Have you ever gotten a grant proposal rejected and found the reviewers’ comments “embarrassing” because they notice a REALLY OBVIOUS problem that took you out of contention nearly immediately?
Or, maybe you received a score on your Federal grant that put you “just a few points” out of the running for funding?
In both these situations, you would have benefited from having an outside reviewer give you feedback BEFORE you hit the “submit” button.
As a Federal grant reviewer, and as someone who reviews many draft grant proposals every year, I’ve found there many inescapable reasons that you should ALWAYS have an outside reviewer assess your proposals. This is true whether you are a new grantwriter or have many years of experience.
Here are three.
- You know too much!
There’s a phenomenon called “the curse of the expert” that grantwriters fall prey to. In this situation, you have lots of information in your head. You’re the resident expert on the agency, its history, its strengths, its capacities—in short, you know everything there is to know about your agency, your community, and the needs of the community. That’s all good. But experts can assume that everyone else also knows that information. This leads to major problems in writing grants.
What isn’t good is when you “forget” that other people (such as the people who will review your proposal) don’t have all that knowledge. They only know what they read in your proposal. When you neglect to include crucial information in your grant, gaps exist that undermine your proposal.
An outside reviewer will notice these gaps and point out that vital data, history, or other elements are missing.
- The logic in your logic model isn’t as tight as you think it is.
Once you’ve been working on a grant proposal long enough to get to developing a logic model, you’ve put in a LOT of effort. The odds are you firmly believe in the need to start a new program, and you have faith that your organization will be able to conduct the program that will solve the main issues at stake. You confidently draw up the logic model and include it in your proposal.
More than likely, however, you’ve included linkages and connections in the logic model that aren’t really all that tight. You may be assuming things such as cooperative agency partners, the ease of hiring new staff who can quickly implement a new evidence-based program, or even that learning new information will automatically result in changing behaviors by clients.
An outside reviewer will keep you honest and will subject your logic model to intense scrutiny, just like the proposal reviewers will. It’s easy for wishful thinking to creep into logic models because we convince ourselves that we’re absolutely correct. Plus, by the time you’ve worked on the proposal and logic model for a while, it’s tough to see it with fresh eyes.
- You don’t know everything.
I’m sure everyone knows, intellectually, that we don’t we don’t know everything, even though we may know a great deal about certain subjects. Some topics are things that we haven’t learned about; some experiences are ones we have not had. This leads to problems in grant proposals themselves, or even in the processes of writing grants. Usually, what we don’t know hurts us and the grants we develop.
Outside reviewers are extremely helpful in providing new information and techniques. They know things you don’t know and have done things you haven’t. Everyone knows things that others don’t and outside grant reviewers may know LOTS that you don’t know.
Why might you NOT want to hire an outside reviewer?
Agencies resist hiring outside reviewers.
One reason is “they cost so much”. Certainly, they should cost something. To do a thorough review can take several hours or more, depending on the grant. So, that’s a given. But what does “too much” really mean? If you spend $500 and it results in making changes to the proposal that gets it funded for $1,500,000, is that “too much”? Even if the grant only is awarded at the $100,000 level, is $500 really too much?
I think the cost argument is often a mask for being scared. Most of us have an “imposter” feeling about the work we do, at least now and then. Do you feel that an outside reviewer’s critique will cause people to doubt your abilities? Will you suddenly be fired if the “truth” comes out?
I think the opposite is more likely to be true: with the help of an outside reviewer, you are MORE LIKELY to get the proposal funded, and thus be seen as an important part of the team. People who bring in funding tend to be praised, not criticized.
If anyone balks at bringing in an outside reviewer, it’s entirely appropriate to describe the three inescapable reasons you MUST hire an outside reviewer listed here.
You also might not hire an outside reviewer because you don’t know of anyone who does that sort of work. If that’s the case, I’m happy to let you know that I provide that service. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a time to talk. I have only limited openings, so it’s important to contact me as early in the proposal-writing process as possible.
Thanks for reading–what have your experiences been with outside reviewers? Helpful? Not helpful? Be sure to comment below.
Dr. Richard Hoefer
Author, Funded! Successful Grantwriting for Your Nonprofit