In grant writing, make sure you get to the finish line

Five years ago I wrote a post explaining why applying for grants is not like winning an Olympic Gold Medal. A couple of recent conversations with clients made me re-think this analogy, because these clients seemed to want to give up before we completed the proposal submission package but after most of the work had been done.

The clients had an array of not-mutually-exclusive reasons. They’d been traumatized or paralyzed into inaction by the proposal completion process. They’d experienced difficulty getting support letters. Other members of the management team had lost enthusiasm. Christmas is coming in three months. A sudden opportunity to travel to the Galapagos Islands appeared. And so on. This puts us in the position of a baseball third-base coach waving a runner home, even though Yogi Berra is blocking home, waiting for the bullet outfield throw from Mickey Mantle. In baseball you can’t score if you don’t cross home plate. You can’t win an Olympic Gold Medal in the 100 yard dash unless you break the tape. You also can’t get a grant without submitting the proposal in time to meet the deadline. The closer you get to that deadline, the better off you are completing the proposal so that you can at least have a chance of winning.

In these cases, we do everything we can to get our suddenly reluctant clients to cooperate and meet the deadline, even if the proposal is missing a piece or two or is otherwise less than perfect. While we make every effort to help our clients submit technically correct proposals, we’ve also seen proposals funded that were technically deficient. Grant reviewers sometimes miss the deficiency, either from simple oversight or from the fact that RFPs are often astoundingly complex, contradictory and/or opaque—to reviewers and writers.

We’ve even seen federal grant proposal review comments in which the reviewer clearly confused the proposal we wrote for a proposal submitted by a different applicant in a different part of country. In other words, the proposal we wrote was actually scored entirely incorrectly because someone else’s was mistaken for it. This means the other proposal was also incorrectly scored!

Error is the normal state of human affairs, and decades in the grant business have revealed many errors to us. Keep in mind too that as the deadline looms other would-be applicants are probably feeling as demoralized as you. Force yourself to be disciplined enough to get the proposal in as good shape as you can and hit the grants.gov submit button, even one minute in advance of the deadline. You might be one of a handful of applicants who submits a more or less complete proposal. As we’re written about before, since it’s simply not possible to handicap the chances of any proposal being funded, you might as well submit what you have and hope.

Which brings me back around to Yogi, who left us a few weeks ago to play ball once again, this time on his own Field of Dreams. Yogi was the source of many quotes that apply to the grant preparation process—”It ain’t over till it’s over” and “this is like deja vu all over again” seem apropos.

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