Article: 5 Deadly Sins of Grant Writing

Career expert grant writers—who are truly worth their cost—look at grant writing as an art form. Their craft requires full attention to quality proposal content with no room for error. Career writers live and breathe their work and the grant writing work of others. They will study top rated proposals and the awarded proposals of their competitors. They will analyze the award trends of the funders they are pursuing to ensure their program designs align with funder award and denial patterns. And, they will take the time to study their successes and failures as grant writers. Professionals, such as those employed with Resource Associates, will even go so far as to examine reviewer score sheets of every proposal they write, whether the proposal is awarded or denied. They carefully scrutinize their work while taking extraordinary action to avoid mistakes in the future.

This level of dedication is what led to this article: the 5 Deadly Sins of Grant Writing. In preparing for this blog, Resource Associates’ interviewed its top ranking grant experts to find out what they thought were their most common and not-so-common grant writing mistakes. Here are the results from the interviews:

Grant Writing Sin #1: Indifference
“I always write with what I call the goose bump factor” says Resource Associates’ CEO, Deborah Montgomery. “If I don’t have goose bumps when reading my work, I haven’t truly written from my heart (i.e., it’s time to go back to the drawing board). Proposals must compel the reviewer to want to stand up and take action against a societal wrong. They must tell a story and paint a picture of the true problem that the grant will be addressing and its “shocking” or “frightening” impact on the community. The reviewer needs to be made aware of what tragic events will happen if funding isn’t secured. Here is an example of this type of impact statement from a proposal I recently submitted: local epidemiology figures from IHS suggests that if the XYZ program is not funded by this grant, 17 high risk, Navajo youth will die of an overdose from the misuse of prescription pills within the next 12 months. Always write your grant with heart and emotion. Forget the common, over-technical writing approach unless you are writing an NIH or research grant.”

Grant Writing Sin #2: Chum
Rachel Nawrocki of Resource Associates states: “Professional grant writers should always be looking at maximizing their proposal space with content. While you must write with passion, you must also write clearly and distinctly. Toss out the flowery language and big words that reviewers won’t understand. Maximize every potential line and margin space with content that is to the point – content that is directly answering selection criteria. You know what chum is right? It is fish parts used to bait larger fish. Always pick content – organizational capacity statements – clear partner descriptions…over chum.”

Grant Writing Sin #3: Over-Reliance on National Stats
Grant writer and Quality Control Specialist, Marissa Berg comments on the over-reliance on national stats in her following statements: “I have been working in Resource Associates’ Quality Control Department for close to a decade now. I critique grants written by our clients when I conduct technical reviews and I also am responsible for reading all proposals prepared by Resource Associates’ grant writers. Almost every grant I read by a novice non-RA writer will make the mistake of relying on national statistics. Reviewers don’t want to know what the national stats are on HIV, for example. They want to know what the stats are for your target service population and how such stats are disproportionate with National, State, and comparative group rates and trends. Reviewers want to know if the young adults in your county, for example, are 3 fold more likely to contract HIV that young adults of the same age range or ethnicity in the state and country. Use your proposal space wisely. Blanketed statements like: HIV is a national epidemic impacting xyz many lives in the US a year, must be supported by community specific and group comparison data.”

Grant Writing Sin #4: Lack of Articulation
From all of our interviewed grant experts, we find the common mistake of non-articulation. Goals need to be translated by objectives. Objective accomplishment should to be described in activities. All of the above must be articulated and aligned with results and process outcome statements. Moreover, the budget should fully support every task associated with completing all of the above elements. Budgets should describe the line item in context to the task to be achieved whether it’s contractual time for an evaluator to conduct surveys as described in your evaluation section or the cost of the venue space you will reserve for a training as described in your program design section.

Grant Writing Sin #5: “Dumb” Objectives
Abigail Chester of Resource Associates’ Outreach Department says this about writing “dumb” objectives: “I am not a proposal writer by trade. My expertise falls into grant management. I’m the one who must implement the grant and report on grant progress and outcomes. I have helped manage many federal grants and I must say, from my experience, most federal funders – in particular – will hold you to your objectives during the grant implementation phase. If you write objectives that are not obtainable, I won’t want to implement your project. I have seen objectives stating that there will be 100% reductions in teen pregnancy or drug/alcohol use. Objectives need to be realistic. It is also helpful when they are written as “SMART.” This lets me know what time certain tasks need to be accomplished and how they should be measured. In case you don’t know about SMART objectives, check out: www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/evaluation/pdf/brief3b.pdf.”

Resource Associates’ grant writers and grant experts can help avoid all of these grant writing sins and pitfalls. Let our career professionals write your proposal using knowledge gained from the past 20 years. Or, let us provide you free advice through our Grant Wizard. The Wizard can answer all types of questions regarding grant content and can offer short critiques of your work product.

Resource Associates also offers formal proposal review and technical assistance services. Just give us a call (505-326-4245) or complete the form below and let us know how we can support your grant endeavors.

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