• Rachel Niemczyk

The Devils in the Grant Details

Outline of Devil head within a red eye.
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

When you’re writing grant applications there’s a lot to keep track of: the narrative, budget, supporting documents, collaborator documents, word/character limits—the list can go on. For many nonprofits that are already overwhelmed this means they just focus on getting a “mostly right” application done in time that skips over details in lieu of getting the key points down. That’s completely understandable . . . but it’s also not what grant reviewers want to see.

See, in the eyes of a grant reviewer all those little details can make or break your application. Because if the details are off and your narrative and supporting documents aren’t in alignment that sends a red flag up to the reviewer.

The reviewer shouldn’t have to guess at anything in your application. You want to keep all parts of your grant application clearly written & labeled so reviewers can immediately connect the dots as they move through your application and understand what you're talking about.

Unclear writing and inconsistent terms force reviewers to guesstimate what you’re talking about. (ex. program materials labeled differently in your budget than in your narrative.) And you never want reviewers to guesstimate because that means they’re making their own assumptions to fill in the blanks (which may cost your application points in the long run)."

Case in point.

In the reviewing session for one grant my fellow reviewers and I were struggling to find an answer to the funder question. This particular application was graded on a point system, and each point had specific criteria to meet it, so we were looking for very specific information.

None of us could figure out if this applicant provided the information because it just wasn’t clear. Maybe it was clear to the applicant who knew the program, but for reviewers who were essentially strangers to the information it was vague and assumed you knew a lot.

In the end we decided to give severely reduced points because we could tell they were giving information, but the significance of the information in relation to our reviewing criteria wasn’t clear.

This happened several times throughout the reviewing process!

The narrative would mention something that wasn’t mentioned in the budget. The budget would mention something that wasn’t in the narrative. The narrative would mention collaborations that weren’t supported by a MOU. The program staff resumes didn’t show any qualifications for why they were running that program. The list could really go on and on about all the inconsistencies we saw. And the worst part is knowing all those inconsistencies contributed to a lower points that affected their overall grant score.

What does this mean for you and your organization’s grant writing process?

Well, the devils in the grant details. As much as you want to get the overarching information right, you also want to have everything be consistent and easy to read/find.

There are some easy ways you can do this:

  • Write the budget before you write the program narrative. Then mention line items from the budget in your narrative.

  • Use the words that are in the questions to introduce your answers. That sets up the reviewer so they know *exactly* where you're addressing their concerns instead of forcing them to guesstimate (and possibly losing review points because of it).

  • Mention the specific ways your collaborator will help your program. That shows the thought that has already gone into the program planning and reinforces the line items mentioned in your budget.

  • Make sure the title of any program staff mentioned in the budget or staff biographies/resumes are also mentioned in the narrative.

  • If you have to give staff biographies/resumes, make sure the summaries show why they are qualified for the position they are in (education, practical experience, skills, etc.).

How do you ensure your grant application is consistent throughout? Do you take similar steps or do you do something different? Share your thoughts in the comments below so we can all learn from each other and support each other in the crazy world of grant writing.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week with another article!

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