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Putting an Application Rejection Into Perspective

Most grant writers tend to blame themselves unduly if an application is rejected. Granted, there are sometimes instances where obvious mistakes have been made on the part of the grant writer. However, I have found that most professionals in this field are sincerely dedicated to their jobs and really want to receive the grant money. This is a very big incentive to do the very best job possible on the grant application.

This field of work has some features which are different from many others. There is a need to remain focused and stay on track, as tangible products must be produced. It is hard to “slack off” when there is a submission deadline to be met. The funding agencies will not accept late applications. Grant writers who do not produce an application on time will not have many more chances to redeem themselves. Not meeting the deadline and therefore not being able to submit an application is considered to be a failure of the worst sort.

This of course produces a pressure to perform, which can, in extreme cases, induce performance anxiety. This is exacerbated by the highly competitive field in which the grant writer operates. In the case of most federal and state grant opportunities, all municipalities, counties, or nonprofits applying are in competition with one another. This does nothing to reduce the pressure.

Conversely, when an application is approved, the grant writer becomes a “rainmaker”. As one can imagine, this is a highly respected person who is given a great deal of importance within the organization.

The purpose of saying all of this is to caution the grant writer to not become overly identified with the results of any one particular application or even several applications. In order to preserve one’s sense of balance, it is necessary to not become overly dejected when an application is not funded or to take too much of the credit for successful applications.

Statement of Need

Although this is one of the most important parts of any grant application, it also tends to be one of the most poorly written. One of the reasons for this may be that many grant writers just assume that the need for the project is obvious. Do not assume anything. The grant writer must make the case for both the need for the project and the need for financial assistance to do the project in a very clear, comprehensive, concise, and compelling manner. These are the four C’s for writing any grant application. This section is no place for vague, general, weak, or “stretching” statements.

Grant reviewers are not fond of flowery language. They tend to regard this type of verbiage with suspicion. It is as if the grant writer does not really have anything substantial to say and relies upon words designed to disguise the fact that there is no substance to the proposal. Whenever I read something like that, I feel rather insulted, as if I had been confronted with a particularly bad sales pitch. What counts with grant reviewers is a simple, direct statement of the facts. Please let your facts shine through and speak for themselves. They do not need to be embellished or exaggerated. Do not, under any circumstances, tell falsehoods in your application. This will damage your credibility with the funding agencies and word will get around. Your success rate will plummet rapidly. At the risk of sounding redundant, I will say it again: it is not worth the risk.

As I have said before and will certainly say again, it is very important to be specific. The use of statistics, when available, makes a very compelling case. Individual histories and anecdotes are also helpful. In short, anything which can help the reviewer to get a clear picture of the project should be added to this section of the narrative. The basic elements of a well-written project need section are just commonsense. They are as follows: general description of the situation, the number and type of people affected, the extent to which these people are affected, and what will happen if the project is not done.

It is also extremely important to discuss the need for financial assistance in order to carry it out. The applicant must clearly demonstrate that without grant funding, the project will not move forward. If the applicant has been turned down by other potential sources, it is necessary to specify that and to include copies of the letters rejecting the request for funds. It is always helpful for agencies to know that they are not the only source which is being requested to provide funding. An applicant will have more credibility if it can be demonstrated that potential funding sources were carefully researched and a funding strategy was well thought out.

Another angle to demonstrate financial need is to show the allocation of funds in an organization’s total budget in order to demonstrate that no applicant monies are available. This information will show that all available funds are going toward operating costs and cannot be used for new projects or that other needed projects are consuming the entire budget of the organization. In many cases, a copy of the applicant’s most recent audited financial statement must be submitted along with the application.

In the case of municipalities or counties, information regarding the economic situation of the community is critical. If an area is considered to be economically disadvantaged and demonstrates high unemployment, low median income, and a high rate of poverty, then the assessable base or value of the real estate upon which taxes are calculated is low. This dictates that the local government has only a limited ability to raise taxes and thereby realize additional revenue. It may very well be that the population of this political jurisdiction cannot afford to pay additional taxes which could fund new programs.

In the case of nonprofits, financial need may be demonstrated by a statement that the organization has a small donor base or that a reduction in donations over a certain period of time has occurred. Information should also be given on the nonprofit’s operating costs in order to show the amount of money which is being spent to keep the organization going.

How to Determine the Chances of Getting Grant Funding for a Project

The checklist given below shows the grant writer how a proposed activity meets the characteristics of a well-designed grant project. Granted, I have seen several cases where an activity which does not meet all the criteria below has gotten funded. The project may be very strong in several key areas but weak in one or two others and still get funded. Many times funders are moved by what seems to them to be the greater good to be served and go on to approve a project which is not “perfect”.

Rather than just checking off each applicable criterion, assign each one a value of from one to five, with one being the minimum measurement of that criteria and five being the most. For example, a project may lend itself to only limited measurement and evaluation. The grant writer may then decide to assign this factor a “two”, while a project which can be easily measured and analyzed statistically may be assigned a “five”. This is just another way to test your proposed activity to see the likelihood of its getting funded. The grant writer will get more accurate results by assigning a degree of measurement to each criterion rather than merely knowing whether or not it exists.

This checklist is as follows:

 The problem will be fully or partially solved.
 The project is ready to proceed.
 The project will be completed in a timely fashion.
 Matching funds have been committed.
 The applicant has a commitment for funding to sustain the project once the grant period is completed or sustainability will occur through project design such as for a new construction project or an equipment purchase.
 The applicant can demonstrate that an exhaustive search of other sources was conducted.
 The proposed activity has worked elsewhere for a similar problem.
 The activity was developed after looking at several alternatives.
 The results of the project are easily measured.
 An evaluation plan is in place and the appropriate resources have been secured.
 The project has support from the general public, the population to be served, professionals who work in the field, and governmental entities in whose jurisdiction it will take place.
 The applicant has a proven track record in administering similar projects and there have been no problems in the administration of previous grants.
 Collaborative agreements have been secured.
 Construction and rehabilitation activities have been at least partially designed.
 Any professional studies specific to this project have been completed.
 Cost estimates have been carefully documented.
 The project is included in the appropriate planning documents.
 Statistical data has been used to document the need and is included with the application.
 A feasible work plan can be developed for inclusion in the application.
 Any procurement activities can be conducted so as to meet the requirements of the granting agency.
 It can be demonstrated that the activity chosen is clearly superior to other alternatives.