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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Often it’s helpful for winning a new, competitively awarded grant to know what others are doing and what has come before us. What follows is a very brief sample of publications by other individuals, organizations, and/or websites that offer insights about competing for public and private grants.


Bon appétit!

  1. American Association of Critical Care Nurses: Writing a Successful AACN Grant Proposal
  2. Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance: Developing and Writing Grant Proposals
  3. The Foundation Center: Proposal Writing Basics
  4. The Grantsmanship Center: Proposal Planning and Proposal Writing
  5. The Grantsmanship Center: Writing Proposals for Capacity Building
  6. Institute for Youth Development: The Federal Grant Application Process
  7. National Consumer Supporter Technical Assistance Center: Guide to Proposal Writing
  8. National Science Foundation: Grant Proposal Guide (2011)
  9. National Science Foundation: Application Guide (2011)
  10. National Science Foundation: Guide for Proposal Writing
  11. National Volunteer Fire Council, Grant Writing Guide
  12. North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: Grant Writing Handbook
  13. Purdue University: Writing a Successful Grant Proposal
  14. Society for Conservation Biology: Guidelines for Writing Grant Proposals
  15. SouthEast Initiatives Regional Technology in Education Consortium: Writing Winning Proposals for Technology
  16. United States Department of Health and Human Services: Grant Writing Tip Sheets
  17. United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance: Grant Writing and Management Academy
  18. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The Writing Center: Grant Proposals (or Give Me the Money)


This post is provided for the curious as a sample listing of resources for informational purposes only. Listings were current as of the date of posting.


Sooner or later, nearly everyone who competes for grants has compiled his or her own list of what works and what doesn’t. This post is the third in a series about what works (do) and what does not work (do not do) in writing competitive grant proposals. It covers Capacity-Building Plans, Evaluation Plans, and Budgets and Cost-Effectiveness.


In writing a Capacity-Building Plan:


  1. Indicate an intention to continue key aspects of a program or project after a grant ends.
  2. Identify key program elements likely to be continued after a grant ends.
  3. Describe practical steps to be taken to identify key elements for continuation.
  4. Present a timeline for absorbing the costs of key elements before a grant ends.
  5. Discuss how program monitoring and evaluation will help to identify key elements.



  1. Try to postpone thinking about building capacity until after a grant ends.
  2. Overstate previous experiences or outcomes in building capacity.
  3. Confuse building capacity during a grant with sustainability after it ends.
  4. Neglect the role of leveraging applicant and partners’ resources in building capacity.
  5. Ignore the meaning each specific funder attaches to the concept of capacity.


In writing an Evaluation Plan:


  1. Present performance criteria for each objective to be evaluated.
  2. Align evaluation methods with every specific proposed objective.
  3. Describe a process for selecting an Evaluator.
  4. Identify an Evaluator by name and affiliation whenever possible.
  5. Include a timeline for key evaluation activities.
  6. Describe how you will use interim findings to make midcourse adjustments.



  1. Postpone creating an evaluation plan until after a grant award.
  2. Fail to describe the roles, responsibilities, and qualifications of an Evaluator.
  3. Rely exclusively on measures yet to be developed.
  4. Ignore the technical psychometric merits of proposed evaluation instruments.
  5. Omit the process for collecting, analyzing, and reporting performance data.
  6. Suggest that evaluation reports are a waste of time and scarce funds.


In writing Budget and Cost-Effectiveness:


  1. Align all budget items with the Work Plan.
  2. Be explicit about all assumptions used in calculating costs.
  3. Provide specific rates and amounts for all line items.
  4. Calculate costs per participant or avoided costs or similar measures of cost-effectiveness.
  5. Explain any unusual or questionable cost items.



  1. Propose disallowed or illegal uses of grant funds.
  2. Be arbitrary about rates for mileage, per diem, lodging, salaries, or fringe benefits.
  3. Expect to be able to introduce entirely new budget items after a grant award occurs.
  4. Omit related costs to be paid for using other funding sources.
  5. Pad the budget with unnecessary or irrelevant line items or cost figures.


The last post in this series will cover Other Websites that discuss what works and doesn’t work in competing for grants.

Sooner or later, nearly everyone who competes for grants has compiled his or her own checklist of what works and what doesn’t. This post is the second in a series about what works (do) and what does not work (do not do) in writing competitive grant proposals. It covers Need Assessments, Work Plans, and Staffing Plans.


In writing a Need Assessment:


  1. Describe needs to be met or problems to be solved.
  2. Frame needs or problems in terms of expected participants and intended beneficiaries.
  3. Cite authoritative research to substantiate the needs or problems.
  4. Establish and support how you defined the needs or problems.
  5. Link needs or problems to the applicant’s purposes and proven capacity to tackle them.



  1. Describe needs or problems only as opinions, or only in other strictly qualitative terms.
  2. Omit using data to substantiate and quantify needs or problems.
  3. Fail to consider the nature and magnitude of the problem or need to be addressed.
  4. Describe needs in overly general, vague, or argumentative terms.
  5. Multiply needs or problems unreasonably or beyond what a single grant can address.


In writing a Work Plan:


  1. Align goals, objectives, and activities with one or more established needs.
  2. Demonstrate the engagement of stakeholders in planning.
  3. Propose ambitious but attainable and time-bound objectives.
  4. Present a logical sequence of activities for each objective.
  5. Discuss how the applicant will manage and coordinate its resources.



  1. Describe activities unrelated to goals, objectives, and identified needs or problems.
  2. Propose un-measureable objectives.
  3. Forget to include a well-reasoned, plausible, practical, and feasible timeline.
  4. Define goals in overly concrete terms or objectives in overly abstract terms.
  5. Fail to identify strategies for ensuring the success of core activities.


In writing a Staffing Plan:


  1. Describe the experience, education, and training of key staff.
  2. Specify time commitments and funding sources for all positions.
  3. Describe the qualifications of grant-related administrators and other key staff.
  4. Integrate position descriptions with key roles and responsibilities in your Work Plan.
  5. Briefly describe staff qualifications in your proposal narrative.



  1. Propose part-time staff for what should be full-time positions or vice versa.
  2. Fail to connect grant-paid staff to your larger organization and its operational contexts.
  3. Forget that personnel often form the most costly component of a grant budget.
  4. Rely entirely on new grant-paid staff to implement grant-funded activities.
  5. Forget to attach résumés or curriculum vitae – if permitted or required.


The next post will address Capacity-Building Plans, Evaluation Plans, and Budget and Cost-Effectiveness.

Sooner or later, nearly everyone who competes for grants has compiled his or her own list of what works and what doesn’t. This post is the first in a series about what works (do) and what does not work (do not do) in writing competitive grant proposals. It covers Transmittal/Cover Letters, Proposal Abstracts/Executive Summaries, and Introductions.


In writing a Transmittal/Cover Letter:


  1. Offer to follow up on the enclosed/attached proposal with a call or a visit.
  2. Mention the specific amount of your funding request.
  3. Have a chief executive sign the letter on official letterhead.
  4. Proofread it before printing (or attaching) and sending it.
  5. Send it to the correct, specific, named person, not merely to a position.



  1. Omit a summary of the proposal’s content.
  2. Make it any longer than necessary and appropriate.
  3. Treat it as if it were the same as an Abstract or an Executive Summary.
  4. Demand that the grant-maker fund you.
  5. Ignore its role in creating a positive first impression.


In writing a Proposal Abstract or Executive Summary:


  1. Place the Abstract or Summary at the start of the proposal.
  2. Identify and characterize the applicant.
  3. Identify a problem and describe your solution to it.
  4. Establish the significance of the problem and your solution.
  5. Identify your anticipated outcomes or results.



  1. Fail to describe the intended beneficiaries of the funding.
  2. Fail to build positive perceptions of your organization’s capacity as an applicant.
  3. Omit the need or problem that prompts the proposal.
  4. Omit all reference to your objectives, methods, or results.
  5. Fail to present a powerful synopsis of your grant request.


In writing an Introduction:


  1. Avoid using obscure or overly technical language.
  2. Keep the attention and interest of your readers in mind at all times.
  3. Include some data and research citations to boost your credibility.
  4. Establish a springboard and context for the rest of your proposal.



  1. Fail to identify who is applying for a grant.
  2. Omit evidence of your organization’s history of accomplishments.
  3. Remain silent about your mission, goals, programs, priorities, or beneficiaries.
  4. Lose the reader in excessive details or illogical reasoning.


The next post will address Need Assessments, Work Plans, and Staffing Plans.

One hallmark of many proposals that win grants from both public sources (e.g., Federal agencies) and private ones (e.g., family foundations) is their descriptions and evidence of involving stakeholders, building partnerships, leveraging resources, fostering collaboration, and engaging in collegial teamwork. Several types of assets play key roles in creating and maintaining such shared, team-driven, and collaborative activity.


Leadership is an Asset:

Writing grant proposals is far less a solitary activity than a connecting and catalyzing one. In planning projects and executing them, peer and collegial collaboration among leaders is indispensable. Teamwork, collaborations, and their resulting partnerships are essential in most projects – even in those that may focus on or benefit a single site or a single organization. Administrators and their on-staff subject area experts (e.g., university faculty, subject area coordinators, program coordinators, or lead teachers) can furnish the research-based rationale needed for many proposals. They are among the planners, strategists, visionaries, and goal-setters often critical to getting a grant proposal funded.


Professionals are Assets:

Collaboration within and among schools, non-profits, and other community organizations is essential. Having durable partnerships among schools and other agencies often plays a crucial role in getting a proposal funded. School-based professionals and their non-profit and university counterparts offer keen insights into real needs of children, youth, families, and entire communities. Their creative energies and pioneering spirit are great reservoirs of ideas for innovation and improvement. Teachers, counselors, specialists, technicians, and front-line non-profit personnel can play pivotal roles in researching and designing projects. They are often also indispensable keys to their successful implementation.


Communities are Assets:

Community participation in planning and operating proposed projects is an invaluable asset. Community resources play key roles in leveraging a grant award with matching local human and financial resources. Active involvement of parents and families is vital for ensuring children’s success in schools and community programs. Participation of adults as well as children and youth themselves in planning, implementing, governing, and evaluating programs proposed for grant funding can prove extraordinarily helpful. For-profit businesses and area universities are often indispensable allies in designing and implementing projects that aspire to create sustainable changes over the long-term; their continuous engagement in local grant seeking can benefit everyone involved.

Among the world’s earliest leaders in elevating fundraising (and thus grant writing) to professional status is the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), formerly the National Society of Fund Raising Executives (NSFRE). Its principles, standards, and practices represent a dominant paradigm within which many grant writers in North America now work.


Association of Fundraising Professionals:

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) was founded in 1960. Its website is The AFP has a searchable online Fundraising Consultants and Resources Directory for nonprofit organizations looking for them. Sorted more or less by fundraising functions, it subsumes grantsmanship as one of many other campaign services or activities. Grant writing is by no means a primary focus of the organization.


Certified Fund Raising Executive Credential:

The 30,000-member AFP has a global reach. It hosts international and hemispheric conferences on fundraising, as well as academies for faculty and leadership. It also offers the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) and Advanced CFRE (ACFRE) credentials. Valid for three years (and renewable thereafter) and costing $650 (members) or $815 (non-members), the CFRE is a four-hour, standardized, 225-question exam on topics in Donor Research, Securing Gifts, Relationship Building, Volunteer Involvement, Leadership and Management, and Ethics and Accountability. For more information on the exam itself, see the dedicated site,


Individuals must belong both to the AFP at large and one of its state and regional chapters. The Association offers nearly a dozen different types of individual and organizational memberships with correspondingly varying dues. Its regular active membership dues are $250/year. Chapter dues vary from $25/year to $125/year.


Professional Benefits:

All AFP members must adhere to the Association’s ethical principles and standards, its bylaws, and a bill of rights for donors. Among the extensive (and sometimes members-only) benefits are: a members’ magazine, online discussion groups, 24 webinars/audio-conferences yearly, and mentoring for new fundraising professionals. Chapters offer their own benefits. These vary by location, but they may include a job bank, volunteer opportunities, networking, mentoring, scholarships, discounts, and a newsletter.


The general association offers many job-related services, such as a members-only job center for job seekers and job posters, a toolkit for jobseekers, annual compensation and benefits study reports, and online professional job postings. If any grant writer wants to become internationally recognized as an expert and as a fundraising generalist, the AFP is one very reasonable place to start.



Discussion of the existence of the AFP is intended only for informational purposes. Endorsement or sanction of the Association is neither intended nor implied. More posts on grant writing as a career will appear here intermittently.

One of the past decade’s most salient trends in American grantsmanship is an ongoing effort to elevate, standardize, and formalize the training and professional status of grant writers. Among the organizations at its forefront are the American Grant Writers’ Association and the Grant Professionals Association.


American Grant Writers’ Association:

The American Grant Writers’ Association (AGWA) was founded in 2002. AGWA individual membership is $50 for one year, $95 for two years, or $135 for three years. Its website is AGWA advances professionalization through professional standards and code of ethics and access to professional liability insurance (E&O). It offers networking resources such as a two-day annual grant conference, a listing in a networking membership roster for certified grant writer consultants, and a members-only portal. In addition, AGWA offers continuous education-related services such as three online courses, a one-day grant consulting workshop, a four-day grant researching and proposal writing workshop, a six-book bookstore, a members-only newsletter, and the Certified Grant Writer® (CGW) Exam, which is its credentialing exam. It features employment-related services such as information about how to hire a grant writer and making members’ resumes available to prospective employers.


Grant Professionals Association:

The Grant Professionals Association (GPA), formerly American Association of Grant Professionals (AAGP), was founded in 1998. GPA regular individual membership is $189/year; other types of membership are available. Its website is It offers a Consultant Mentoring Program and publishes both an online newsletter and a semi-annual journal with limited public access to its contents. Its networking resources include a four-day annual conference, an extensive bookstore, and 30 or more webinars held in a year. The GPA advances professionalization through a Grant Professional Certification (GPC) program conducted through the Grant Professionals Certification Institute™ (GPCI). Its employment-related services include a Job Center with a searchable job postings database and a consultants listing for firms seeking to retain a grant-writing consultant.



The professionalization of grant writing doesn’t come cheaply. The GPA’s regular individual membership fee of $189 is 275% more costly than AGWA’s $50 fee. Its $575 regular conference registration is more than twice as costly than AGWA’s $269 regular conference registration. However, AGWA’s regular fee ($799) for its one-day exam review plus its credential exam (CGW) is virtually twice as costly as GPA’s regular credential exam (GPC) is for members ($400).



Discussion of the existence of the AGWA and the GPA is intended for informational purposes only. Endorsement or sanction of either association is neither intended nor implied.

Grant writing (or ‘proposal writing’ for the linguistic purists among us) is a type of technical writing. All grant writers (or ‘proposal writers’ if one prefers) do research on many aspects of their proposals – both by meeting with various individuals and groups and by doing print- and Internet-based research. Most grant writers tend to be both creative and analytical. They are equally comfortable with both words and numbers. They tend to manage time efficiently and to organize information effectively. On many occasions, they may write, coordinate, and/or manage multiple proposals at the same time.


Attributes of Grant Writers:

Grant writers must establish an applicant’s credibility with proposal reviewers and other decision-makers; to this end, they must apply logic, analysis, statistics, and appropriate research citations, as well as rely upon the quality of the ideas or innovations themselves. Grant writers must select the information and data they will use, organize and sequence it, and present their ideas simply and directly. They must be both thorough and precise. They should expect to revise sub-sections or sections or even entire proposals several times. Often they must do so not only to improve the quality of their writing, but also to make a proposal fit a funder’s limits on the allowed number of characters or words or pages.


Some grant writers are specialists; others are generalists; virtually all have a bachelor’s degree and many have advanced degrees. A degree in English, Communications, or another writing-related discipline is helpful, but seldom required. Formal training in grantsmanship or fundraising is available, but also seldom required. Membership and participation in professional associations is available, but not compulsory. Some states require a grant writer to register as a professional fundraiser; others do not.


Some grant writers work as consultants or independent contractors. Others work for a public or private organization, which may be of any size and nearly any type. In either setting, some grant writers work full-time, others part-time. Some prepare proposals as one of many  job tasks; others have grant writing as their primary or exclusive task.  Some work in an office, others at home. Many grant writers set their own hours, particularly if they freelance or do contractual work. Given the high-pressure nature of the work when a deadline looms, most of them must be willing to work for as many hours as it takes to complete a specific proposal on time.


Skills of Grant Writers:

Grant writing is trend-driven, knowledge-based, and technology-intensive. Virtually all grant writers use a computer as well as writing-related software. Such software may support composition, graphics, statistics, data analysis, communications, and publishing, among other core tasks. Grant writers often scan and convert documents or images to match required file formats. They use and integrate mobile phones, cameras, and myriad other devices. Very frequently they deliver proposals over the Internet, using a grant maker’s online application forms or its web-based submission portals.


Specialized technical vocabulary is useful, but grant writers often can be acquire or borrow it by engaging the expertise of other professionals. Mastery of essential writing skills is indispensable, regardless of a grant writer’s level of educational attainment, or degree of specialization, or access to others’ deep subject area expertise. In addition to such basics as diction, grammar, and spelling, a grant writer’s must-have writing skills include proofreading, editing, and synthesizing materials. In addition, strong mathematical skills are useful for developing budgets and analyzing statistical data.


For some basic information about Writing as a Career look up the United States Department of Labor at For similar information about Technical Writing as a Career, see

This is the first of a series of posts discussing grant writing as a career.

Social, economic, and political trends directly impact the possible roles of American teachers in winning grants for classrooms and schools. This post identifies several trends and roles teachers can and do play as incubators and planners of proposals, as implementers of funded projects, and as evaluators of project outcomes. Such roles are not yet universal, but they are frequent.


Background Trends:

  1. Public schools, as workplaces, are ever more labor-intensive and capital-intensive.
  2. Demographic shifts are eroding traditional bases of support for public schools.
  3. Public willingness to pay ever-higher taxes to support public education is declining.
  4. Doctrines of continuous improvement compel adoption of effective (or best) practices.
  5. Standards-based educational accountability perpetuates calls for systemic reform.


Proposal Incubators:

  1. Many teachers seek to improve results of teaching and learning.
  2. Often teachers seize the initiative in embracing change in their classrooms.
  3. Many teachers pursue their pedagogical enthusiasms with passion and creativity.
  4. Often teachers seek and do what works best for learners.
  5. Many teachers serve as critical vectors for continuous school reform.
  6. Often teachers care about the children they are charged to teach.


Proposal Planners:

  1. Adults learn better by doing, applying, and practicing what they learn.
  2. Those asked to do the work of educational reform need to have a hand in shaping it.
  3. Adults resist change less when they own a problem and its solution.
  4. Schools are communities in microcosm, as well as workplaces and social institutions.
  5. Active participation in decision-making is critical to democratic self-government.
  6. Policies of shared decision-making compel input from school-based staff.


Implementers of Funded Projects:

  1. Many teachers test and refine new, research-based instructional practices.
  2. Often teachers develop and use integrated, thematic curricular materials.
  3. Teachers often design, pilot, and use new authentic assessments.
  4. Teachers often design and use collaborative and inclusive learning spaces.
  5. Often teachers set priorities for site-specific professional development.
  6. Many teachers engage in continual, reflective self-development.
  7. Teachers often collaborate as members of teams of change agents.
  8. Many teachers incorporate community resources in their classrooms.


Evaluators of Outcomes:

  1. Assessment often uses both criterion-based and norm-based measures.
  2. Assessment often reflects stages in child development as well as universal academic standards.
  3. Many teachers are encouraged to act more as guides on the side, rather than always as sages. on the stage
  4. Reflective self-assessment is integral to life-long learning as professional teachers.

Proposals that win grants for K-12 education have many predictable information needs. Applicants that have such information at the ready before the announcement of a grant opportunity greatly improve the likelihood of funding.


Applicants may not need every item listed here for every description of commitment and capacity; however, among the proposal narrative elements they should anticipate are: history of commitment, capacity development plans, plans to leverage resources, and experience and coordination.


History of Financial and Programmatic Commitment:

  1. History of growth of local budgets for similar programs or initiatives (from outset if possible)
  2. History of growth of applicant’s commitment of staff to similar programs or initiatives
  3. History of resources dedicated to local programs or initiatives similar to the one proposed:
  • Materials and supplies (e.g., curricular materials, software subscriptions)
  • Infrastructure (e.g., networks, computers, telecommunications, software)
  • Assessment instruments and evaluation processes
  • Specialized training (e.g., pre-service, in-service, credit-awarding courses)
  • Reimbursements for professional development (e.g., tuition, course completion)
  • Collaboration with other project-related agencies (e.g., in proposal planning)


Capacity Development Plans:

  1. Year-by-year plan to develop programmatic capacity during the grant period
  2. Year-by-year plan to absorb related costs (as specific and quantified as possible)
  3. Plan for follow-up services, as needed, for participants during grant period


Leveraging Resources:

  1. Federal funds  – recent history related to new proposal (e.g., sources, amounts, purposes)
  2. State funds  – recent history related to new proposal (e.g., sources, amounts, purposes)
  3. Foundation funds  – recent history related to new proposal (e.g., sources, amounts, purposes)
  4. Corporate funds – recent history related to new proposal (e.g., sources, amounts, purposes)
  5. Local funding – recent history related to new proposal (e.g., sources, amounts, purposes)


Experience and Coordination:

  1. Earlier experience with the same funder and/or the same funding program, if any
  2. Earlier experience with funder’s other programs related to the present grant program, if any
  3. Relationship or relevance to the funder’s other grant programs or initiatives, if any


Later posts will cover information needs for other aspects of educational grant proposals.

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