Seven Tips to Successful Grant-writing

I quit keeping track of how much money all the grants I have written totaled, but when we were doing a lot of work together, Dr. Erich Longie had it at $30 million, and it’s been several years and probably another $4- 5 million since then.

Captain Obvious wearing her obvious hat
Captain Obvious wearing her obvious hat

If you are interested in obtaining grant money, let me give you a few tips from the trenches. These may seem like another memo from Captain Obvious, but believe me, I have met many people mistaken about each of these.

  1. The money you receive has a specific purpose. You are proposing a legal obligation between you and the federal government (or other organization). Do not believe for one minute that this is “free money”. It is free in the sense that you do not have to pay it back or give up equity in your company, but you DO have to do the work promised in that proposal. The reason I don’t have $30 million is that the money went to paying salaries, buying supplies and equipment, supporting travel to conferences.
  2. Apply to grant programs that fit your project. NEVER try to convince an agency that they should fund something outside of their area because they won’t do it. Do NOT try to convince the manager of a program for rural youth to fund your project in New York City because urban kids really need help, too.
  3. Read the instructions. Yes, all 60 or 100 pages of them. Specifics to look at right off the bat:
  • Page length. Don’t exceed it or your application won’t get reviewed.
  • Font size and margins. Yes, they are that picky.  If you think you can get around the page length by using 8-point font, think again. Your application won’t get reviewed.
  • Budget. If they give a range, your budget should be in it, not higher and not lower. If there is a maximum, your budget should be close to it but NOT over or (you guessed it) your grant won’t get reviewed. Don’t be too low, either. Think about it, if they are giving grants that average $500,000 per year and you request $45,000, you probably are not doing the same work, addressing the same objectives as they were expecting for ten times as much money.

4. Copy and paste the criteria from the instructions into a document. That way, you won’t forget any. That is your outline. It usually looks something like this:

  • Need for project
  • Review of Relevant Research
  • Goals and Objectives of Project
  • Plan of Work/ Research Design
  • Evaluation
  • Key Personnel
  • Facilities/ Adequacy of Resources
  • Budget

There may be some differences, but pretty much everyone is going to want to know why this needs to be done, what other work has been done in this area, what you hope to accomplish, how you aim to do it, how you will know if  you did it, why you think you are qualified, where you are going to do it and how much it will cost. bags of money5. Start early. I cannot emphasize this enough. Under absolutely no conditions will I write a grant without at least a month’s notice. A month is pushing it and that is only in that rare situation when I’m not very busy that month and someone is paying me bags of money to either work night and day or to arrange my schedule so I can move a lot of work into the next month. I just submitted a grant I started on in June. Now, I obviously didn’t work full-time on it for four months, but allowing enough time made it possible to get on the agenda for the tribal council meeting, for example, and have a resolution passed supporting it. Discussions with sites for data collection, beta testing and training all take time.

6. Speaking of time – understand that the deadline is fixed. If you are used to working with businesses on contracts or negotiating deals, then you may be in for a bit of a shock. If the deadline is October 6th at 4 pm Eastern Standard Time, that is what it is. If you submit your proposal at 4:02 pm it is not going to be accepted.

7. Do NOT try to submit your grant in the last hour. Maybe it will get through and maybe it won’t. The system is often clogged with other people trying to submit in the last hour and the funding agency has no sympathy with you because the application probably said in big bold letters not to wait until the last minute to submit.

I have a lot more tips, and some near misses, including heading people off at the post office and faxing to Hawaii to get the post mark five hours earlier. I’d write more about that but I need to get to sleep, which is one thing you do less of when writing a grant

—— See what came of our last grant

man from Spirit LakeGo here to check out our game demos.

Your basic math skills will get better, you’ll learn more about Native American history and you can take out your aggression by spearing a bear. (Please don’t write me animal rights people – it’s a virtual bear.  If there are any pixel rights people, I guess you can post in the comments below.)

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