The Value of an Experienced Reviewer by Tracey Diefenbach, GPC

Hello April! I am greeting this month with big, open arms – ready for sunshine, warmer temperatures, open windows, and a good, deep spring cleaning (who doesn’t love washing windows and scrubbing baseboards?). If those are not enough reasons to love April, here’s one more: it’s National Volunteer Month – a time to celebrate and promote volunteerism and helping hands.

As a grant professional in the field for over 16 years, I have come to understand and deeply appreciate the value of a helping hand. One of the most valuable helping hands I have seen is proposal reviews, particularly for federal proposals (perfect timing as spring is often a federal grant season!). I have been fortunate enough to experience both internal and external reviews from those who are unfamiliar with my proposal’s program or the agency. BONUS: I have also served as an external reviewer for federal grant programs. The benefits of these extra eyes and hands are invaluable especially in an ever growing, highly competitive environment. An external reviewer can really help you “C” the difference (“C” what I did there?) by checking your proposal for the following:

  • Clarity: An experienced reviewer knows your audience and the language in the Request for Proposal (RFP) and is looking to ensure your proposal incorporates this language. The reviewer is paying attention to your wording, looking for clear and familiar words that avoid jargon, faulty repetition (you know, eliminating phrases like “each and every” or “over and over”), and redundancy. The reviewer will know where criteria information belongs in your narrative and will ensure that it is addressed in the correct sections and referred to in other necessary sections to avoid any redundancy or confusion.
  • Completeness: Experienced reviewers will go through your proposal with a fine-tooth comb comparing it not only to the grant guidelines and instructions, but to the scoring criteria often using a rubric. They are looking for very detailed, informative writing free of gaps or gray areas that can raise red flags. Better yet, if a gap is found, the reviewer will not only point it out but prompt the writer with further questions and even examples to address missing content or strengthen existing information. In serving on review panels, we often have to pull out “nuggets” of information as evidence that the applicant met the criteria. A good reviewer will ensure you have those nuggets to make your proposal complete.
  • Consistency and Flow Flaws: You can be the best writer in the world. But when you are knee deep in defining the project activities on page 20, you may have forgotten how activity X aligns with a key data point in your needs section. An experienced reviewer will catch this as they read your proposal section-by-section looking for alignment and consistency throughout.
  • Correctness: Did you follow the guidelines? Bear with me here. Yes, we are grant professionals who are trained to follow guidelines, but you better believe mistakes can and do happen. Like that one time you inserted the school district data table and it slightly threw off your margins or somehow magically changed the spacing of your next paragraph! A change so small that you might not even notice it. But guess what? Your reviewer caught it! The reviewer who has read every detail of the RFP, knows the formatting guidelines, structure of sections – all that and more.

Bottom line: Experienced reviewers make sure your proposal is clear, complete, consistent, and correct so you can secure every point possible to rise above the competition. So, as you scroll though the latest e-blast from or anticipate the release of an RFP, consider using  an external, expert helping hand to take your proposals to the next level. Contact AGS today to schedule your review services.

Upcoming federal grants include NSF Grants for Undergraduate Education, NEH Grants for Digital Humanities Projects, CDC Drug-Free Communities Support Program, and the DOE Childcare Access Means Parents in School Program.

Competency #7: Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers.

Skill 7.1: Identify advantages of participating in continuing education and various grant review processes.

Skill 7.2: Identify advantages of participating in professional organizations that offer grant developers growth opportunities and advance the profession.

Skill 7.3: Identify strategies that grant developers use in building social capital to benefit their communities and society at large.

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