Tips for Improving Your Grant Proposal Development Process
What could be better than free money to improve your community? While applying for grants may be enticing, the process of developing a proposal can end up being costly for cities and counties, both in time and in financial resources.
To increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the grant application process, it’s important for municipalities to carefully evaluate their options and plan ahead for proposal development. The next time the opportunity for local, state, federal, or foundation grant funding catches your eye, consider these six tips as you begin preparing your proposal.
Develop an eligible and competitive project
Grant programs often receive many funding applications for each cycle. As proposal preparation can be a costly, lengthy process, municipalities should focus on applying to programs for which they do more than just check the boxes of basic eligibility requirements.
If possible, contact grant administrators to inquire about the competitiveness of your proposal. While administrators may not be able to tell you how your proposal would stack up against other submissions, they can provide feedback on the overall quality of your application, including advice on the project budget, partners, timeline, and deliverables.
Review draft program guidelines and provide feedback
Many agencies release draft program guidelines prior to opening the proposal solicitation period. Some agencies also designate a public comment period during which potential applicants can submit suggested edits for the draft program guidelines.
Take advantage of opportunities to provide input on program guidelines. There can often be disconnect between funding agency expectations and the feasibility for municipalities to meet these expectations. Is the turnaround time between draft proposal submission and final proposal submission too short? Is the 50% matching fund requirement unreasonably high for the required scope of the project? Let them know!
Participate in grant program workshops
During online or in-person program workshops, grant administrators can provide more than just a recap of program guidelines. Many times, administrators offer application advice not included in the general program guidelines and can address valuable questions that may be relevant to your proposal.
Engage in program workshops to forge connections with agency staff. In particular, attending in-person workshops affords you some “facetime” with the very people who will likely be reviewing your proposal. Having a contact at the granting agency can also be helpful as questions arise during your proposal preparation process.
Build a “big picture” application schedule
A detailed task schedule can prove essential throughout proposal preparation. Beyond the assignment of individual application pieces, however, it’s important to build your schedule with additional “big picture” tasks in mind. These steps, such as obtaining council approval and gathering public input, are of equal importance.
Plan ahead for tasks that could delay the process. For example, many grant applicants are required to provide matching funds to demonstrate commitment to the project. Including these funds in an annual budget proposal prior to the program deadline can mitigate any last-minute funding requests. Additionally, high-level decisions regarding allocation of program funding can significantly impact grant application deadlines. Regularly check with granting agency staff about any organizational budget modifications to keep your application schedule up to date.
Identify and notify proposal team members early
Development of grant applications typically requires collaboration with other staff members, project partners, and stakeholders. Proposal team members can include budget specialists, topic experts, program directors, contractors, designers, and application editors.
Coordinate with proposal partners and communicate your expectations well in advance of application deadlines. Early consultation with proposal team members clarifies how and when members should provide the material requested for the application. This advanced notice also allows additional time for material review, feedback, and revisions to ensure your proposal is as accurate and polished as possible. While some granting agencies permit minor proposal modifications after grant awards have been announced, the process for approving such changes can significantly set back your project implementation timeline — sometimes up to a year!
Consider enlisting the help of an outside consultant
Preparing grant application packages can be a long and tenuous process. Between coordinating with project partners, compiling numerous package pieces, and editing multiple versions of the application, applicants can spend anywhere from 2—16 weeks working on their proposals.
Weigh the costs and benefits of hiring someone to prepare your proposal. Municipal staff offer experience and knowledge that are an essential component of a quality proposal, but an outside consultant or temporary staff person can assist with the management of proposal tasks and deadlines. Though the additional set of helping hands may seem costly, it’s important to evaluate the potential benefits of saving staff time and resources, as well as the long-term impacts of a successful grant application.
In some form or another, the common thread between all six of these tips is communication. Whether it’s with the granting agency, your proposal team, or your authorizing body, the key to improved grant proposal development is to create and maintain connections with anyone who has a responsibility for or vested interest in your project. Clear, concise, and early conversations about your project will strengthen the effectiveness of your proposal team and the overall quality of your grant application.
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