Are You Sabotaging Your Own Grant Proposal?

Proposals and grant applications for funding

Has your application been passed over for funding, after you worked countless hours responding to an RFP or developing a grant application?

That’s mighty disappointing. Could your team be sabotaging its own chances of success? Here are five signs that you may be undermining your own efforts:

1) Ignoring the official guidance

Some teams assume that they can submit their request in the way that makes most sense to them, and expect to receive a wad of cash, like they’re asking their parents for a few extra dollars of allowance. It doesn’t work that way. The most flagrant offenders are often subject matter experts (SMEs), who assume that their deep knowledge overcomes or negates funders’ expectations.

Do so at your own peril.

If a funder publishes official instructions about how they want to be asked for money, then follow them. To the letter. If they prefer sections A, B, and C, then don’t get creative and combine them into a single section Z instead.

One silver lining: You can use official guidance as a competitive advantage. If you incorporate key phrases and terms directly from the official guidance into your proposal or application, you show that you are attentive to the funder’s needs and concerns. That helps your request stand out.

2) Pushing a short-term or incomplete solution

It’s easy for us all to get caught up in the glory of our own ideas. But if we dwell too much on a theoretical gem or the beauty of our proposed solution, we risk ignoring the real-world implications.

If your proposed research or technology is viable, but only for a brief period, or requires massive resources, or it doesn’t solve enough of the problem, the client will likely decline your offer. Sure, it would be fascinating to research why cats have 9 lives, instead of, say, 13. But does that really accomplish the funder’s stated mission?

Take time to think through the larger context to be sure the client would get lasting, or highly significant, benefit from spending this money.

3) Aiming above your weight class

Business development specialists can feel pressure from top management to make the “big score.” But when you aim too high, too soon, your odds of winning shrink. It can be prudent to take the longer view and build on smaller wins.

On the government side, contracts have become exceptionally competitive. Taxpayer dollars are guarded ever more carefully, and it has gotten extremely difficult to secure funding for costly projects. Your project team needs to have demonstrable, relevant experience in the subject area and in managing similar projects. A track record of success is requisite for the biggest wins.

In a similar way, small business should be cautious about chasing massive contracts. These large commitments can strain cash flow to the breaking point. If key personnel leave a small team, you will have trouble adhering to the promised timetable. Before you shoot high, prepare so you can follow-through and deliver.

4) Hiding your light under a barrel

It can be tempting to take shortcuts or assume the reader knows all about your organization. But don’t skimp or gloss over key sections of a proposal or application. It’s important to include details and brag appropriately, even while staying within word count.

Don’t be shy. Your organization could be number one in its field in the world, but you still need to explain what makes it the perfect fit for this project. Detail why your approach and your team are perfectly qualified to be honored with dollars.

The funder or client needs to feel convinced that they’re making an excellent decision to work with you. Dazzle them with your team’s expertise and brilliant solution to their problem.

5) Shoving the response or application out the door

Working on an RFP response or grant application can be a long, demanding process. After all that effort, it’s tempting to complete one draft and be done. But you’re trying to make a good first impression on the reviewers. It’s smart to take time to recheck your work and invite fresh eyeballs to review the document.

Correcting typos, improving clarity, and ensuring accuracy help ensure that your time is well spent. The easier your document is to read, the more your message will shine through and the more favorably reviewers will respond.

(c) 2016 Wendy Lyons Sunshine. All rights reserved.