10 Common Problems Facing Grant Writers

Excerpted from Grant Training Center blogs April 22, 2019 and May 13, 2019 by Mathilda Harris

1. Timelines:

“We can never find the time to dedicate to writing grant proposals.”
The most important solution is to work proactively rather than reactively. One participant said that her not-for-profit developed a yearly timeline of the grants they wished to submit, rather than waiting for the announcements, which can come as late as 10 days prior to the submission deadline.

2. Rejections:

“We fear rejections and when we get them, we often feel angry and frustrated, almost to the point of not wanting to rewrite the proposal.”
The answer is to understand that a grant should be viewed as an opportunity, and not taken personally. If the team has a strategic and broad picture of the funding landscape for which they apply throughout the year, it will be understood that some grants will fail.

3. Telling a Good Story:

“The reviewers said that we need to tell an enthusiastic story, but it was difficult for us to understand what they meant.”
The universal answer is to engage the reviewers. Thus, as a proposal writer, one must know how grants will be evaluated and, if possible, who the evaluators will be. Connecting with reviewers is vital to successfully getting funded. The more one knows about reviewers, the more effectively one can spark their interest with the story.

4. Innovation:

“We had a difficult time understanding what the funding agency meant by innovation.”
The answer here is that innovative concepts emerge from preliminary data, pilot studies, and extensive research. In almost all cases, funding agencies are looking for innovative approaches that will solve an existing problem or contribute to advancement in the field.

5. Overambitious Idea:

“Our grant was rejected because the idea was overambitious. How do we narrow the focus?”
Rather than trying to solve every problem related to the project at hand, it is best to focus on one or two issues that can be resolved realistically within the budgetary and time constraints of the proposal. Narrowing the scope of the idea to a smaller scale is often a much safer and more successful approach.

6. Planning Ahead:

“What are the steps I need to take before I write?”
Grant writing takes time. This includes excellent research, exceptional writing, understanding the funding agency’s mission, making the match, collaborating with colleagues, planning strategically, and developing an outstanding business plan. If your proposal is prepared correctly, it will have higher chances of rising to the top of the competition and receiving the funds. In the planning process, laying out proposal steps clearly and realistically can be achieved by organizing the activities in terms of the time it will take to effectively accomplish them.

7. Matching the Idea with the Funding Opportunity:

“How can you assure that you found the right funding opportunity?”
One of the worst mistakes any grant writer can make is to ignore the interests of the funding agency. “Making the match” means aligning your mission and your funding request with the agency’s mission. The closer both of you are in what you wish to accomplish, the more likely you will be funded. Also, looking at funded projects will give you a very good idea of the funding agency’s interests and focus. Ultimately, agencies do not care what you need or want funded; they care about what they wish to fund.

8. Being Concise and to the Point:

“What steps will narrow the scope of my proposal?”
One of the major reasons for proposal rejection is that the request is overly ambitious and tries to tackle far more than can be accomplished within the timeline of the grant. As mentioned earlier, rather than trying to solve every problem related to your request, focus on one or two issues that can be resolved realistically within budget and time constraints of the proposal. Also, many grants require the consideration of various potential factors before concluding that the idea is doable, focused, and promising. You need to envision as many of these elements as possible to be certain that you are on the right path.

9. Knowing the Review Process:

“How do I understand the proposal review process?”
To successfully survive the review process, you must know the review criteria by which you will be judged and who is reviewing your proposal. In some cases this is easy, but in others, where the process is blind, it is extremely difficult. In the latter case, you can ask the administrator in charge of the process what the experience and expertise of the reviewers will be. Your reviewers have a very short window to review your proposal and worse yet, an even shorter window for the panel discussion. The easier you make it for the reviewers to understand your idea, the greater your chances of being funded.

10. Networking and Collaboration:

“How do I identify collaborators to strengthen my proposal?”
Creating effective partnerships requires collective vision, purpose, buy-in, and mutual respect. Without these elements, it is difficult to maintain the momentum of true collaboration. Each partner must be able to contribute knowledge and expertise that would be missing without his or her involvement. The complexity of many projects requires interdisciplinary efforts and networking. Understanding this, funding agencies now believe in the power of partnerships and you should as well.