Much of the focus of grant writing courses and advice is focused on the actual writing of the narrative. While the writing certainly has to be strong, you should also have an equally strong application process, especially for government applications. If you don’t, you run the risk of submitting a weak application or missing the deadline altogether.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all system that will guarantee a successful grant application, here are some of the best ways I’ve identified to ensure the process is as smooth as possible:
GATHER YOUR TEAM
Although writing the narrative for a grant application can be, and often is, a solo effort, much of the work that comes before the writing requires a team. Here are some individuals who you’ll want on your grant-writing team:
Executive Director (or person in a similar leadership role). The Executive Director’s vision for the proposed project will guide the entire application narrative so it’s important to gather their input as early as possible. The Executive Director will also have the required supporting documents, can compel other staff to provide necessary information/documents, will complete the final review before submission, and is the best person to secure Memoranda of Understanding/Agreement and Letters of Support from partners.
Program/service staff. If you’re requesting funds for a program or service, the staff who do the work every day will have the best insight on how the program/service operates, or could feasibly operate if you’re proposing a new program. These individuals can provide the details you’ll need for the project description section and can guide key decisions such as curriculum selection, outreach activities, and number of participants to be served.
Finance staff. Your Chief Financial Officer or other finance staff will have the most up-to-date organization budget and are the most qualified to create the application’s project budget. Keep in mind that even the best finance staff won’t be able to create a budget without a completed project description, so make sure your project plans are finalized early.
Grant writer(s). The grant writer(s) will take the lead on managing the project, should understand how best to appeal to the funder and meet the application requirements, and will write most, or all, of the narrative.
IDENTIFY A SYSTEM FOR DOCUMENT SHARING
Putting together a large government grant application requires access to a lot of organizational documents. There will also be multiple drafts of the proposal narrative that everyone on the team will want to review, edit, and comment on.
While emailing documents back and forth is an option, this isn’t the most productive system for a couple of reasons:
1) most email platforms have a limit on attachment size, so you’ll likely have to send multiple emails to share all the required application documents;
2) sending narrative drafts back-and-forth increases the risk that someone will edit the wrong version, which will lead to more work and frustration.
I’ve found the easiest way to manage document sharing and editing is by using Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. Anyone with a Gmail or G Suite account has access to Google Drive; Microsoft users will all have access to OneDrive. Using one of these cloud-based systems will allow everyone on the team to view documents and make edits or recommendations to the narrative 24 hours a day. You will also be able to see who made what edits and you can always restore previous document versions if necessary.
Whichever system you choose, make sure it’s convenient for the majority of your team and always provide an overview of how to use the platform and its features before you get started.
DEVELOP & SHARE YOUR PROJECT MANAGEMENT PLAN
Your application’s project management plan is simply a list of all the internal tasks that must be completed to meet your final submission deadline. Each task should be assigned to a team member(s) and should have a realistic deadline that will allow for timely completion of subsequent tasks.
Your application’s project management plan will include all the internal tasks that must be completed to meet your final submission deadline. Each task should be assigned to a team member(s) and should have a realistic deadline that will allow for timely completion of subsequent tasks.
You’ll want to review your funding opportunity announcement carefully to identify all your required tasks but here are some common ones you might need to include:
- Team meetings, with dates, times, and locations
- Letter of intent/interest submitted
- Dates of any applicant meetings or conferences hosted by the funding agency
- Deadline for submission of application questions
- Securing signed MOUs/MOAs and letters of support
- Uploading all required organizational documents
- Drafts of each section of the proposal written, reviewed, and edited
- First draft, second draft, and final draft of the complete narrative written, reviewed, and edited
You can create your project management plan in a simple word processing or spreadsheet document (like Microsoft Word or Excel) or you can use a web-based project management system, such as Asana or AirTable. Regardless of the system you use, make sure everyone can easily access it, understands how to use it, and understands the requirements of their assigned tasks.
MONITOR DEADLINES CLOSELY
The best part of creating (and following!) a project management plan is that it allows you to stay on track for a timely submission. Use your plan to ensure everyone is aware of their responsibilities and monitor all internal deadlines closely. If someone is consistently missing deadlines, it may be necessary to speak with the Executive Director about addressing the issue or identifying a replacement. If it becomes clear that someone on the team is simply not going to pull their weight, start reassigning their tasks as soon as possible.
FINALIZE YOUR APPLICATION (EARLY!)
Government grant applications require weeks of work, which means you’ll have read pieces of the narrative dozens of times. When you’re this close to something, it’s hard to find your own mistakes.
Try to finalize your application early enough so that you can take at least 24 hours off before you do your absolute final review and submission. This time away will give your brain a much-needed break so that you are better able to catch glaring errors, omissions, and unnecessary redundancies.
Alternately, you may want to ask someone who didn’t work on the application to review it. This person could be a staff member within your organization or an external grant editor/reviewer (like Upstream!).
REVIEW WHAT WENT WELL, AND NOT SO WELL
A few days to a week after you submit your application, you may want to pull the team together and discuss what went well and not so well. Although these reflection meetings may be a bit uncomfortable, the insight you’ll gain will allow you to improve the process and systems you’ll use for future grant applications, which can lead to less stress, less frustration, and more grant funding (whoo hoo!).
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