The No Bullshit Guide to Grantwriting

Every time I see one of the websites that say

“Free Money! Millions in grant money going unclaimed!”

I want to shoot my monitor.

This is for my friend who has been a community college instructor for 30 years and has probably asked me 25 times,

How DO you get grant money? Why don’t you ever do a workshop on it?

I suspect most people who are fairly good at writing grants are too busy writing grants and then doing the work specified in those grants to do workshops. Quick background – when my children were little, my husband was sick and then died. This meant I had to work a lot to make extra money and I did a LOT of grantwriting. It was a major part of my business for years and I got many millions of dollars in funding. Most of those I wrote for other people and when the grant was submitted my job was done.  More recently, I have had the luxury of only working with people I really enjoy and on projects I really want to do.  Here, in random order, is some advice on grantwriting.

  1. Decide your objective. Your objective will determine which competitions you choose. Early on, my objective was to get grant money because the more money I brought in, the more clients I got and the more money I made. Now, my objective is usually to do specific projects, although occasionally it is to work with specific people because I think they are so awesome if their project was on relative weight of horse testicles in different breeds I’d still want to work with them.
  2. Decide on the competitions that best match your objectives. When I was a grantwriter-for-hire, I did not apply to anything where the odds were greater than 5 to 1. That is, if a competition the previous year had 75 proposals and funded 15, I would consider it. If they had 120 proposals and funded 3, I would take a pass.
  3. Take a pass on any competition that gives the anticipated number of awards as 1. I always assume those are already wired for a specific university or large non-profit / corporation. The odds are NOT in your favor.
  4. Select the competitions you want to pursue WAY ahead of time. We are submitting a grant due next week. We started on it two months before the call for proposals was released. How is that possible? Well …..
  5. Most agencies and foundations require pretty much the same thing year after year. There may be some specific changes, for example, the proposal I’m working on now, the commercialization plan used to be 10 percent of the score but now it’s 20 percent. That’s a pretty substantial change and that sort of thing does happen, but most agencies ask for 95% of what they asked for last year.
  6. Literature review. Nothing makes you look stupider than proposing something that has already been done. Even if it hasn’t been done, something related no doubt has been. If you are saying, “Nobody has done anything remotely like this before!” Unless you are creating winged monkeys from a mound of paper clips and sending them through a time machine to kill Hitler – well, you’re probably wrong. Start on the literature review now.
  7. When you think you’re done, you’re not. There are more parts than you anticipated and they will take longer. Related to that …
  8. Know the instructions in the Request for Applicants better than God knows the Bible. For example, you’ll have found that not only does it say that the project narrative can’t be over 20 pages and you are right at 20 pages. However, then you find that it also says you need 1 inch margins and you have half-inch margins. After you increase the margins you are two pages over. That sort of thing happens ALL the time.

If you liked these tips, head on over to Kickstarter, check out the game we’re looking for grant funding for this fall. We are submitting a proposal for $450,000 and getting the $20,000 on Kickstarter will increase our argument that this is a product with commercial potential. Pledge a few bucks, get a game license and maybe help out a student as well.

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