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Top 5 Mistakes New Grant Writers Make

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

We’ve all done it. Whether you're a professional or a novice grant writer, you have undoubtedly made one of these five common mistakes. Fundraising departments are often one-man shops, staffed by a lone rangers who are tasked with keeping the organization afloat. Submit this, write that, post this, plan that, sign up for this, and make sure to track and report that! Keeping your workflow organized and under control takes practice and can help you easily avoid the following mishaps.

#1 - Improper Time Management

Not allocating enough time to plan to organize your work is one of the biggest mistakes new grant writers make. When searching for grants, you'll find submission deadlines that are weeks, months, and even years out. If you are not careful, you can slip into a state of procrastination, thinking you have plenty of time and will get to it later. In reality, you should be planning your approach as early as possible. Your strategy for submitting grant applications on time may include contacting the funder to get more information, attending workshops or critical meetings, pulling staff together to compile important program sections, starting the budget, and much more.

Too often, new grant writers wait until the last minute and either miss critical deadlines or submit ill-written proposals that never get passed the initial screening round.

Trust us, you do not want your first impression to be a bad one. If you can, prepare for grant submissions at least 90-days out.

Pro Tip: When planning your submission calendar, always include a column noting the "expected award date". This will help your finance and program teams with budgeting forecasts.

#2 - Working in a Vacuum

Yes, you can Google just about everything, but you don't need to when you have competent (hopefully you do!) people working with you. If you're a grant writer whose void of any specialty, you'll rely on the expertise of the program directors and managers who work one-on-one with the population you're organization serves.

The second mistake new grant writers make is not building relationships with the people on the ground - those frontline workers delivering on the stated mission.

Don't be that pigheaded know-it-all fundraiser. Work with your team and they will not only thank you, but help you write more compelling grants filled with their unique perspectives, knowledge, and frontline stories.

Pro Tip: If you are the grant writer and the program manager - as is the case in many start-up organizations, you too can fall into the trap of not utilizing the wealth of knowledge and expertise around you. Don't be afraid to contact other local organization's doing similar work that may have a more established track record in the community. Call and ask for a brief meeting - you'll be surprised at how willing people are to help when you ask.

#3 - Misspellings & Grammatical Errors

Im nat going to say anything else abou this (That sentence is a joke, literally and figuratively.)

No seriously. Even the best writers make spelling and grammatical errors. When you're nose deep into researching, writing, reading and rereading your proposals, you'll inevitably miss the simplest of errors in your work. Errors are especially common when you're working tired, or when you're in a rush (hence the need for the tips in #1).

Although burning the midnight oil seems like a hero move, it can actually hurt your organization's chances of getting funded in the end - and your chances of adding a win to your award column, which we know you want, right?

Always give your finished product to someone else to proofread with enough time for them to give it a critical review. Give it to multiple people to review if you can.

Pro Tip: Give your proposal to someone who knows absolutely nothing about your organization or programs. Make note of all the areas in which they are not clear and improve upon them before submitting.

#4 - Forgetting to Remove a Previous Funder's Name

This is one of those errors that you never catch until after you've submitted your proposal! And when you do, you bang your head on the desk because you know better. You also know that the likelihood of that proposal not ending up in the trash is close to zero.

When recycling proposals, it's easy to change the funder's name in the few places you remember, but it's similarly just as easy to for forget one. Even one forgotten name change shows carelessness that reflects on the organization as a whole.

Pro Tip: Create a "generic proposal" that you and anyone working on can make notes of sections that are customized to a funder. When using this proposal for a new funder, use the 'CTRL F' to find the previous funder's name and replace all of them, and also make sure to save this as a new file with the new funder's name at the end.

#5 - Not Customizing per Funder

Now, yes, we did just say that it's okay to recycle proposals. Let's be honest, everyone does it. You put a lot of time and energy into developing a compelling proposal and if you have a winning formula, there is absolutely no reason to reinvent the wheel. However, each funder is unique in its approach to grantmaking and has different requirements according to their desire outcomes.

Before you recycle a proposal, thoroughly comb through the RFP (Request for Proposals) or grant guidelines to ensure that you've met all of the necessary requirements for submission. If requested information is missing, or if the narrative, budget, or evaluation plan do not seem to meet the standards of the current funder, rework the proposal to be compliant and compelling.

The pitfall of reworking proposals, cutting and pasting, is that the narrative voice can get lost, there is a greater chance of duplication, and shift in the flow of each section.

Pro Tip: You never have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Keep the elements of proposals that work well for the current funder and do not hesitate to throw out the rest. Control the desire to want to keep it all by maintaining a "scraps" document. This is where you dump all of the copy you've decided to omit, but now it's saved for future use.

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