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“The economy is down.”
“I am too busy to finish writing this grant by the deadline.”
“I don’t know where to start on writing grants, and I don’t have the staff or money.”
“The funding agency has never heard of me!”
Does this sound like you? They are common excuses made by leaders of nonprofit organizations to justify the reason for not receiving grant funds. It is very easy to make excuses; however, if you don’t try, you will never know what will happen. Your programs deserve grant funding.
The real reason why your program is not awarded grant funding is because of simple, amateur mistakes in your grant proposal submission. The mistakes stem from the lack of experience with grant writing and the lack of time management and research skills. One of the biggest mistakes found in most grant applications is the lack of familiarity with the funding agency. Before you make another mistake in your grant proposal, take a look at the most commonly known mistakes made in the grant proposal process.
STAGE ONE: MISTAKES IN UNDERSTANDING THE PROPOSAL PROCESS
Submitting Generic Proposals
First-time grant seekers are unfamiliar with the general process: common grant proposal elements and how proposal writing works. There is this belief that submitting a canned grant proposal from an online template or book will do the job in receiving the grant. The canned proposal submission reveals a laziness of the applicant and disconnection from the goals and mission of the granting agency.
Not following instructions or reading the Request for Proposals (RFP)
When you do not follow instructions, you have a poor chance of receiving the grant. Foundations, corporations, and government agencies receive thousands of grant proposals, and determine your ability to follow instructions by the way the proposal is presented to the agency.
Solutions: Take time to understand the proposal process by enrolling in an online grant writing workshop or conference that teaches the basics of grant writing, or go to your local library and check out grant writing books to learn the process. Knowing your grantor is key to developing a relationship with a funding agency. Take time to learn their mission, granting purposes, and results or outcomes expected from your program.
Grant program officers look at whether or not you followed the RFP instructions. If a funding agency requests a three-year operating budget, then create one. If they request paper clips rather than staples, then use paper clips. If they only accept applications from pre-selected organizations, then don’t apply.
STAGE TWO: MISTAKES IN CREATING PROPOSAL TIMETABLES
Submitting the Proposal Late
Proposals are often received after the deadline, which is presented as a rushed and incomplete application. Applicants are known to request an extension to complete the application.
Contacting the Foundation with Last-Minute Questions
Applicants contact program officers at the most busiest times of the day. They call or e-mail with last-minute questions. Funding agencies will not answer or return your calls and/or e-mails in a timely manner.
Solutions: Create a timetable with deadlines from the start and end of writing your proposal. Timetables always change your research progresses. Visit their website first to see if a FAQ section answers any frequently asked questions. Schedule a time in advance to speak with a agency representative for additional assistance to compile all of the information you need before writing the proposal.
STAGE THREE: MISTAKES IN CONDUCTING RESEARCH
Failure to thoroughly research the funding agency’s interests
Proposals do not succeed because of its superficial research. It is not enough information to know that the foundation makes grants for education. Do they support K-12? Higher education? Adult education? Do they specialize in organizations with high poverty schools?
Focusing on the needs that your program does NOT plan to address
Applicants go overboard with information about the need of the organization rather than the needs that the project will address.
Asking for the wrong amount
Grant applicants request substantially less or more than the typical grant size of a funding agency. If you ask for less, then you have underestimated your program’s need and the agency’s giving. If you ask for more, then you have not done the sufficient research about the funding agency’s grant size.
Solutions: Identify and locate all of the information you need to develop a solid proposal. Identify the perceived need that your program addresses, the solution that your organization proposes, and the nature, mission, and methods of funding sources you hope to approach. Research past grant making history of your potential funding sources. Determine the grant size awarded to similar organizations, which is the amount that you want to request in your application.
Your research questions are thoroughly answered in the foundation’s guidelines, online research databases, the agency’s website, and the IRS 990 form. Outline how your program will deliver the services to the people who need it. Include what your organization can do for more people in receiving the grant in a general operating support request.
STAGE FOUR: MISTAKES IN BUILDING YOUR PROPOSAL’S FOUNDATION
Too much emphasis on the “why”, not enough on the “how”
When a poorly written proposal is submitted to a funding agency, reviewers have little patience for bad writing. Many novice grant writers present an overly sentimental story about the problems of their target population, and why the program should be funded rather than how the program will address the need.
Solutions: Recognize how each potential source will make a good match for your proposal. You should be equipped with the information to address the perceived problem and the proposed solution. Present a step-by-step guide for the reader on how your program will meet the need by including measurable goals and objectives and an explicit, actionable plan. Include how you will record, collect and measure information on your program’s successes and outcomes.
STAGE FIVE: MISTAKES IN PREPARING YOUR APPROACH TO FUNDING AGENCIES
Not participating in informational calls/seminars
Proposals are denied because of detailed information missed in an informational session conducted by the funding agency. Not all of the details can be found in the RFP. Many organizations have experienced cases where their proposal did not comply with a restriction explained in a meeting, disqualifying their proposal.
Preaching to the choir
Organizations assume that funding agencies know everything about the applicant’s organization, especially when describing the capacity to carry out projects, using industry jargon, and other catch phrases.
Solutions: Attend the informational seminars and calls and collect additional information and material you may need to know about the funding agency. Use simple language throughout your proposal and present a clear case about your program’s need.
STAGE SIX: MISTAKES IN WRITING THE BODY OF YOUR PROPOSAL
Not enough detail
Nonprofit executives become absorbed in day-to-day business of fulfilling the agency’s mission that certain details about the programs, organization, and mission statement often get left out of the proposal.
Too much detail
Sometimes, proposals have too much information that embellishes the problem or ideas about the project.
Submitting sloppy budgets
Program offers detect over hundreds, if not, thousands of sloppy budgets every year. They will know if you left out a major item or padded the salaries.
Inadequate/Unrealistic cost analysis
Proposals have unrealistic cost estimates that make nonprofits appears fiscally inexperienced and incompetent. Also,proposals miss the mark in including income projections, making your organization appear too dependent.
Lack of Quantitative Data
Nonprofit grants are too light on hard data, with no quantifiable objectives and results.
Not Asking for the Money
Many proposals forget to include the amount of the grant they seek in the proposal.
Solutions: Structure each section of the project. Grant reviewers are learning about your project for the first time so provide specific information. Each section of your narrative shows how the funds will be used responsibly and effectively by your organization. Prepare the budget with same care as the narrative and match each section point for point.
STAGE SEVEN: MISTAKES IN REVIEWING AND REVISING YOUR PROPOSAL
Careless Editing and Proofreading
Program officers have to read over 600 grant proposals on the same topic. The problem with some proposals is that they find themselves re-reading sentences in your proposals due to typographical and grammatical errors.
Not using the checklist provided in the RFP
Many nonprofits don’t look at the checklist provided by the funding agency. Lots of applicants leave out required pieces of the proposal, disqualifying the candidate from the start.
Solutions: After finishing your proposal, review the proposal carefully. Refer to the funder’s proposal guide and verify all of the essential information is included in the proposal. Proofread for grammar, spelling and syntax errors, and have a friend or colleague read it for you. The checklist is usually found in the guidelines; and it is important for a funding agency to know that you followed their directions and did not miss any required pieces of the application.
PHASE EIGHT: MISTAKES IN SUBMITTING YOUR APPLICATION
Simply not asking for the grant you need, or not submitting the grant at all
Grantseekers love to make excuses such as: “It’s not the right time to apply for the grant” or “The economy is down” or “I am too busy to finish the proposal before the deadline” or “Grantors don’t know who we are”.
Solutions: Submit the proposal according to the RFP guidelines in a timely manner whether or not it is the right time to apply. The economy will always have its ebbs and flows, but does not excuse your organization from asking for a grant from a funding agency. If your organization is too busy to ask for funds for a deserving program, then your organization should not even exist. Make time to ask for support for your programs, and also take time to develop a rapport with a prospective funder. Excuses are easy to come by, but you will continue to make these mistakes and never get any funding if you just don’t try.
Jonathon Carrington is a writer, consultant, and manager.