All who have been a part of the grant proposal process know that it takes substantial time and energy to get the grant proposal metaphorically “out the door.” Because evaluation is a critical component of the proposal, we have witnessed how “frenzied” this entire process can be. Consequently, we recently hosted a coffee break webinar, “Don’t Tell Me I Have to Write That: 4 Tips to Reduce the Grant Proposal Frenzy.” This Coffee Break Webinar reflects our experiences providing evaluation support to project teams during the grant writing process and through conversations with thought partners such as Mike Massoglia and Roberta Wright, as well as others grant professionals and program officers. Based on these conversations, we articulated the following four tips on how project teams can reduce some of the frenzy and stress associated with the grant writing process.
Tip #1: Allow Enough Time
The primary purpose of the grant application is to tell a clear and compelling story that conveys why your initiative is worth the investment of the funding agency. To accomplish that goal, you must give yourself ample time to develop the grant application, which will ideally be about six–nine months. The first third of that timeframe should be focused on addressing foundational tasks related to the grant writing process. The second third should be spent on iterative ideation and the actual writing process. The final third can be spent on finalization and addressing “the details” (see Tip #4).
Admittedly, project teams can and often do submit proposals within a more condensed timeframe. When this occurs, there are several contextual factors to keep in mind. Generally, when project teams are able to submit the proposal on time, many of the building blocks are already in place such as, the team has previously worked together, there is strong institutional support, or the team is building-off of a current funded project. It is also the case that through the project team’s sheer will, the proposal is submitted. However, in the early implementation phases of the project, the project team is needing to go back and address many of these foundational issues.
Tip 2: Build Your Team
The project team should also identify and engage with individuals who will be critical partners in the development of your grant application, as well as in the implementation when funded. The individuals you should reach out to include both “usual” and “unusual” partners. The “usual suspects” include Co-PIs, Grant Writers, institution’s Office of Sponsored Research, Industry and Educational Partners, and accounting office. The “unusual suspects” include evaluators, your institution’s Office of Institutional Research, Purchasing and Procurement offices, mentors and accountability partners, and external reviewers. In our context, evaluators are “unusual” partners because of the difference between the timing of when we recommend reaching out to an evaluator, and when we are actually brought in.
Tip 3: Talk Less, Write More
There is often a tendency among project teams to spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing ideas which leads to an extremely compressed writing schedule. One of the reasons there is so much time dedicated to ideation, is that there is an attempt to gain clarity. However, the clarity that project teams seek will actually be achieved by beginning the iterative ideation and writing process much earlier.
Writing thoughts on paper and translating those ideas into words that make sense in a document, forces clarification and highlights the gaps, issues, and misalignments. While these spots can emerge through discussion, they are much clearer and obvious when they are in written form. Because of this, we encourage project teams to start this process as soon as possible. Instead of just discussing ideas, start writing them down. This can include developing a logic model, which can help to create consensus among the team, as well as aid in the development of a concept paper about the project. For more information on developing a logic model, check out Part 1 of our Coffee Break Webinar Series on Writing a Grant Proposal Evaluation.
Tip 4: Don’t forget the details
The small details can make a big difference. In Darren Hardy’s book The Compound Effect (2020), he notes that the number 1 golfer makes double the income of the number 10 golfer and yet the difference between these two ranks is less than half of a swing.
By allowing yourself ample time to work on a grant proposal, you ensure that you can focus on the important details of the proposal itself, which often makes a difference when funding decisions are made. The following four tactics are helpful in ensuring that all important details are included:
- Take care of the easy tasks as soon as you can. This clears up time to work on more pressing matters as the grant deadline approaches (Note: This idea relates to the foundational tasks reference in Tip #1.)
- Ensure that your proposal addresses all the solicitation’s requirements.
- Utilize an external reviewer to read through your proposal and supporting documents.
- Submit your proposal early because technology issues could impact on the proposal uploading process.
Submit your proposal early because technology issues could impact on the proposal uploading process
The tips we shared throughout this webinar are never going to fully eliminate the grant writing frenzy because the process is always going to take a lot of time and effort. However, by starting the process early, effectively building your team, starting the iterative ideation, and writing processes as soon as possible, and ensuring that you focus on the important details within the proposal, we believe that the grant writing frenzy can and will be reduced.
This blog post has been an overview of the main points. Be sure to visit the webinar recording to get a full discussion on this topic and review our slides here.
Hardy, D. (2020). The compound effect: Jumpstart your income, your life, and your success. Hachette Books: NY.