Notes on Developing Successful Grants


Chapter 1: Preparing for Success

  1. Designing the Process—You need a roadmap
    1. Invest in the decision to pursue grants
    2. Establish clearly what is needed and why (staff needs assessment)

                                                               i.      What problems would you like our agency to address?

                                                             ii.      What program activities would you like to develop?

                                                            iii.      What specific items would you like to purchase?

                                                           iv.      How would you contribute to the proposal process?

    1. Create written guidelines for grants processing
    2. Establish incentives as part of the grants development process
    3. Develop grantwriting teams
    4. Involve outside agencies
  1. Developing Successful Grantwriting Teams
    1. Select team members from different backgrounds
    2. Solicit organization and community support
    3. Seek team members with different expertise

                                                               i.      Team leader

                                                             ii.      Skilled writer

                                                            iii.      Budget developer

                                                           iv.      Literature researcher

                                                             v.      Program experts

                                                           vi.      Needs assessment coordinator

                                                          vii.      Word processor

                                                        viii.      Community key informants and consumers

                                                           ix.      Proofreader

                                                             x.      Gopher

    1. Maintain group cohesiveness
    2. Consider type of grantwriting team

                                                               i.      Discipline-based team

                                                             ii.      Cross-disciplinary team

                                                            iii.      Multiple operating units team

                                                           iv.      Interagency team

    1. Train and support the team
  1. Avoiding Pitfalls—Grantwriting “laws”
    1. The more experience you have, the more you learn you’re not an expert on everything
    2. When writing a grant, different versions of the RFP will find their way into your office
    3. Two word-processing software programs are not better than one
    4. The more important the deadline, the more often it is missed
    5. When the pressure is greatest, interruptions will increase
    6. The larger the team, the more you will hear “I thought you told them”
    7. The closer the finish line, the more vague the directions
    8. A proofreader is never around when you need one
    9. The more you want something specific from employees, the less they read your mind
    10. In any crisis, your most reliable person will have a dead cell phone


Chapter 2: Finding Funding Sources

  1. Foundations, Corporate, and Government Grants
    1. Sources

                                                               i.      Federal government grant programs

                                                             ii.      State government grant funds

                                                            iii.      City and county government grants

                                                           iv.      Foundation funding

                                                             v.      Corporate grants

    1. Guidelines for Finding Grants

                                                               i.      Directories

                                                             ii.      Newsletters

                                                            iii.      Internet

                                                           iv.      Grants development training

                                                             v.      Professional associations

                                                           vi.      Collaboration

  1. Understanding the Request for Proposals (RFP)—What do funders want to buy?
    1. Key rules:

                                                               i.      Obtain grant applications and guidelines as early as possible

                                                             ii.      Follow all application guidelines

    1. Keep the original grant application
    2. Decide if you should apply for the grant

                                                               i.      Eligibility

                                                             ii.      Time frame

                                                            iii.      Effort required

                                                           iv.      Appropriateness

                                                             v.      Return on investment

                                                           vi.      Likelihood for success

    1. Determine what the funding source wants
    2. Format the proposal as described in the RFP

                                                               i.      Pages

                                                             ii.      Arrangement and formatting of sections

                                                            iii.      Source

                                                           iv.      Formatting specifics

                                                             v.      Appendices

    1. Submit questions to the funding source
    2. Attend applicants’ workshop (or “bidders’ conference”)
    3. Review the RFP one more time
    4. Prepare for document submission

                                                               i.      Due date

                                                             ii.      Address

                                                            iii.      Number of copies

                                                           iv.      Final product

                                                             v.      Packaging

                                                           vi.      Identification


Chapter 3: Defining the Problem (problem statement, needs statement, case statement)

1.      General advice:

a.       “Make the reviewer cry”

b.      Assume the reader knows nothing about your community

c.       Assume the reader is unfamiliar with your problem

d.      Get input from different sectors in your community

e.       Describe it as a problem that needs to be solved.

2.      Conducting the Needs Assessment—“Dig for the dirt”

a.       Find available statistics

b.      Conduct surveys

c.       Hold community meetings

d.      Get input from target population

e.       Review existing studies

f.        Interview key informants

g.       Interview professionals who work with the target population

h.       Seek input from professional colleagues & associates

i.         Review the literature

j.        Create newspaper clipping file

3.      Developing a Convincing Problem Statement

a.       Three key statements:

                                                                           i.      The problem is….

                                                                         ii.      The problem is caused by…

                                                                        iii.      Long term, with no intervention ….

b.      Personalize the need

c.       Compel reviewer to help

d.      Use statistics to prove the need

                                                                           i.      Use charts for emphasis

                                                                         ii.      Use tables

                                                                        iii.      Use bullet-points

e.       Make the numbers catch the reader’s attention

f.        Close discussion of problem with statement of hope


Chapter 4 Developing Program Strategies (program design, project narrative, project activities or approach)

  1. Searching for Ideas
    1. Review the literature (“best practices”)
    2. Interview experts and professionals
    3. Attend relevant conferences
    4. Interview consumers and community key informants
    5. Review funded proposals (via the funding agency or via the principal investigator)
    6. Contact and visit existing programs
  2. Developing the Program Model (“Getting Your Act Together”)
    1. List
    2. Order
    3. Expand
    4. Review
  3. Writing the Strategy
    1. Tell the reader what you are going to say, say it, summarize what you just said
    2. 7 secrets

                                                               i.      Begin with the goals of the funder

                                                             ii.      Provide a program overview

                                                            iii.      Include an advisory committee

                                                           iv.      Describe the target population

                                                             v.      Cite the literature

                                                           vi.      Ensure that activities relate to the problems

                                                          vii.      Justify the chosen strategies


Chapter 5 Defining Mission & Tasks

  1. Writing Program Goals
    1. 1-4 goals, no matter size of grant
    2. Be specific—problem you plan to address and direction of planned change
    3. Place in Summary, Approach, and Program Objectives
    4. More complex programs do not necessarily require more goals
  2. Developing Program Objectives
    1. Tie objectives to goals
    2. Objectives should be measurable, and should specify

                                                               i.      Who

                                                             ii.      What

                                                            iii.      When

                                                           iv.      How many/how much

    1. Qualify with “at least” or “a minimum of”
    2. Under-promise so you can over-deliver
    3. State them concisely
    4. Focus is on program, not budget
    5. Distinguish between process objectives and outcome objectives
  1. Presenting Objectives
    1. May use paragraphs, bullet-points, or table
    2. Frequently, space is at a premium so bullet-points or tables may be preferred


Chapter 6 Designing the Evaluation

  1. Purpose of evaluation
    1. Provide measures of the level of program success
    2. Provide ongoing feedback to management
  2. Role of evaluator in project planning: Is it a conflict of interests?
    1. Establish independence
    2. Income not dependent on either the program or the agency
    3. Or else create independent advisory committee (with staff providing data)
  3. Engaging an independent evaluator
    1. Identify possible evaluators
    2. Engage evaluator in proposal design
    3. Write evaluation plan (how & who)
  4. Evaluation Measures (“Performance Indicators”)—How do we know something occurred?
    1. Clarity
    2. Process (“formative”) evaluation
    3. Outcomes (“summative”) evaluation


Chapter 7: Strengthening the Proposal

  1. Dissemination of information
    1. Adds to appeal of proposal
    2. Can earn extra points in grant review
    3. Advertises the funder
    4. Enables others to learn from your experience
    5. Heightens public awareness about your program
    6. Increased visibility aids future grantwriting success
  2. How do you broadcast your findings?
    1. Professional publications
    2. Conferences
    3. Media coverage
    4. Newspaper articles
    5. Newsletter
    6. Internet
    7. Funder’s publications
    8. Public meetings
  3. Exportable products
    1. Project manual
    2. Training
    3. Curriculum
    4. Video/DVD
    5. PSA (“public service announcement”)
    6. Awards programs
  4. “Secret” benefit—can be used to justify operating expenses and purchase of equipment
  5. Resource Development Plan—provides for program sustainability (planning for support beyond the life of the grant)
    1. Produce a written plan
    2. Identify varied funding sources
    3. Diversify funding methods
    4. Short- and Long-term strategies
    5. Focus sustainability efforts on successful programs
    6. Sustainability team—form a committee, and train them (could be inter-agency)
    7. Broadcast success


Chapter 8 Managing the Program

  1. Management Planning—chronological description of activities or tasks that must occur
    1. Address broader period of time than the operation of the project
    2. Don’t plan to spend grant money before you get it
    3. Stages

                                                               i.      Planning (advisory committee, etc.)

                                                             ii.      Preparation (minimal financial resources—job descriptions, in-house marketing, committee review, contracting with evaluator, etc.)

                                                            iii.      Start-up (plan for this—can take 30-60-90 days!)

                                                           iv.      Operation

                                                             v.      Follow-up (reporting, closing out books, archiving, etc.)

  1. Time lines
    1. Based on fiscal year of grant
    2. Mostly operations, although some administrative tasks included
    3. Include start-up (which are completely administrative) and close-out (“13th month”)
    4. Must include all tasks identified in narrative
    5. First year in detail; subsequent years in outline
    6. Punch-list, Gantt, PERT, etc.
  2. Presentation of simple management plan
    1. Start with time & activity
    2. Add “person responsible” (simple management plan)
    3. Add “performance indicator” (evaluation plan)
    4. Add “goals & objectives”

                                                               i.      Organize by objectives (but may not be recognized as a “time line,” if required in RFP)

                                                             ii.      Organize by acivities (allows activity to serve multiple objectives; clearly presents timeline)


Ch. 9 Building the Budget—not just revenue & expenses, but also line-item justification!

  1. Direct Costs (monies requested from funding agency)—can generally shift funds within categories without prior approval
    1. Personnel (salaried staff, full- or part-time)

                                                               i.      Getting estimates

1.      ask other agency staff

2.      search the web

3.      check with similar programs in community

4.      compare state & national salary statistics

5.      focus on the middle

6.      account for “soft” money “roll-up”

7.      SWAG

                                                             ii.      Prorate (allow for salary savings during start-up time)

1.      not all salaries will be prorated

2.      less prorating if similar program already operating

3.      make sure reviewers understand the prorating

4.      for multiple-year proposals, include inflation

5.      include job description in appendix

    1. Fringe Benefits (taxes & other employee benefits )

                                                               i.      Includes FICA, federal & state unemployment (F/SUTA), Workers’ Comp insurance, medical insurance; life insurance, paid sick leave & annual leave; retirement benefits

                                                             ii.      Usually based on gross salaries

                                                            iii.      Rate varies from 21-35% (25-27% is mode)

    1. Travel (for staff and for target population)

                                                               i.      Explain why required

                                                             ii.      Provide detailed formulas

                                                            iii.      Avoid using round numbers

                                                           iv.      Use realist, but conservative, numbers

                                                             v.      Break into subcategories (e.g., national, in-state, local, client transportation, educational field trips, etc.)

    1. Equipment (big ticket items that are inventoried & depreciated)

                                                               i.      Often scrutinized—why should 1-year grant buy a 5-year capital asset? Why not rent it instead?

                                                             ii.      Document programmatic need

                                                            iii.      Avoid specific name brands or models (allow competitive bid)

                                                           iv.      Provide equipment specifications (tied to programmatic need)

    1. Supplies

                                                               i.      General office supplies ($50/mo. per administrative employee is a rule of thumb)

                                                             ii.      “Technology” sells (“video technology” rather than “video camera,” “computer technology” rather than “computer”)

                                                            iii.      Careful wording (“nutritional food supplies” rather than “snacks”)

    1. Contractual—services or products.

                                                               i.      IRS has 17 rules for determining whether it is “contract” or “salaried” personnel, including

1.      agency neither dictates nor defines the hours that a contractor works

2.      agency does not generally provide office space for contractor

3.      agency does not pay fringe benefits for contractor (but be careful—Dept of Labor may determine that you should have!)

                                                             ii.      Include consultant job description in appendix

    1. Other

                                                               i.      Includes items such as postage, insurance, employment advertising

                                                             ii.      Should be relatively small compared to rest of grant

                                                            iii.      Never call it “miscellaneous” (in fact, don’t use that word anywhere in the Budget)

  1. In-Kind Contributions (proving the community cares)
    1. Value of volunteers—refer to for value of volunteer time ($17.19 in 2003)

                                                               i.      For professional services, value at market rate

                                                             ii.      May also include contributions of goods and services

                                                            iii.      May be required to document this item in final report (may need audit trail)

    1. Budgeting in-kind contributions (sometimes called “match”)

                                                               i.      Include as separate column on budget sheet (called “local contribution”)

                                                             ii.      Unless specifically requested, limit to 10-25% of total

  1. Indirect Costs (agency costs for administering the program)
    1. Negotiated with the federal government (MSU’s is 8% of total, or 45% of salaries)
    2. Many nonprofit funders will not allow it—but may accept itemized costs for space, utilities, accounting, etc.
    3. If not allowed, include as in-kind contribution
  2. Keep it real
    1. Don’t over-budget—and don’t under-budget. Make sure budget is appropriate to overall scope of project.
    2. Convention for presentation:

                                                               i.      Start budget on new page (if possible)

                                                             ii.      Align columns in table format

                                                            iii.      Present main categories in full caps, boldface, and numbered in Roman numerals

                                                           iv.      Assign letters to line-items (subcategories)

                                                             v.      Descriptive text limited to “Budget Category” column (fully justify text, unless character spacing is awkward)

                                                           vi.      Right-justify columns containing dollar amounts

                                                          vii.      Express numbers in whole dollars (no cents)

                                                        viii.      Use dollar sign only in first line of each budget page, subtotals, and overall total

                                                           ix.      Present all entries on subtotal or total lines in bold type

                                                             x.      Double-check all entries & totals. Then check them again (have someone else check them). Mistakes are so easy here!


Chapter 10 Bringing It All Together

  1. Putting the pieces in order
    1. Model Proposal structure

                                                               i.      Problem statement

                                                             ii.      Approach

1.      program overview with goals

2.      program activities

3.      dissemination

4.      sustainability

                                                            iii.      Program goals and objectives (Logic Model)

                                                           iv.      Evaluation Plan

                                                             v.      Management Plan (GANTT/PERT)

                                                           vi.      Budget

    1. Concept Paper

                                                               i.      Cover letter

1.      Introduce agency (location, what you do, whom you serve)

2.      Introduce project (community need, program goal)

3.      Establish agency credibility (track record, board membership)

4.      Bottom line

5.      Thank you

                                                             ii.      Concept Paper content (1-2 pp.)

1.      Problem statement

2.      Goals & objectives

3.      Activities

4.      Management Plan (timeline, evaluation plan)

                                                            iii.      Budget (1 page max)

  1. Writing Style
    1. Do’s

                                                               i.      Transition sentences

                                                             ii.      9-10th grade reading level

                                                            iii.      Personalize the proposal (“our problem,” “we need”—but never “I,” always the community)

                                                           iv.      Documentation—APA style, within the document and on reference page at end

    1. Don’ts

                                                               i.      Technical language

                                                             ii.      Contractions

                                                            iii.      Acronyms

                                                           iv.      Slang

                                                             v.      Jargon & trendy language

                                                           vi.      Sexist language

  1. Visual Appeal
    1. Text enhancements (italics, bold, underscore)
    2. Formatting—lists & tables
    3. Graphic objects—boxes, charts, pictures (one per page max)
    4. Other

                                                               i.      12 pt Times New Roman

                                                             ii.      1.6 line spacing (or 1.2 if single-spacing is permitted)

                                                            iii.      1” margins

                                                           iv.      Eliminate word orphans

                                                             v.      Paginate! (proposals do get dropped on the floor)

  1. Online submission
    1. Does not make the writing any easier
    2. Often loses formatting; may change length of document
    3. If given a choice, submit in hard copy
  2. Tools
    1. 24-lb bond paper, 90-92 brightness, laser or inkjet type depending on your printer
    2. Submit all copies using good paper (print all from printer, if possible); mark one copy as “original”; submit original and all copies in one package.
  3. Proofreading
    1. Read aloud
    2. Read backwards
    3. Read fresh
    4. Just before shipping, thumb through entire package to insure all pages are in proper order and legible.


Ch. 11 Finishing Touches

  1. Table of Contents
    1. Cover page and abstract
    2. Required forms
    3. Project Narrative
    4. Budget
    5. Appendices
  2. Program Summary (1 page max)
    1. Goal
    2. Setting
    3. Problem
    4. Program strategies
    5. Oversight
    6. Outcome
    7. And remember to leave them with a good feeling
  3. Appendices
    1. Resumes
    2. Job Descriptions
    3. Organizational structure charts
    4. Partnership agreements
    5. MOA/MOU
    6. Letters of commitment (support for program and assets/services contributed)
    7. Certifications
    8. Data Collection Instruments
    9. Reference Page
    10. Evaluation Schedules
    11. Contractual agreements
    12. Required forms
    13. But remember—Reviewers may not see appendices!
    14. And also remember—label appendices in sequential order
  4. Signatures
    1. Leave enough time
    2. If single point of contact (SPOC)/Interagency review is required, set aside enough time for that, too (and get verification that proposal was submitted for SPOC review)
  5. Grant Delivery
    1. Package correctly addressed according to grant guidelines
    2. Hand deliver, if possible, with time-stamped receipt
    3. Use private delivery rather than postal service (to track delivery and to avoid DC postal inspection delays)
    4. Double-check date & time due, and double-check address


Ch. 12 Follow-Through

  1. Grant Review Process
    1. Initial Review—is it all there, as requested in RFP?
    2. Specialized review

                                                               i.      Program specialist (probably helped write RFP—looking for general trends in responses)

                                                             ii.      Independent reviewer panel (blind review, but then come up with common scores)

                                                            iii.      Budget analyst (technical review for reasonableness)

    1. Consolidation of findings
    2. Review “from above”
    3. Funding decision announced

                                                               i.      Approve, deny, “approve without funding”

                                                             ii.      Always ask to see reviewers’ comments (can be instructive)

  1. Responding to Funding Inquiries (which is why you want to distinguish between “authorizing signature” and “contact person”)
    1. Plead for time—preferably two days
    2. Negotiate for written response (or e-mail/fax)
    3. Write down the questions exactly as asked
    4. Answer every question—even if you think you had answered it previously




2005 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 1 June 2005