Elevate the Competitiveness of Your Next Proposal by Kellie Brungard, GPC

Looking to re-submit a proposal that didn’t get funded last year? Applying for a new funding opportunity? Or re-applying for a highly competitive grant? If this sounds like you, listen up! Grant proposals are denied for so many different reasons and sometimes, unbeknownst to us. In the best cases, you get reviewer feedback, but more likely you are left wondering where your proposal went wrong and what could be done differently to set it apart from the flood of other applicants. Fear not – here are some tried and true, back-to-the-basics ways to improve your proposal and elevate it from the competition.  

  1. Match your project with funding mission and priorities. Just like grant-seeking entities revisit their strategic priorities, funders also redirect their funding focus or identify new priority areas. Review the funder’s request for proposal (RFP) in-depth and spend time on their website before you even start the proposal to ensure your project is a good match. If the information isn’t readily available or a financial institution manages the opportunity, reach out to the program officer to ensure you have the most current application and if any changes have been made to the process.
  2. Address all criteria. Know what the funder is looking for section by section, question by question and ensure your responses thoroughly address it. Read how the applications will be reviewed and scored and what they will be scored against. This is where the creation of a detailed rubric is invaluable! Additionally, if you are lucky to have the reviewer comments, read, re-read, and re-read these comments. Know exactly where and how you can strengthen your proposal.
  3. Review allowable and unallowable costs with your proposed budget. Make sure the requested items align with the expenses the opportunity will allow. Some funders choose not to fund indirect expenses, new staff, or equipment purchases. On the other hand, you may find a funder will only make awards for a certain number of consecutive years.
  4. Follow instructions. Such a simple, but often made mistake especially when re-applying for the same grant or to the same funder. Its easy to think “I have done this application and know what they are looking for,” but don’t assume because funders can and do change their guidelines or instructions from one year to the next. These changes can be small but can make a huge difference. A recent example includes re-ordering and moving questions to different section of the application. Take time to make sure you have answered the question(s) the funder asked.
  5. Use all available resources. Many funders will host an informational call prior to the application period or post a webinar answering common questions. Attend these webinars and come prepared with your questions. Even if you are familiar with the organization, these can be great sources of information about the nuances of the opportunity. Check for funder-specific templates such as budgets, board of director lists, and evaluation plans. Review the proposal criteria for alignment and requirements, such as equations for figuring salary and benefits or other calculations.
  6. Put your proposal through an external review. Having another set of eyes on your proposal can mean the difference between being funded and denied. Your program descriptions might make sense to those familiar with the organization but leave the reviewer with questions or wanting more information.

External Review

You might have a good friend of the organization who understands grants and is willing to provide feedback. If not, Assel Grant Services (AGS) can review your proposal against a rubric to help determine areas that can be elevated to highlight how great of a fit the program is to the funder’s needs. These comprehensive services can be customized to meet individual, unique needs. This may include a review with detailed feedback and suggestions and for others, it may be one-on-one coaching and support to guide the entire application development process.

Review services are for more than gaining feedback on a denied proposal. These services are designed to support grant professionals overwhelmed by deadlines, struggling to understand if the program is a funder fit, or new to grant writing and working on some of their first proposals. The bottom line is that in today’s funding world, competition is just too tight to lose points! If you are ready to elevate the quality of your proposal and capture every single point, AGS is here to help. Contact Tracey Diefenbach, GPC, who will be happy to discuss this opportunity and provide you with a quote for review services.

This blog post is aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills.

Competency #5: Knowledge of post-award grant management practices sufficient to inform effective grant design and development

Skill 5.2: Identify effective practices for key functions of grant management

Skill 5.4: Identify methods of establishing transitions to post-award implementation that fulfill project applications (e.g., document transfer, accuracy in post-award fiscal and activity reporting)