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Myth: A perfect funding track record is usual.

Reality: No one is perfect.


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


Beyond the Myth of Substitutability, another myth related to who can write competitive grant proposals pertains to how consistently those proposals can or should win grants. In its variants, this myth appears as: ‘Expect no less than a 100% success rate’ or as ‘We can guarantee that this proposal will win a grant.’ This is the Myth of Omnipotence. It reflects an applicant’s unreasonable expectation of a favorable funding outcome for every proposal it submits.


In reality, in some public and private direct services grant programs, success rates as low as 10% to 30% may be much closer to the norm. For seekers of research grants, rather than direct services grants, the typical success rate in a given competitive program may be as low as 5%, even for experienced applicants.


The Myth of Omnipotence also appears as: ‘Anyone who gets any fewer than all proposals funded is incompetent.’ In this variant, the myth represents a misapprehension about the exclusivity and predominance of the role of writing (and all that goes into that writing) in getting proposals funded. It takes more than excellent writing skills to win competitively awarded grants – not the least of which are organizational capacity and grant readiness.


In a third variant, the Myth of Omnipotence is reframed as: ‘Professional grant writers can win any kind of grant available.’ Adherents of this particular variant of the myth may prove to be as misguided as those grant seekers who fall for unsubstantiated marketing hype about an individual’s or firm’s perfect success rates.


In reality, in the same way that a grant writer’s past performance does not predict future results, past success in one sphere of grant seeking does not predict future success in the same sphere of grant seeking – let alone in all spheres.


The spheres of human knowledge and enterprise have become numerous and intensively specialized. Even the most generalist among grant writers cannot hope ever to write enough proposals to prove their universal competence in all spheres where grant awards are made. Instead of being universal, grant writers tend to specialize in ways that mirror the special focuses of certain aggregations of grant seekers, grant makers, and funding programs. In the ecology of grant seeking, all grant writers (and all grant seekers) occupy niches. And they must constantly readapt to their niches if they are to win grants.


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


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