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.
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.
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.