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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.


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