Write proposals for grant reviewers, not your colleagues or bureaucratic peers

We’ve written many times in many ways that the golden rule of grant writing is “he who has the gold makes the rules“—and that means organizations that want to be funded should follow the funding guidelines as closely as possible. While “follow the funding guidelines” seems like an obvious point, a temptation frequently arises to write not to the funder, and the reviewers, but to one’s peers in an organization, real or imagined. Don’t fall into this trap—your audience is always the reviewers.

That temptation arises when the writer or editor fears what their peers may think, or how their peers, supervisors, board members, city council people, etc, conceptualize the organization or project. Giving in and targeting that audience causes the writer to shift the focus from the proposal and funder at hand—often fatally. The writer may lose the ability to put the most important thing in the first sentence. The writer will forget that, even with grant reviewers, attention is a valuable, rare resource:

You don’t have your reader’s attention very long, so get to the point. I found it was very difficult to get even really smart businesspeople to get to the point. Sometimes it was because they really couldn’t tell you what the point was.

We can, and will, tell you what the point is—which we do whenever we write a proposal. We try to use the reader’s attention as best we can. But when the audience shifts from the reviewer to some other audience, the coherence and quality of the proposal often drops. Don’t do this.

(As you may imagine, we’ve seen many examples in which clients forgot to write for the reviewer, but we can’t cite specifics here. Nonetheless, if you find yourself thinking, “What is the Board going to think about this description?” instead of “What is the funder going to think about this?”, you are entering the danger zone.)

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