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12 Common Reasons Grants Don’t Get Funded

To help you avoid the frustration and disappointment of not having your proposal funded, here several common errors funders most frequently see in proposals. Avoid them!Just about everyone is familiar with the phrase, “Experience is the best teacher.” I don’t know about you, but I tend to agree with Oscar Wilde who provided a different perspective – “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” And I could even go one step further and tell you the definition my husband gives to experience… “it’s what you get when you expect something else!”

All three perspectives apply to grant writing. There’s no question that grant writers get better at it with every new grant written. I know I do. And like it or not, learning from mistakes is valuable.

However, it’s discouraging for a new grant writer to put forth the effort required to put together a proposal, only to have it rejected because of mistakes a more experienced grant writer knows to avoid. Plus, there’s the disappointment everyone feels when your school doesn’t receive funding!

To help you avoid that frustration and disappointment, I’m sharing several common errors funders most frequently see in proposals.

  1. It’s evident that the proposal writer did not adequately research the foundation. This is especially evident when a grant writer requests funding for a project that doesn’t fall within the foundation’s guidelines, or when the requested amount is smaller or larger than typical grants awarded by the foundation. If you have questions, contact the foundation.
  2. The proposal writer did not follow the foundation’s guidelines. I may sound like a broken record on this topic, but it can’t be emphasized enough. One of the first things you must do in preparing a grant proposal is to carefully read the guidelines, highlighting all the key points. Then, as I’ve often said, you read it a second, third, fourth, etc. time until you thoroughly understand what you have to include in your proposal to have the best chance of getting funded.
  3. Missing or incomplete responses to Request for Proposals (RFP) questions or not including documentation requested by the funder. This is directly related to item number 2. If there are specific questions the funder wants addressed, make sure you provide a complete response to those questions. Also, make a checklist (if their RFP doesn’t provide one) of all the documents required for submission. Check and double-check those items when you are packaging the proposal for submission – whether you are submitting online, by email, or by hard-copy.
  4. The proposal doesn’t state the amount requested. (Yes, believe it or not, this does happen!) It’s surprising how many proposals get submitted without specifying the amount requested. Or, the grant writer makes the funder search for that information – kind of like a “Where’s Waldo” search. Trust me on this, the proposal reader is not interested in that kind of search! Unless you are submitting an online proposal that specifically asks this question, you should be clear about the amount of money you’re requesting and should almost always provide this information in the opening paragraph of your narrative.
  5. The proposal doesn’t clearly define the problem. This is tied to the question of, “why should the funder care?” It’s important to establish the legitimacy of the problem. This can often be accomplished by providing data from research and/or anecdotal experience at your school.
  6. Your proposal doesn’t adequately describe how your project will solve the problem. It’s important to demonstrate to the funder that your school has the personnel, experience, and resources to solve the problem and carry out the program.
  7. Objectives stated in the proposal don’t match the problem/project, or aren’t clear and measurable. It’s not sufficient to say, “we will improve reading scores.” You must spell out specific information, like the number of children you will serve, how many will achieve specific goals, and how you’ll evaluate whether or not they met the goals.
  8. The budget presented doesn’t match the narrative, or is too general. You need to make sure everything in the proposal narrative is accounted for in the budget. You want to have enough money in your budget to pay for all the items and activities you’ve written about in your narrative. Conversely, you also don’t want to “pad” or inflate the budget. Ask only for the amount of money you need to get the program successfully completed. And as for where to start, you’ll want to first determine the budget with your child’s teacher, and then run it by the principal for his/her approval..
  9. There are mathematical errors in the budget. Like failing to include a requested budget amount, having errors in the budget is also very common. Most budgets that Grantmamas write are simple, but errors can still occur. Double check all the calculations in your budget first, then ask the teacher, principal, or school finance manager to re-check them to be sure there are no errors.
  10. There is something unusual in your school’s budget or audit. Perhaps your child’s school is dealing with a multi-year deficit. There could be very legitimate reasons for this, but it’s important to be proactive and address it in the proposal or the budget. If the foundation has further questions, they will contact the school administration. But they will very much appreciate a preliminary explanation. It’s far better to be transparent and open regarding any challenges. In fact, it can sometimes lead to additional funding!
  11. There are typos or poor grammar in your narrative. This is as important as ensuring there are no mathematical errors in the budget. It’s always good to have someone else who isn’t familiar with the program you’re proposing – and has respectable writing skills – to edit your proposal. As I’ve often stressed, don’t depend on grammar check or spellcheck software to catch all your mistakes.
  12. The proposal is not written clearly and concisely. Always keep in mind the individual who is reviewing your proposal. He/she is reading MANY proposals and the easier it is to read and understand your project, the higher your proposal will score. Because this is so important, next week’s blog will include important tips for clear writing!
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