Grant Writing Workshop: Contacting the Grant Program Officer

The UF Office of Research recently hosted a two-day grant writing workshop presented by Dr. Robert Porter of GrantWinners Seminars. This article summarizes the topic of “Contacting the Grant Program Officer.”

Grant writing “heavy hitters” agree that communication with the grant program officer is the best possible investment of your time.

  • Published material in the RFP is the “official line.”
  • Review panels and program officers develop unspoken preferences.
  • Program priorities can change over time.
  • Program officer’s response to core theme is the best predictor of success.
  • Program officers can advise on issues related to program track, budget, collaborations, and project structure.
  • Unofficial “rules of the game” can separate winners from losers.

It is acceptable to discuss your project before you have written the proposal. In fact, program officers welcome inquiries in order to

  • Keep up with new directions in the field;
  • Deflect weak or inappropriate proposals;
  • Encourage and coach good ideas;
  • Scout for new grant reviewers.

How to Plan for a Successful Encounter with a Program Officer

1. Find the best “fit.”

  • Develop funding search skills.
  • Study program mission statement.
  • Search recent awards. Read abstracts.
  • Look up staff directory.

2. Write a pre-abstract or “elevator speech.”

  • Keep it brief, informal.
  • Specify goals, method, and outcomes.
  • Emphasize uniqueness and contribution to the field.
  • Rewrite and rehearse.

3. Start with an e-mail.

  • Multiple addresses are okay.
  • Concise and brief: 2 – 3 paragraphs.
  • To argue fit, borrow terminology from the office mission or RFP.
  • End with a key question: “Is this the kind of project your program would consider funding?”

4. Study the e-mail response.

  • Look for tone and nuance as well as a direct message.
  • Take all suggestions as instructions.
  • Best result: Program officer requests more information or white paper.
  • Also good: Program officer recommends a completely different program.
  • If encouraged, plan for a phone call.

5. Make the call.

  • Remind the program officer of your project and e-mail.
  • Write out questions in advance.
  • Key questions include the following:
  1. Does my project fit your current priorities?
  2. What would you recommend to improve my chances?
  3. What is the anticipated success ratio?
  4. Do you expect last year’s average award to change this year?
  5. What are some of the common reasons proposals are rejected?
  • Listen for “buying signals.”
  • Follow up with a “thank you” note summarizing key points.
  • Offer to serve on a review panel.
  • Stay in touch.
  • Ask for a meeting (if practical).

Please look for additional summaries of workshop topics in upcoming issues of the Research Bulletin.

Session recordings are available online. Those who require copies of the handouts for any/all sessions may request them by emailing Jenn Hubbs at with their name, on-campus PO Box, and session(s) of interest.