Top 10 Federal Grant Writing Mistakes. Nonprofit MBA Podcast 3.31
Summary: In today’s Podcast episode, Diane Leonard from DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC and Stephen Halasnik from Financing Solutions discusses the top ten mistakes that nonprofit organizations make when applying for federal grants. These solutions are helping nonprofit organizations become more competitive during the process of grant seeking.
Postponing federal grant portal registrations
Online grant portals are now the common platform in which grant applications are received. Different grantmakers have various registration requirements, portal software, character counts, etc. Nonprofit organizations also must take on varying levels of burden to prove their eligibility. For federal grants, there are three separate portals that organizations must register through before applying, creating a greater need to get the process started.
In addition to the pressure brought on by the organization’s need for funding, postponing grant registrations adds another layer of stress to the grant application process. Federal grants often take up to two weeks for approval and some portal software has minimum requirements for content. Organizations should start the registration process as soon as possible to ensure all requirements are met and to avoid missing important deadlines.
Failure to engage collaborative partners early on
Not all organizations are designed to be the best lead applicant for all applications. The prime candidate is ultimately chosen based on the funder’s eligibility requirements. Funders often encourage collaboration among nonprofits to do more with fewer funds, reduce duplication, and be more transparent.
Engaging collaborative partners early on allows organizations to incorporate partners in their work-plan, support partners’ budgetary needs, and show the grantmaker that a true collaboration has formed. The number of collaborative partners is less important than the quality of the relationships formed with other organizations. Overall, collaborative partnerships make organizations more competitive when trying to win federal grants.
Neglecting to look for potential grant opportunities
It is important for nonprofits to look out for forecasted or anticipated grant opportunities in addition to ones that are currently open. Grant opportunities arrive from conducting extensive research on the mission, population served, and geographic location of your organization. Nonprofit leaders with good project management skills keep in contact with collaborative partners to be sustainably competitive. Partnerships can give new insight on industry trends and potential opportunities for funding.
Use of acronyms and jargon in grant applications
The use of acronyms in grant applications can cause disjointed reading for the individual reviewing your organization’s application. The reviewer’s train of thought or excitement may be interrupted by having to change pages to find the definition of an acronym. Acronyms can however be beneficial for grant applications that have character count minimums, to save room to include more content.
The use of jargon can cause misunderstanding or alienate individuals who aren’t familiar with certain terminology and should therefore never be present in a grant application. Overall, organizations should avoid using acronyms and jargon in external documents and should instead reserve them for internal organizational use.
Not being consistent or complete when citing sources
Citations can be difficult to manage for grant professionals on all levels. Character counting is one area where citations become difficult to manage. Grant application software does not always allow the ability to add footnotes to reference sources. Grant writers are tasked with developing a way to narratively cite sources that inform reviewers where the information is coming from.
When reviewing grant applications, reviewers often ponder whether information sounds factual, or opinion-based. Reviewers also take note of any information that is presented as factual but does not have a source listed. All research, primary and secondary, should be cited throughout the entirety of the application. The failure to consistently cite your sources causes the reviewer to question the credibility of your organization’s expertise.
Failure to use SMART objectives
Grant proposals require objectives to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Defining specific objectives makes grant makers aware of your organization’s mission. Objectives help identify the process, impact, and outcome of your plan or proposal. Measurable and time-based objectives make grant makers aware of the time constraints in which your objectives need to be accomplished.
Making sure that objectives are attainable and relevant is a part of gauging your organization’s competitiveness. Every grantmaker has their own specific requirements for eligibility, meaning that your organization’s objectives should be relevant to the goals of the funding institution. It is also important to ensure that objectives are attainable based on your organization’s budget constraints.
Lack of details when developing the budget
An organization should be able to express what success will look like for their organization upon receiving the grant. Grantmakers should be able to easily note the amount of funding your organization needs for what the funds will be allocated toward. The budget section of your grant application should be consistent with the narrative given by the proposal. Nonprofits should also be able to justify expenses within the budget and proposal. Calculations in the budget should be specific and based on solid estimates in order to prove your organization’s credibility and competence.
Not having an editor to review your grant application
Organizations benefit from having an internal and external extra set of eyes review a grant application. Having someone other than the grant writer review your application provides the opportunity to receive helpful feedback that can make your application more understandable and presentable. Nonprofit organizations can benefit from trading and editing proposals from other organizations not in their competitive sphere. Having another nonprofit professional review your grant application or proposal provides organizations with industry-specific feedback and is more cost-effective than hiring talent to review your documents.
Internal review of a grant application is just as important as external review. Grant writing is a team sport and requires input from departments such as finance, human resources, programs, and operations to truly represent the needs of the organization. Having multiple sets of eyes on a grant application is more sustainable and credible than having only the grant writer review the application.
Requesting letters of commitment last-minute
When working with collaborative partners to receive a federal grant, nonprofits should prioritize receiving letters of commitment versus letters of support. The letter of commitment highlights the roles and responsibilities of the partner organization and provides the nonprofit leaders with the information they need to move forward. Request for letters of commitment should be sent as soon as possible to give the partner organization enough time to write a well-thought-out, quality letter.
When working with elected officials, letters of support are important to receive sooner rather than later. Due to the busy nature of their job, elected officials need ample time to be able to receive and send letters of commitment to your organization. Attached to the request for commitment or support, nonprofits should send a one-page summary of their plans for the grantor set of a meeting to have full transparency with the person whom they are requesting support from. Letters are commitment and support need to be sent as soon as the organization or elected official is considered.
Failure to analyze organizational competitiveness
An organization’s competitive abilities are often different depending on the grant opportunity. Some organizations are highly competitive on the local level, but not as competitive on the federal level or vice versa. Spending the time to understand the values of the organization that is offering the grant allows organizations to save valuable time when deciding which grants to pursue.
The guidelines for some grant opportunities may be less clear, therefore it is important to carefully evaluate the specifics that are provided to gauge your organization’s competitive position. It is also beneficial, if possible, to set up a phone call with the grantmaker for the opportunity that you are pursuing. Building a relationship with a grantmaker can help clarify guidelines, narrow down ideas to include in the proposal, and potentially increase the competitive advantage of your organization.
About Diane Leonard from DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC
Diane H. Leonard, GPC, STSI is a Grant Professional Certified (GPC) and Approved Trainer of the Grant Professionals Association. Diane is also a Scrum Trainer, Scrum Master, and Scrum Product Owner by Scrum inc.
Diane began her career as a Program Officer, a full-time staff member of a state-wide grantmaking organization and she continues to serve as a reviewer for a variety of grantmaking organizations. Since 2006, when she formed DH Leonard Consulting, Diane and her team have secured more than $82 million dollars in competitive grant awards for the clients of DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services. She is an active member of the Grant Professionals Association.
About The Host Stephen Halasnik, Financing Solutions
Stephen Halasnik is the host of the popular, The Nonprofit MBA Podcast. The Nonprofit MBA podcast’s purpose is to help nonprofit leaders. Stephen is the Co-founder and Managing Partner of Financing Solutions, a leading provider of Lines of Credit to nonprofits and small businesses. Stephen is a best-selling Amazon author and is considered a leading authority on building great, purpose-driven businesses. Stephen lives in New Jersey with his wife, Gina. Mr. Halasnik’s number one purpose is raising his two boys, Michael and Maxwell, to be good men.