The #1 Mistake Grantwriters Make (that Loses Lots of Money!)

And 2 Ways You Can Prevent It!

What is the #1 Mistake Grantwriters Make?

The #1 Mistake Grantwriters Make

Every time I talk with grantwriters and grant-writers-in-training, it seems the same question gets asked:  “What’s the #1 mistake that grantwriters make?”

It’s an interesting question, for sure.  Every grant proposal that’s written probably has a number of things wrong with it but is there some underlying cause to all (or nearly all) of these proposal errors?  Is there, in essence, one mistake that leads to most of the other mistakes that are made?

I believe there is.  After having had contact with and learning from hundreds of grantwriters over the years, I believe the #1 mistake that grantwriters make is “not following directions”.

“Really?”, you’re thinking.  “That’s it?  After over 35 years of writing grants, that’s the best you can come up with?”

It does sound a bit trite.  What is it that gets drilled into us in school, from first grade on?  Follow directions!  But you know, it is easy to understand why this happens.

The typical Federal grant RFP is dozens of pages long, with large amounts of detail in each single-spaced page.  Some of this information is VITAL, while other information is “only” exceedingly important.  When I ask people to highlight the important information on a hard copy of their RFP, what I see often looks like the pages were printed on yellow paper, because almost every sentence has been covered with yellow highlighters.

Unfortunately, when EVERYTHING is important, it is easy to lose track of some of the finer details.  Information relating to what needs to be included in the proposal is often strewn across the RFP in different sections.  It doesn’t always get put together in the heads of grantwriters.

Another common reason that grant proposals don’t include everything needed is that when teams of people put the proposal together, it’s easy to overlook when something is left out.  Even more common is that information drafted by different authors isn’t reconciled and turns out to be contradictory.  For example, budgets and program plans may be revised separately and no one ensures agreement.

Time pressures add to the mistakes that are made.

Most grantwriters know the importance of organization, but even they can overlook enough of the explicit instructions to lose points due to making the number one mistake of grantwriters—not following directions.

While you might be tempted to think of these as separate reasons that grant proposals are not funded, the truth is that it’s all the same underlying reason.  It’s the mistake that “rules all other mistakes”.

Now that you know this is the most common mistake, and one that will certainly lose you points and cost you lots of money, you also know what you can do to solve it.  There’s one mandatory solution I recommend, and one voluntary practice that will pay off very well, despite having a cost to it.

Mandatory Solution

Create the “grantwriter-in-chief” for any particular proposal.  This person needs to know the RFP better than anyone else, and is responsible for ensuring that all directions are followed.  This person has ultimate authority for what is submitted (subject to CEO and board approval).  Obviously, this person should have considerable experience, if possible, but whoever it is, that person has to have the seniority and status to do this job, even if it means stepping on a few toes to get the proposal completed on time.

Voluntary Solution

Hire an outsider with considerable grant experience to read your proposal.  This person doesn’t even need to be an expert in your particular area (though that is nice).  What’s more important is that the person understands the logic of grantwriting, is willing to be critical, and can work quickly.

In case you don’t have anyone you can turn to for this service, you can contact me to see if I could be of service to your organization.

Want more points on your next grant application?

Be sure to have a great sustainability plan!

Grant applications at every level are placing more emphasis on what you plan to do to sustain the programs they are funding, once their contributions end.  Be sure to understand what sustainability planning is and how to show reviewers you are on top of the situation.

Here’s a short video from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services department of the US Department of Health and Human Services that will help you write a better plan for continuing your grant-funded programs when they (or any funder) stop their contributions.



Do You Need a Scary Identity Crisis to Improve?

How the Cattleman's Realization Applies to You


Do you have a strong self identity as a grantwriter?  That may be getting in the way of you becoming a GREAT grantwriter.  Seem impossible?  Read on.

In this post, you’ll find out what ‘The Cattleman’s Realization” is, and how applies to you.


I was watching a documentary about the effects of a decade-long drought in Texas.  There’s only so much water to go around, and how it gets used and shared is complicated.

The documentary spent a few minutes detailing the plight of one Texas cattleman.  He ranched on land owned by his family for generations and had always wanted to carry on the tradition.  But the drought was making that option less and less viable.  The traditional ways of ranching weren’t working in an environment with less water.

He had to re-think the situation and find ways of dealing with the new reality.

So he began to look at why his business and his cattle weren’t doing well.  The chain of events he came up with went something like this.

The cattle weren’t doing well because they didn’t have enough to eat. Grass wasn’t plentiful enough.

He bought hay to solve that problem, but the business wasn’t doing well because he couldn’t buy enough hay at a reasonable price for the cattle to thrive.

Why didn’t the land he owned provide enough forage anymore?  It used to!

Turns out there were lots of reasons.  Sure, there wasn’t enough rain but there were other issues that were making the problem much worse.

For example, a certain type of cypress tree had taken over along the river bank that went through his ranch.  This cypress sucked up two to three times more water than what had been there before and the cattle couldn’t eat it, unlike the grass that used to grow there.

Further away from the river, grass was sparser as well because mesquite was using up lots of water, with its deep taproot and large network of other roots just under the ground.  Grass, with its shallow root system, couldn’t compete to get water.  It was also being “overshadowed” by mesquite—being killed as life-giving sun was being blocked.

The cattleman thought long and hard about what to do.  In the end, he realized that, in order to salvage his cattle business, and his livelihood, he had to change his self-identity.

No longer would he be a cattleman (at least not first and foremost).  No, instead he realized that in order for the livestock to do well, and his business to do well, and in order to save his family’s past and legacy for the future, he needed to be something different than “a cattleman”.

From then on, he was in the business of “raising grass”.

He realized what the core to the cattle business was and it didn’t have everything to do with cattle. Without grass, something that used to be taken for granted, nothing else would work.  Rain would be extremely helpful, of course, but he could do quite a lot to save his ranch by changing his focus from cattle to grass and taking action on his own.

Here’s the lesson for grantwriters.

We ARE going to face hard times.  What we do during those hard times may need to something unexpected.  We may need to stop “being” grantwriters.

Many nonprofits are experiencing difficulties right now.  Lots of reasons contribute to this—just like many reasons affected the cattleman’s livelihood in raising livestock.

Consider these questions:  What is sucking your “ranch” dry?  Where are your “cypress trees” and “mesquite” that are killing your “grass”?

Here’s that awesome idea I want you to consider:  Stop thinking of yourself as a grantwriter.

Maybe your current identity isn’t what’s needed right now.  In an era of diminished resources, instead of being a “grantwriter”, you need to think of yourself as a “marketer”, or an “advocate” for program ideas.

Where shifts in your identity or thinking do you need to make?

How would this shift your focus, even as you continue to write grants, even while continuing to work in your current position?  What else might you do, or what might you do in addition?

A marketer would paint a picture of a problem intense enough to evoke strong reader emotions in a grant’s needs statement

A marketer would be championing the value of particular interventions, including information into the section on “planned program”.

A marketer would emphasize how well an organization has solved problems in the past—a part of the capabilities and capacity section of most grant proposals.

An advocate knows that resources are in many places, including the government and political systems.  If there’s not enough “rain” in the form of grants, an advocate would be clearing the ranch of mesquite and cypress trees to increase water supplies.

An advocate puts the best case forward and constantly gathers evidence to bolster the case.  (Does your organization have strong evaluations in place?)

Advocates develop relationships with “rain-makers” even when rain isn’t needed immediately.

We can still “raise cattle” even as we “grow grass”—if we’re wise enough to see how they interconnect, and how you can’t do one, without doing the other.

Do me a favor—if this sparks some ideas in you, causes you to have an insight into how you can address a problem in your life by thinking about your identity in a different way, could you let me know?

You can do that by commenting below.  Also, please share this, as it might be just the insight someone needs to see today.  This idea doesn’t apply ONLY to grantwriters!

Let’s start some identify crises by understanding the value of a cattleman’s realization.

3 Recommendations for Grantwriters Now

What to do during this winter for human services

3 Recommendations for Grantwriters Now


Even though the calendar indicates Spring is on the way, the season for grantwriters seems to be a dark and cold winter.

The situation for human services Federal grant seekers is grim. Looking at, the official location for all federal grant opportunities on Monday, February 27, a total of 136 opportunities existed when searching for grants in “income security and social services”. All of these are funded by the National Institutes of Health and the vast majority are aimed at researchers, not service-providing agencies. (We’ve since learned that even the NIH is slated for deep cuts in the Administration’s budget plan.)

The near term future is not bright, either. The forecast category shows only 21 grants that are projected to become available in the next few months but all of these were posted as projected before the end of 2016. I suggest that many of these will never be funded.

Longer term, things are not looking up, either. According to National Public Radio “President Trump’s budget will propose a $54 billion dollar increase in defense spending, while slashing domestic programs by the same amount.” An anonymous White House official indicates that “most agencies will see budget cuts”.

What’s going on in 2017 is a continuation of what I’ve described in my book Funded! Successful Grantwriting for Your Nonprofit, as “The Age of Scarcity” for nonprofits and human services. While the Age of Scarcity began during the Great Recession, and was starting to ease a bit as the economy rebuilt, under President Trump’s administration, the past few years will be seen as “the good old days” by many.

What’s a grantwriter to do?

Recommendation 1 is to stop writing Federal grants.

This is an easy recommendation since there are not any to apply for.

Recommendation 2 is to begin researching foundation grant programs with as much energy and vigor as possible. You’ve probably already been doing this, and so have all other agencies that need to bring in outside dollars (and I’d say that’s all of them).

Recommendation 3 is to prepare to write even better grants than you have been writing in the past. Whether you write Federal, state or local government or foundation grant proposals, the bar is going to be raised by the increased competition for remaining funds.

It’s time to learn what the best grantwriters already know if you want to have your proposals selected for funding. One way to up your game is to learn to “read the minds of funders”. And of course, these can change from time to time and maybe even rapidly, so you can’t just do this once.

For a limited time, I am re-releasing my popular, no-cost, video series Read the Mind of Funders Challenge. These five short videos give you detailed action steps so you can figure out where the funding is going to be in the next two to three years. If you know where the funding will be, you can prepare to write competitive grants to help your organization and its clients, even in the Age of Scarcity.

Challenge yourself! All you need to do is to click here and sign up.

  • Learn 5 Ways to “Read the Minds” of Funders
  • Discover Untapped Funding Opportunities
  • Get the Jump on Your Competitors
  • Expand Your Network of Grantwriters

You’ll get access to one video per day for five days. Plus, you’ll gain access to a secret Facebook group where you can ask questions and detail your thoughts about the material. I’ll be moderating the group, personally.

I’ve never been more serious about the need for all grantwriters, even the most successful ones, to learn more and prepare to become better at their craft. This free resource is slated to become a paid product soon, so take advantage of it while you can for no cost.

Now is the time to prepare for the future.

Here’s that link again: Read the Minds of Funders Challenge

What’s the Lesson for Grantwriters from the World Series?

Recruit, train, nurture, coach


I’m not really a baseball fan—BUT it strikes me that you can have a ball looking for lessons for grantwriters in this latest World Series results.  Keep reading!

Just in case you missed it, the Chicago Cubs (who haven’t won a World Series title in over 100 years) were playing against the Cleveland team (the team that shall not be named) who had a very long dry spell as well.

Cleveland was up 3 games to 1 in the best of 7 series; almost everyone thought they’d easily get one more win!  Almost everyone thought Chicago would not get the 3 more wins needed to avoid elimination—I mean, it very rarely occurs for a team to come back from a deficit of that size.  But, the Cubs won two games to tie the Series at 3-3.

Which brings us to last night’s final game.  Somebody was going to win.

Grantwriters and Executive Directors—are you still with me?

Have you ever had a grant proposal losing streak?

I mean, not just one that didn’t get funded, but a losing streak that dragged on.  And on…

A streak so long you began to doubt yourself and your skills?  A streak so long that your organization’s board was getting very nervous?  A streak so long that shutting down was looking like a necessary option?

How did you deal with it?

Last night, the Cubs were ahead and then they weren’t.  Then came the rain.

Grantwriters come to a deadline and the printer stops working, the internet goes out, the key person needed to create some documents falls ill.  Grantwriters also get tired, lose their enthusiasm, get burned out, stop being creative.  Some don’t even keep up with new trends.

How do you deal with those things?

The Cleveland team was very good.  They wanted to win the Series and they wanted to win it very much.  They worked hard and came very close.

The Chicago team was also very good.  They also wanted to win the Series very much.  They worked hard and finally overcame all the obstacles.

Still, the results were not inevitable.

Either team could have won.  Both teams began preparing for this Series YEARS ago, not just weeks or months ago.  They didn’t attend a one-day “how to win the World Series” workshop put on by some random organization and then try their luck.

Here’s the most important lesson of the World Series for grantwriters.


Every player on both teams needed someone to help them achieve their potential.  Every player had to work hard, do the grunt work, put out full effort, even on their worst days.  Even when they were injured and sick and discouraged.

Major league players don’t start that way.  They are carefully observed, recruited, and gradually exposed to opponents and opportunities to develop.  Most players who begin the process don’t make it.  Only a few are called up to the “Big League”.  And not all of them last long.

Every player is carefully nurtured, even the very best.  The people who have the best skills can get better.  And they do when they have someone who works with them one-on-one and develop their skills with them.  The player is on the field and has to deliver, but the coach is watching, giving suggestions, and sweating right there in the dugout, too.

How does that compare to YOUR career?  What is YOUR organization doing to nurture the grantwriter you’re depending on for survival?

Do you (or your grantwriter) have someone to turn to for advice?  Someone who, although he’s not writing the grant, is invested in its success?  When was the last time you had an objective eye read over your work or help you think through your ideas BEFORE they were submitted?

In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m going to suggest you work with me for grantwriting coaching.  But I can’t help everyone—there’s not enough time and frankly, different people work well with different people.  I may not be your cup of tea, and you may not be mine.

Here’s what one student in my current class wrote to her colleagues a few days ago:  “After receiving feedback from Dr. Hoefer we were able to change our focus and expand further and deeper into what the grant proposal is asking. “

Another student wrote:  “I believe our team handled the group project very well and utilized every resource available to make this proposal as real/functional as possible. Good Job Team!!!…and Thanks Dr. Hoefer!!! for teaching/guiding us along the way.”

It seems to me that if you want to play in the Major Leagues of grantwriting and getting money for your organization, follow the lead of the Chicago and Cleveland teams—get people with potential, make sure they have the basics, and then coach them to success.

Want to learn more about me?  Visit my website, . While you’re there, sign up to receive a copy of 10 Lessons from Master Grantwriters as my gift to you.

If you want to reach me, write me at  I’ll send you a link to an appointment calendar where you can sign up for a confidential consultation and coaching session.  I only have a few slots per week so don’t delay in getting your career off to the big leagues.