Common Grant Writing Missteps – and Solutions!

Authors: Molly Mowery

money_clipartEarlier this month I had the opportunity to attend a Grant Skills Workshop in Colorado, sponsored by FEMA, Colorado United, American Red Cross, and several other key partners. The primary focus of the workshop was to help attendees develop better grant writing and management skills specific to fire and flood affected communities.

Seasoned grant writers may already follow many of these tips, but in many communities it isn’t professional grant writers working to access funds for FAC. For those of you who are newer to grant writing, I wanted to share some candid tips from the workshop presenters that could provide useful:

  • Get community and stakeholder buy-in early. Several speakers shared experiences where they made the assumption that their project would be well received by the community and/or key stakeholders, only to find after they received the funding that support wasn’t there. This ate up a lot of time and resources and had other consequences, such as grant reporting timelines being overshot. One way to combat this can be through early intervention techniques such as bringing stakeholders out to the field where the mitigation project may occur (if applicable) and developing press releases to share information and provide opportunities for the public to learn more about the project.
  • Anticipate budget changes over multi-year grants. A code word for “changes” here is actually increases. Think about potential staff raises, rising costs of goods and other services, and specialized expertise that may be required for your project; be sure to factor all of those into your budget. The example provided about this was a structural mitigation project that turned out to be a historic structure, requiring outside expertise to ensure renovations complied with specific architecture and design guidelines.
  • Check and double-check the reporting requirements and deadlines. More than one speaker shared the agonizing moment of overlooking something simple, such as missing a deadline due to the wrong time zone or forgetting to submit a preliminary document or request an advance login for an online system. A simple way to address this is to make an excel spreadsheet to track the grant process requirements and include EVERY detail. Also make your own deadlines several days prior to the final date leaving plenty of time for uploading final documents onto websites. This eliminates the stress of last minute problems with web-based crashes and technical glitches.
  • The more collaborative the better. Several foundations shared that often their most successful applicants are those that show collaborative working groups that bring together unique stakeholders. One example shared was a grant application that brought together the local fire department with a health organization to build a multi-use fire station and public recreation center – staffed by on duty firefighters, nurses, and general staff. These kinds of win-win proposals with multiple public audiences that benefit stand out more than others.
  • You don’t get funded unless you try. Perhaps my personal favorite was actually a speaker quoting Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” This quote was meant to inspire all grant writers to go for opportunities, even if they weren’t sure they had a good chance. To improve your chances, speakers encouraged applicants to get in touch with funders prior to submitting their applications to ask questions and gain insights. For example, one presenter shared that she sometimes asks a funder if there is a “less competitive” time of year. It turned out that this particular foundation saw fewer applicants in December and the chances were higher for applicants submitting grant requests at that time of year.

These were just a few of the many excellent insights shared both in terms of preparing and managing grants. Like all good project management, the underlying theme was good organization! For more information on this particular workshop or links to the presentations, visit the Grant Skills Workshop webpage.

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