Two Surprising Reasons Your Grant Application Will Fail

I usually approach my articles with titles like “How Your Grant Can Succeed”. This time, I’m going to highlight a couple of reasons why a proposal might fail. There are many reasons, the biggest is your application is about the things you need, instead of how the funds can be used to solve a problem. There are a couple of reasons that many grant writers overlook when they submit their proposals.

1.    The Proposal Deviates from the Formatting Requirements.

This one comes from personal experience. I was writing a big federal application for funds for the libraries in our district. If I do say so myself, it was an elegant appeal. It was related to reading scores, the objectives were clear and achievable, and the narrative was readable. At the time the proposal was submitted, it was required to be mailed by a certain time, be less than a certain number of words, and formatted double spaced.

Time was tight. I concentrated on the substance of the application, this is always correct. But I wasn’t paying attention to the devil in the details. I was in under the wire, the Post Office was still open (thank goodness for the Internet now), and I was proud of our effort. I neglected, however, to do a word count, a spell check, and a paragraph formatting review. I also exceeded the page count allowed.

The application was rejected outright; the government uses scoring rubrics to let you know why your application is not acceptable. On the substance, we scored quite high, but the mechanics were at zero. I was red-faced and very upset, but I learned something that day. Always pay attention to the formatting rules in the application package. They are there for a reason. Readers are hired to review the applications, hundreds of them. Formatting is important for their sanity. Pay attention, and be kind to your grant application readers.

2.    During The Planning Process, You Left Out Important People

I have reservations about writing grants in committee. When you assemble a committee to write your grants, you must entertain everyone’s ideas and bow to delicate egos. This isn’t being critical; I have a delicate ego too. But, in a time sensitive environment, you sometimes don’t have time to stroke everyone’s feathers.

The way to work in a committee is to make sure everyone has a job and the job matches the skill of the committee member. When you assemble a committee or focus group, be sure you’ve thought of all the stakeholders in the project. At the high school level, you want to make sure you include students. You’d benefit from a parent on your team. And don’t forget district personnel. Be sure your Superintendent is in the loop, and if you have one, the Curriculum Director. Work through your budget sheet with the District Business Manager, you don’t want to overstep there either.

If you are going to write grants for schools, you will be thrust into a school leadership position. In fact, it’s a good way to pave a path to district administration if that’s something that interests you. As a school leader, you want to take the time to lift up your head and scan the global community. Who is your project going to help? But, also, is your project going to interfere in any way with an ongoing effort elsewhere?
So, yes, the devil is in the details. Be brave and confront the devil. You’ll eventually develop habits that prevent the kinds of mistakes I’ve made so your grant application will get the attention (and funding) it deserves.


Grant Sources
Step by Step Grant Writing Help (free)
Organizing a Committee
Dealing with Difficult People
How Grant Applications are Scored

Leave a comment or question, I’d love to pass along any tips you want to add.


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