Thursday, October 7, 2010

Grant Writing Success - A Numbers Game?

It is not easy to explain all of the factors involved in grant writing success. Certainly, experience and skill have a lot to do with it, but there's much more to it than that. In many ways, it's a numbers game.

First, there are the odds of how likely you are to get funded given the total amount of money to be awarded, the total number of grants to be awarded, and the number of grant proposals likely to be submitted. So, you combine these odds with your skill and experience and that should take you to grant writing success, right?

Not so fast.

You still have to deal with the vicissitudes of the readers. In a government grant competition, you will likely have three readers and scoring criteria that add up to 100 possible points awarded per reader. Hopefully, the readers will be carefully trained and will thoroughly understand the scoring criteria and how points should be allocated. Even in this ideal situation, there can still be dramatic differences in the points allocated by the different readers. In some competitions, the readers are required to conference with each other and bring their scores within a certain distance of each other, but sometimes the readers score independently and all three scores are averaged. This is how it's possible to get scores of 100, 98, and 85, knocking your proposal out of the funding range. It shouldn't be possible, but it is.

And the more extreme the competition is (see my discussion of the odds, above), the higher your score needs to be in order to be funded, which means that you need all three readers to award you exceptionally high scores if you hope to be funded.

Even then, it's no guarantee. In a recent grant competition I received scores of 100, 98, and 96, and our proposal still was not funded. When I looked back at the readers written comments, there were no suggestions for improvement. It kind of makes you think that the whole grant award process is more random than you thought, doesn't it?

Regardless of the odds and the biases of the readers, experience and skill still play the biggest roles in the grant award process. In the example I just gave you, as frustrating as it was to have submitted an excellent proposal that was not funded, the truth is that if it had not been an excellent proposal it would've had absolutely no chance of being funded. In that particular competition, only the absolute best, near-perfect proposals had a chance at being funded. While it may seem random, it's not.

Submitting a well-written, high-quality proposal is still the best way to negotiate the maze of the numbers game and reach the goal of grant writing success.


Would you like to improve your grant writing skills?  Want to learn to be a great writer?  Try our Grant Writing 101 online course.  Learn at your own pace when it's convenient for you.

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About Creative Resources & Research

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Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.