Friday – October 24, 2014

 

Getting Started in Writing Grant Proposals

Do you have a great idea for a grant proposal but don't know how to work it? The process outlined below will help crystallize your thinking, garner support, facilitate the writing and get you moving. The outcome of this exercise will be a short (one- to five-page) memorandum that can be circulated to the faculty and staff, grant or foundation directors and friends whose support you might need.

Define the problem you seek to remedy:

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  • Be as detailed as possible when defining your problem:
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    • "We need new computers for math instruction" won't cut it.
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    • "We need to do a better job of teaching introductory math at the community college level." Better.
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    • "Math 1234 has a failure/dropout rate of 48 percent. New instructional methodologies and a more relevant curriculum have been shown to be effective to motivate students and increase retention." Now we're getting somewhere.
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Define the solution to the problem:

You already know what you want: computers. But you will need to:

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  • Define your solution with a detailed plan discussing the fine points, such as the faculty release time to:
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    • Learn new software and presentation skills
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    • Create a new curriculum
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    • Visit an exemplary institution whose math program is cited in all the literature.
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Identify your partners:

Do you have the support of your department, college staff, president and community in the pursuit of funds for this idea?

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  • Define the internal and external support that will be contributed or needed for the project to be successful.

Specify the outcomes you anticipate as a result of this grant:

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  • Be specific and clear about what you want to accomplish.
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    • Establish measurement indicators that verify success
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    • Prove that the project will achieve its goals.
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    • Draw up clear performance standards
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      • Draw up a long-range plan that projects goals of at least five years ahead.
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Give thought to the idea of cooperation:

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  • Involve your community through volunteer programs and cooperative efforts.
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    • "Community" is becoming a buzzword in funding circles.
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    • Business partners are often attractive to potential funders.
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    • Many funding agencies, particularly federal agencies, like applications where more than one organization is involved.
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      • If you submit a cooperative proposal, remember to make sure that there is both an informal and formal relationship between grantees.
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Know the funder - Research potential funders thoroughly:

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  • Identify potential funders by examining a foundation directory as well as contacting federal, state or local government agencies.
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  • Apply what you have learned to your proposal.
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    • Do not ignore a funder's guidelines in the hopes of "fitting" your proposal into their niche.
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    • It has been estimated that chances for success go up as much as 300 percent when the grantee establishes close contact with the funder before and during the actual proposal writing process.
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  • Find out about trends or new ideas that might interest the funder.
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    • Spending as much time as possible trying to understand what motivates a donor is the best advantage you can have when it comes to asking for funds.
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  • When dealing with corporate funders, demonstrate the benefits to the corporation which might result from your project.
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    • Keep your proposal short and to the point. (Generally, no more than five pages, unless requested.)
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Plan your project carefully:

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  • Get program officials to review a three- to five-page summary of your plan to make sure you're on the right track.
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    • Writing the proposal should take only about 40% of the total effort for the project.
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Understand that management is vital:

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  • You must demonstrate in your proposal that you have the management skills/experience that can deliver success.

Know your budget:

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  • Write the budget separately from the rest of the application.
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    • The budget is often the first thing a funder will look at in your proposal. It needs to be realistic and give credibility to your entire proposal.
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  • Make sure that the budget detail figures are correct and that they reflect the value of your application.
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  • Keep a record of how you arrived at your costs.
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  • Justify every budget item with matching task expenses within the proposal activity narrative (even the obvious office supply items).

Demonstrate other forms of support besides the requested grant funds:

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  • Show that once the grant ends, you will have the necessary support to continue the project activity, if the activity needs to be implemented beyond the grant period.
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  • Make it clear that you will cut costs where possible.

Plan to write a new grant application for each funding opportunity:

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  • Funders look for uniqueness in a proposal.
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    • Funding officials can quickly spot a proposal that takes a new approach.
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Stress your qualifications and experience to the funder:

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  • Your professional qualifications make your project unique.
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    • Hundreds of organizations may claim to be able to address similar problems or needs. But if you plan to be directly involved in the project implementation, your qualifications give your project a better chance to succeed and get the funding you need.
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Remember a few other writing hints:

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  • Never use street jargon.
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  • Begin each section with a strong, clear sentence.
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  • Make your proposal concise and interesting to read.
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    • Don't go overboard detailing every aspect.
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  • Check with the funder to see if there is a preferred format (font type, paragraph style, page margins and spacing, etc.)
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  • Keep the number of pages of the proposal within the funder's required maximum.
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  • Provide all attachments, appendices and other documentation as required.

Win-Win:

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  • If your proposal does not win support, never berate funding officials or grant reviewers.
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    • Get more information and ask whether it would be worth submitting another application in the future.
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    • Go back over your proposal with care and see if you can find places where it could have been stronger.
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  • You don't have to win the grant to be the winner.
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    • Many educators feel that writing a grant proposal is a long and difficult process that, more often that not, is not rewarded with funding.
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    • The programs and ideas in the proposal and the support you garnered among colleagues for those ideas are the biggest prizes.
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    • You might want to refine these same ideas, based on the funder's proposal review outcomes, to write another proposal for a different funder.
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