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Myth: Anyone can write a proposal.

Reality: Grant writing is a species of technical writing.


This post is part of a series on Myths in Grant Seeking.


Not only do myths surround who can request a grant, they also surround who can write proposals that win grants. The idea that anyone at all can write fundable proposals is based upon the Myth of Substitutability. In one variant, this myth appears as: ‘Anyone can become a successful grant writer after taking a training course.’ In a related variant, it occurs as: ‘Anyone on our staff can write a winning proposal, and at far less cost to us than a professional grant writer.’


Both variants of the Myth of Substitutability reflect a widely held misperception that the skill-sets of successful grant writers are no different from anyone else’s. They also reflect a misperception that retaining the services of an individual or firm that specializes in writing competitive grant proposals is often or always a poor investment of limited local resources.


The reality is that any writer’s persuasive and expository skills are a necessary but insufficient condition for winning a grant. The reality is also that using a skilful consultant or specialist to develop a grant proposal is always only one factor that improves the likelihood of winning a grant – not the only factor.


Not the least of the other factors in winning competitively awarded grants are attributes of the applicant itself, particularly its organizational capacity. Among the specific functions at play in determining an applicant’s organizational capacity are:

  • Project planning
  • Project management
  • Data collection
  • Data analysis
  • Program accountability
  • Budget development
  • Fiscal management
  • Fiscal accountability
  • Staff recruitment
  • Staff retention
  • Professional development
  • Public engagement
  • Partnership building
  • Resource leveraging


Beyond the grant writer’s and the applicant’s attributes, still other factors in winning a grant award reflect the specific competitive grant opportunity. Among such factors are:

  • Competitive priorities
  • Degree of competitiveness
  • Geographic distribution
  • Applicant type distribution
  • Total available funding


Handling many, most, or all of these factors in a grant proposal requires skill and acumen, and benefits as well from planning and experience.


The next post in this series on Myths in Grant Seeking will address the Myth of Omnipotence.


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