Tag Archives: online submissions

Always Finish Early: You Never Really Know What’s Going To Happen With a Proposal Deadline

We always tell our clients the same thing: the real deadline for any Federal proposal is 48 hours before the stated deadline. The is true for online and hard copy submissions.

Most federal proposals these days are submitted through what has become our old friend, Grants.gov. Grants.gov takes 48 hours to spit out confirmation e-mails confirming that the system has received a complete application. If you wait until you’re within 48 hours of the deadline, you could easily have the whole grant writing and application process torpedoed by an server problem, file corruption, or other weird upload issues.

You also never knows when Grants.gov is going to be overloaded or otherwise inaccessible. In an age of Google and Amazon Web Services, most people are used to highly reliable on-line experiences. Throw those assumptions out when dealing with Grants.gov.

Despite the slide toward online submissions, some RFPs still require hard copy submissions, which means FedEx or Express Mail. You can’t know when Hurricane Sandy (or an equivalent, such as a meteor strike) is going to hit. Usually disasters encourage deadline extensions and, possibly, the invocation of force majeure. But sometimes deadlines aren’t extended and the butterfly effect means that a bad thing happening in any part of the grant pipeline—such as a storm in Memphis, which is FedEx’s hub—can screw up the whole system. As for Express Mail, I don’t think I have to comment on the vagaries of USPS.

This is a boring but important topic. We know it’s boring because, hey, who wants to talk about deadlines? We know it’s important, however, based on the number of clients we’ve talked to who’ve missed the deadlines for their applications by ten minutes or two hours.

There’s one other issue, too, which we brought up in “Hurricane Sandy and the Election Combine to Blow Away the RFPs: disasters that affect DC may result in delays in the issuing and processing of RFPs. If you miss one deadline, you may not see another promising program for months. Occasionally a single RFP can mean the different between life and death for an agency. Failing to seize every chance you get may mean that you ultimately discover one day that you’re out of chances.

EDIT: I forgot this story, but a couple years ago a client was submitting a YouthBuild application, and he waited until the morning of the due date to upload his files. He spent the next 14 hours trying to get the upload to work and finally succeeded at 11:59 PM. I am not making this up. The good news is that his agency was funded, but life is too short for this sort of drama.

How Not to Get a Grant

Usually I write posts about how to get grants. Today I thought I would give some surefire ways to not get a grant . . .

  • Call/email/meet with a field deputy in the office of your senator, congressperson, governor, mayor, or city councilperson. Regardless of the project idea, the field deputy will be polite, encouraging, tell you how much the elected official would be willing to support your project, and give you vague generalities about grant programs. They will not, however, tell you to apply for program x, which is due on date y. Instead, they will spin Tales of Brave Ulysses, pat you on the head and send you off to make room for the next supplicant. In other words, you won’t get a grant, but you will have a new feeling of self-importance and, likely, an invitation to the politician’s next fund raiser.
  • Apply to government programs for which your organization is not eligible because you think the funder will recognize the critical importance of your project concept. The funder will throw out your proposal, but you will have achieved the high moral ground by Speaking Truth to Power, or as the Firesign Theater put it, providing Shoes for Industry.
  • Find the contact information for tons of foundations and send the same proposal to 100 foundations without looking at their guidelines. All of your proposals will be tossed without being read because you did not respond to what the funder wants, but you will have that same sense of satisfaction one gets from reorganizing one’s book/CD/shoe collection. You can also impress your board members by telling them how many proposals you submitted over the weekend and how bleary-eyed you are.
  • Fail to include attachments required by the RFP/guidelines because you think the requirement is dumb or is too much work. Also, ignore signature pages and the frequent requirement for a “wet signature”. Instead, depend on the funder giving you the benefit of the doubt, which they won’t do.
  • Include lots of unrequested stuff, like the ever-popular client testimonials, awards and newspaper clippings. And, don’t forget that DVD of your appearance on Oprah. This will demonstrate your inability to read guidelines, making it very easy for the initial reviewer to toss your proposal over their shoulder before it is read or scored.
  • Propose that you will use the requested grant to make grants to others. This way, you’ll be telling the funder that you should decide how their money is used. After all, why would a foundation that gives scholarships not want your organization to stand between them and needy students?
  • Submit a 40-page full proposal to a foundation that requests a two-page letter of inquiry because you couldn’t possibly summarize your brilliant project concept. You fail to remember that perhaps the greatest speech ever delivered is Lincoln’s 256 word Gettysburg Address. A foundation program officer who receives 50 proposals every week certainly wants to spend several hours savoring your profundities.
  • Propose using virtually the entire grant as a subcontract to another organization or vendor. This will make the funder understand that the role of your organization is to do nothing but apply for the grant and hand over the money to someone else to run the program. This is exactly what funders want in a grantee—complete abdication of organizational responsibility.
  • For electronic submissions, create fantastically complex files with embedded pictures, charts, etc., and make sure the file size exceeds 10 mb. Always wait until five minutes before the deadline before uploading. This way, you are virtually guaranteed to create corrupted files, which cannot be uploaded in time to meet the deadline. Then you can contact the funder and weep about the unfairness of the process, which they will ignore.
  • For paper submissions, use fancy binders, lots of color, and spend an inordinate amount of time on the presentation package. This will ensure that the funder realizes you don’t need the money and that you can focus on all the wrong aspects of grant writing by concentrating on style over substance.

I could go on with lots of other ways to ensure that your organization will not be funded, but you probably get the idea by now. If you actually want to get funded, read the technical posts we’re written and watch for future tips. Prepare the application according to the funder’s guidelines, no matter how obtuse. Learn how to write. Practice for years. Then you’ll know about the pitfalls listed above.