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Grant Geek

5 Lessons Learned From Being a Grant Reviewer


Once a grant writer has written a few grants and has received grant reviewer feedback, they begin to understand the challenges of grant writing. Unfortunately, writing a grant isn’t just about getting a grant awarded. It is also about designing a plan and describing the organization’s ability to implement that plan and make proper partnerships. One way to better understand how a grant writer can improve their success in writing grants is to act as a grant reviewer. Funders often put out appeals asking for people to work as reviewers. Sometimes, they are virtual positions, while other times, they require traveling to the funder’s location. These positions are sometimes paid and other times not. However, the experience gained from acting as a reviewer will benefit a grant writer for years to come. Here are a few lessons learned from acting as a grant reviewer.

  1. Make information easy to find- Often, grant reviewers are working on a tight deadline and are having to work on dozens of proposals at a time. This prevents them from having the time to inspect a proposal and find all of the items included. Make sure that the information included is easy to find and easy to read. When allowable, use page numbers and tables of contents allowing the reviewer to cross reference items in the proposal quickly. Make sure that all scans are easy to read and the font is a readable size.
  2. Remove contradictory information- When a reviewer finds information in the proposal that is contradictory, they are not allowed to make a subjective judgment to determine which information is correct. Ensure that all of the numbers are correct and that there is no information in the proposal that is contradictory. Ensure the locations are correct, the number of participants is consistent, and everything commensurates with the proposed program.
  3. Remove sensational narrative- While the proposal needs to be compelling and should make a reviewer empathetic to the cause, make sure not to include overly sensational statements in the proposal. Reviewers must read dozens of proposals aimed at the same cause, and being dramatic will hurt the proposal if it comes off as sensational rather than sincere. Make sure the needs statement is clear and back up claims with facts. The reviewers will gain trust in the plan and score the proposal higher.
  4. Follow the grant guidelines- While some grant scoring criteria allow a reviewer to give points no matter the location of the proposal’s information, that is not always the case. Some funders require specific criteria to be included directly under the question that applies to that criteria. Don’t assume that just because the information was included in another section, a reviewer will credit it. Make sure to follow the grant guidelines to get the most points possible.
  5. Make sure the program is easy to understand- When a reviewer scores a proposal high, they can easily summarize the plan from the top of their head. If the program is too complicated for them to do that, the plan is likely to have over-promised and could result in under-delivery. Ensure the program is significant enough to address the community’s needs but isn’t overly broad and complicated.

Being a grant reviewer is not an easy job. They are often overworked and underpaid (if they are even paid at all). It is best if the proposal comes across as sincere with a genuine need and a well-developed plan supported by experienced staff to score in the award range. Following these five lessons from being a grant reviewer will help anyone seeking to score higher and achieve their funding goals.

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