Top 5 Tips for Putting Together a Competitive Grant Proposal
Writing a federal grant application can seem like a complicated and daunting process. Here are some key tips to help make the process easier on you and your Local Education Agency (LEA) and make your grant application as competitive as possible.
1. Read the Funding Opportunity Announcement.
This may sound obvious, but it’s shocking how many people try to write a grant application without fully reading the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). The FOA, sometimes referred to as the notice inviting applications (NIA) or solicitation, contains all the relevant information and requirements that an applicant should review to assess their eligibility, compatibility, and competitiveness for that specific grant. It is critical that applicants thoroughly read through this information to ensure they can meet all requirements and respond effectively to the review criteria. An application that does not clearly respond to the criteria detailed in the FOA is at risk of noncompliance and is unlikely to be funded by the grantmaking agency.
2. Start Early.
Putting together a strong grant application takes time. As a best practice, we recommend starting to plan your grant project before the FOA is released when possible. To prepare for a grant’s release, applicants can often review the agency website for the most recent FOA and other helpful resources from a previous round of the competition. While the upcoming competition may not have the exact same focus, you can use the resources from the previous competition to get a high-level sense of what the agency is looking to fund and how your LEA may want to approach a future application.
A good exercise in planning is to create a short concept paper or summary of the grant project which lays out the who, what, when, where, and how of the potential proposal. The process of creating a concept paper is also helpful in determining who will need to be involved on the grant writing team. Early identification of the project team is key as the LEA may need to take additional steps to ensure that these individuals will have allocated time to dedicate to the grant writing process.
Another reason to start early is that many grants require partnerships with other entities, such as cities, counties, local law enforcement or community-based organizations. Securing these partners can involve significant outreach efforts and other bureaucracy (i.e. board approvals, lawyer approvals, etc.) and reaching out early in the process is highly recommended.
3. Utilize the resources provided by the federal agency.
The federal agencies provide valuable and often underutilized resources to help potential grant applicants. Many federal agencies will host webinars or office hours on their grant competitions that explain the grant in detail, provide valuable insight as to what the agency is looking for, and answer applicant questions. These webinars are typically recorded and publicly available on the agency website.
Additionally, potential applicants can also view lists of past awardees and previously funded proposals or abstracts on the agency website. Viewing resources from previous awardees can be extremely helpful in understanding the types of organizations and programs an agency is looking to fund.
Lastly, each grant program offered by the federal government has one or more staff assigned to them. These are known as Program Officers and their contact information is typically included in the FOA for the grant. Program officers are often amenable to answering questions and giving applicants valuable feedback on their grant ideas. Reaching out to the program officer early, even before that year’s FOA is released, is best.
4. Write directly to the federal agency’s goals and objectives stated in the grant solicitation —NOT what you want to fund.
Many applicants disqualify themselves simply by submitting applications that disregard the agency’s goals and objectives stated in the FOA. Grant programs are derived from specific federal laws and regulations, and therefore the programs they fund must adhere to those specifications. You can have the best idea in the world for a program, but if it cannot be put into the context of the grant guidance, it will not be funded. This is also another reason to thoroughly read the FOA.
5. Submit your grant application at least a day before the due date.
Grants.gov and the other grant submission platforms used by the federal government are not perfect. Sometimes there are technical glitches or errors that require applicants to contact the respective platform’s help desk. Further, the grant uploading process can be more time consuming and cumbersome than applicants, especially first-time applicants, anticipate. Do yourself and your organization a favor and avoid a last-minute crisis by uploading your application a day or two before it is due as an agency will rarely allow for an extension.