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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Using the terminology (or language) of a Federal Request for Proposals (RFP) is indispensable in winning a grant but insufficient to demonstrate that an applicant is being responsive to an RFP.


Criteria Wording:

One way to show responsiveness is to adopt and use verbatim the selection criteria as headings and subheadings for a proposal narrative. Use the wording in its entirety. In addition, use the numbering system of the criteria in an RFP, such as (1)(a), (1)(b), or II.A., II.B. Apply these tactics in organizing a narrative to make it easier for reviewers to locate and evaluate the merits of an applicant’s responses to each selection criterion.


Criteria Lengths:

Shorten a criterion’s wording only if it frees up space for a proposal that is pushing its page limit, but do so sparingly and as a last resort. And just shorten the wording; do not entirely or largely rephrase it. Apply this tactic to reduce the risk that reviewers will not recognize the original criterion on its rephrased form.


Criteria Sequences:

Discuss the selection criteria in the same sequence as they appear in the RFP. Apply this tactic to ensure that reviewers will not become frustrated with expending time and effort trying to locate an applicant’s response to the criteria somewhere in the narrative.


Narrative Voice:

Use active language and strong verbs in the narrative. Eliminate uncertainty in reviewers’ minds by avoiding use of the subjunctive. Sound confident and definite, not anxious or indecisive. Since a proposed project will take place in the future, pay attention to the use of tense; describe future project activities in the future tense. Apply these tactics to reduce potential boredom, doubts, and confusion about capability and timing among reviewers.


Narrative Vocabulary:

Consistently display deep professional subject area knowledge. Use appropriate technical vocabulary beyond just what appears in an RFP. In responding to the selection criteria, describe and elaborate on who, what, when, how often, where, why, and how. It helps to quote the selection criteria as headings; it does not help to over-quote all the rest of an RFP. Apply this tactic to avoid annoying reviewers or insulting their intelligence by merely parroting an RFP’s language.



It’s often observed in certain circles that there’s more to winning a grant than merely writing a proposal. And indeed there is!


For planning purposes, it may prove useful to other potential grant seekers to consider grant proposal development as a four-dimensional process of:

  1. Research
  2. Communication
  3. Budget
  4. Writing


4 Dimensions Graphic


How much time each takes separately as part of the overall enterprise of creating a fundable proposal will vary greatly with the grant opportunity. As components of the total time required to develop a proposal – by way of illustration only – Research could take 20%, Communication could take 25%, Budget could take 10%, and Writing could take 45%.



Among the core tasks that define the Research Dimension are:

  • Locating and selecting grant leads
  • Retrieving and analyzing data
  • Finding model programs and/or effective practices
  • Developing a literature review



Among the core tasks that define the Communication Dimension are:

  • Creating and formalizing partnerships
  • Communicating with all stakeholders
  • Coordinating with proposal team members
  • Contacting and corresponding with grant program officers
  • Negotiating partners’ participation, objectives, and other key elements
  • Holding meetings of any type
  • Obtaining signatures and signed letters of commitment



Among the core tasks that define the Budget Dimension are:

  • Preparing line item budgets
  • Verifying cost items
  • Justifying cost items (often in a separate narrative)
  • Completing budget forms



Among the core tasks that define the Writing Dimension are:

  • Drafting (and redrafting) entire proposal
  • Editing and proofreading entire proposal
  • Labeling and assembling entire proposal
  • Submitting the completed proposal
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