October 01, 2019

7 Slip-ups to Avoid When Applying for Funding

By David Godfrey
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(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 41, Issue 1.)

Certain mistakes can ruin your chance to secure funding. Know these proposal-busting blunders so you can avoid them:

1. Don’t wait until the last minute to write or submit a request for funding.

A friend of mine submitted a major funding proposal just 30 minutes before a midnight deadline, then shut down his computer and went home for the night.  The next morning, he turned on his computer to find an email error message saying one of the attachments had failed to upload properly.  It was too late to fix. The deadline had passed. 

2. Don’t use an expensive overnight delivery service when your submission explains your dire need for funds.

An officer at a private foundation said his office received a desperate plea for additional funding from an organization they had supported for some time.  That plea was delivered by FedEx, even though the office was just three blocks away. The executive director looked at the envelope and immediately said, “Reject it. If they can spend $20 to send that instead of $2 to mail it, or simply walk over here with it, they really don’t know how to manage money.”

3. Don’t have all the letters of support or commitment read the exact same way.

The same reviewers will read each letter, meaning that it could raise questions if they all sound the same. While it is common to send draft suggestions when requesting a letter, it is important that the letters specifically address how the outside organization understands your work, how they understand the project, and how they will help you accomplish the goals of the project you are proposing.   

4. Don’t hide in the budget what you really intend to do with the funding.

The work plan, narrative, and budget should agree on what work is to be funded.  The goal needs to fund the work that is being proposed, not to fill funding gaps in your budget.  

5. Don’t create a plan that is unreasonable for the time or funding available.

Unreasonable goals or expectations are a red flag for reviewers. Make the goals of the project reasonably fit the time and funding available. If you promise the sun, the moon and the stars, but your budget can barely get you to Cape Canaveral, you’re in trouble.   

6. Don’t write a proposal without talking with the individuals who will actually do the work.

Writing a proposal should be a collaborative effort between the grant writer, the frontline staff, and the person who will be keeping the books and filing reports. Everyone needs to be on board for the project to be a success.

7. Don’t ignore the suggested templates for budgets or work plans. If an application checklist is included, use it.

Using the checklist will assure that you don’t accidently overlook a required element.  You might think that you can organize a submission better than what the checklist suggests but having things in the expected order makes it easier for the reviewers to find what they are looking for.  If there are templates for the budget or workplan, use them.  Uniformity of these elements helps the readers understand the proposal. 

In every proposal, tell the funding organization what your project will do, how you’re going to do it, and the impact it will create.