Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education expects to fund only two new programs this year. The question I am often asked is this:
Given how much time and effort goes into planning and developing a high quality federal grant proposal, is it really worth it to throw your hat in the ring when only two grants will be awarded nationally?
I'll admit, the availability of funds for only two awards is extremely competitive. However, I encourage folks not to shy away from an opportunity that is right for you just because of the competitiveness. But how competitive is too competitive?
Here are some thoughts to help you decide if a competitive situation is worth your time to apply:
- Don't go for it unless the grant is really a good fit for you. If you would have to pull your collaborative partners (and maybe even people in your own organization) along to convince them to implement a new program, you may want to let this opportunity go. So, how do you know if it's the right fit? If it's something that you and your partners have already talked about doing, it may be a good fit for you. If every condition in the RFP is acceptable to your organization, and you already have a plan, it may be a good fit for you.
- Make sure you have plenty of time. While you can be successful with federal grants when you put them together on a very short timeline, that's not the best situation for those that are highly competitive. If you expect to have a real chance at being funded, you'll need to submit a very high quality proposal. That can usually not be done in one or two weeks. If you have over 30 days to put it together, you may have a chance.
- Check out the funding priorities and be sure you can address them. If the grant has an absolute priority, you must address it in order to be eligible for funding. If the grant has any competitive priorities, you should definitely be able to address them in a competitive situation. Let's take PCEP as an example. There is a competitive priority to implement an experimental or quasi-experimental evaluation design. You can get up to 20 extra points for an experimental design and up to 10 extra points for a quasi-experimental evaluation design. If you were not planning to implement an evaluation design that is at least quasi-experimental, don't bother applying. Should you apply if you can't get those extra points for the difference between a quasi-experimental and experimental design? It depends. I would recommend it only if you think you could put together a very high quality proposal that has the potential of getting all the available points. Everything must be completely in order and very well planned because you're starting with a disadvantage.
So, don't be afraid of highly competitive RFPs, but tread carefully.