voice not many disparate voices.
  10. Revise and submit the final grant proposal on schedule. This is one of the most critical steps that determines whether your grant proposal will be awarded. Give yourself enough time to do a quality revision and don’t rush. If you, your haste will be obvious to any reviewer and your proposal will be summarily denied. And never, ever miss the deadline.