Coalition building, interagency integration, and grant alignments seem to be the main themes when discussing the future of grants. This year has marked a turning point for many organizations and jurisdictions as U.S. federal agencies reevaluate their grant programs. Although many grant recipients already have solid resiliency plans for previously spent grant funds, others may have to reevaluate their past, current, and future spending to ensure that their plans do not weigh heavily on the receipt of future grants. The federal government is aligning grant funds to continue providing necessary aid to the highest-risk areas of the nation; grant recipients must therefore also align their plans and funds to do the same for their jurisdictions.
Funding for many existing grant programs may have decreased, but opportunities still exist for grant seekers who know what type of funding they need, where to find announcements, how to write proposals, when to submit applications, and why planning is so important to effective grantsmanship. Becoming familiar with current laws, thoroughly reviewing guidelines, collaborating with others, and taking the time needed to properly formulate a plan will increase the chances of a successful outcome. Applying for grants is much like applying for a job – a grantor has a “task” or “project” it wants to get done (e.g., training, research, interoperability, personal protective equipment, medical surge response); grant applicants therefore must market themselves to prove that they are best suited for the “position.”
Some agencies hire outside professional grant writers or consultants to improve their odds of receiving the funds needed, while others have internal grant offices, or individual experts, assigned to the task. Whoever or whatever the agency or jurisdiction chooses, the individual or agency selected must have a basic understanding of the different components of a grant, a general idea of the steps in the grant process, and be familiar with a few key concepts for success.
The Common Anatomy of Grant Proposals
Grantors determine grant requirements, which can vary significantly among different grant programs, so it is critical that applicants read all instructions carefully, and thoroughly address all necessary aspects of the proposal. Failing to provide all required information, in the format requested, could spell disaster. Following are the common sections that make up a typical grant proposal. Please note that some funding agencies may have special forms that applicants will be required to use, and the agencies’ own special names for each of the sections or components itemized below.
Cover Letter – Applicants need to make a good first impression in the cover letter. By understanding the funding agency’s mission and tying the proposal to that agency’s plans and goals, the applicant can satisfy the needs of the agency – and of those who review the proposal. Applicants should emphasize the special qualifications and areas of expertise that will enable them to meet the needs specified in the grant.
Executive Summary or Abstract – The grant application should begin with a brief overview summarizing the enclosed proposal.
Statement of Need or Problem Statement – This section describes a program or project that offers a recommended solution to a known problem or need that can be fulfilled through the grant. Also necessary for inclusion is an explanation of why the project is needed and how the applicants will use their own special experience, research capabilities, and professional expertise to address the needs postulated.
Project Description – Details are outlined to describe the proposed goals, objectives, method, strategy, and program design. The answers to the who, what, where, when, and why questions about the project will address each and all of the various aspects of the project, processes, collaborators, location, timing, and necessary resources.
Evaluation/Outcomes – Explanations are required to demonstrate how progress and accomplishments will be evaluated, and by whom. The benchmarks and goals that define success as well as the data and records that will be maintained during the project to track progress should also be included.
Organizational information – A brief history of the applicant’s organization – as well as its structure, mission, main activities, audiences, services, and programs – helps demonstrate why this applicant should be chosen for the funding. Information about collaborative partners and their proposed roles in the project show how their inclusion would improve the delivery model that best meets the needs spelled out in the grant.
Budget – Applicants need to demonstrate their understanding of cost estimates, including such mundane but important (and sometimes overlooked) items as administrative, personnel, and overhead expenses. Among the other important line items to include in the projected budget are additional funding possibilities and other assets that will or might be required by the applicant, and expense management and accountability, as well as sustainability plans.
Conclusion – At the end of the grant packet, summarize the entire proposal. No new information should be provided in the conclusion, but the most important key points mentioned earlier can and should be reiterated.
To grab the attention of reviewers and encourage them to read further into a grant proposal, applications need to be well organized and meet all of the numerous requirements specified in the grant program announcement. In other words, in addition to knowing what goes into the proposal, it is important to be familiar with the grant process as a whole.
A Step-by-Step Overview of the Grant Process
The grant process begins with evaluating the goals, objectives, and needs of the applicant’s organization or jurisdiction. Rather than trying to find a use for a particular grant, applicants should look for grants that fit their own already known ideas, capabilities, and/or needs. Upon completion of the evaluation, it is time to start developing a plan – usually by researching what other communities or organizations have done, learning about current laws and restrictions, reviewing previous grants that have been funded – particularly those of a similar nature – and finding out what has worked and what has not. Following are the most important general steps included in the usual grant process.
Determine the type of grant. Block or general-purpose grants offer state and local governments more authority for determining how the funds are spent (within the federal guidelines), whereas program development, or project, grants are awarded for a specific purpose and can be used only to meet that need.
Identify the best sources for the grant. Grants are offered by a wide variety of agencies, institutions, and organizations. Searches should not be limited to a single source. Research on different grantors should focus particular attention on funding purposes, grantors’ objectives, and applicant eligibility criteria to determine if a particular grant aligns well, and comfortably, with the applicant’s own goals and priorities. Reading and carefully analyzing grant program announcements is probably the most effective way to begin the voyage of discovery to determine the grantor’s mission.
Collect information and data for application. Preparing early, researching grant requirements and deadlines, and asking questions when necessary all help applicants develop realistic grant strategies. Depending on the grantor, certain software, browsers, or website registration may be required. After an authorized representative and other key grant team members are assigned, required registration numbers, such as the DUNS (Data Universal Number System) number, may also have to be obtained.
Review the application kit of the funding agency. Before writing a proposal, applicants must have a firm understanding of the grant guidelines and requirements – but, if that understanding is lacking, or not clear, they should contact the funding agency for clarification and, possibly, additional information. Having a colleague outside the discipline offer feedback can help to ensure that the proposal and its components are clearly written, especially for reviewers who may not possess the same expertise or knowledge as the applicant. Input on clarity as well as merit will assist with these pre-application revisions.
Submit the grant application. The applicant’s organization, institution, or agency submits the grant application packet with all necessary documentation and relevant attachments. A review panel evaluates the application packet for scientific, technical, and/or general merit and makes a recommendation based on the data provided by the applicant. The funding agency then uses those recommendations to help arrive at a final decision.
Follow all recommendations, suggestions, and guidelines. Some grantors allow revisions and resubmissions. If reviewers provide advice about the proposal and/or the supporting material submitted, these comments should be used constructively to improve future submissions. For remaining questions or clarification, applicants should contact the grant administrator.
Keep records and reports updated. After an applicant has been awarded a grant, the process is still not finished. It is important to maintain accurate documentation about the progress of the project from the time the grant is awarded until the grant funding comes to an end. Regular reporting and submissions, as specified in the grant guidelines, also must be provided to the grantor in a timely fashion.
Creation & Organization – Plus Relationships, Research, and Rules
From concept to implementation, the grant process involves creating a plan, getting organized, developing relationships, doing research, and following rules. In a way similar to the process followed in job applications, the use of some basic yet key tips, including the following, will help grant seekers write a successful proposal:
- Read announcements and requirements carefully
- Get organized and do the necessary research
- Form a grants team to develop a well-rounded grant proposal
- Make the proposal easy to read and understand
- Address both short- and long-term goals
- Request a reasonable amount of funds (clearly based on project expenses)
- Edit carefully to eliminate grammatical and typographical errors
- Have others review and critique the proposal
- Meet all deadlines, and address all requirements
Finally, remember at all times that grant writing can and probably will be extremely difficult because the applications submitted are based on uncertainties, speculation, and intentions rather than hard facts. Creating a concept that is understandable to a broad audience, developing credibility through experience, collaborating with others, and communicating with grant staff, however, will make the process somewhat easier. For many, grant writing is a necessary yet time-consuming and often frustrating task. However, applicants who take the time needed to plan, organize, and professionally prepare a grant proposal will have a much better chance of “landing the position.”
Acknowledgment: The author wishes to thank Dr. Anthony M. Coelho Jr. for his generous assistance during the preparation and production of this issue of DomPrep Journal.