Using a template to apply for a grant is seldom smart. It rarely yields a grant. And when a funder does award a grant, as often as not its recipient sooner or later comes to regret its good fortune.
This post is the first in a series on the use of templates, clones, and boilerplate in grant writing.
The Business Dictionary defines ‘template’ as: a ‘design, mold, or pattern of an item (or a group of items) that serves as a basis or guide for designing or constructing similar items.’ Similarly, in the context of grant seeking, templates may be defined as: ‘ready-made frameworks for generating grant applications to be submitted to a specific grant maker and/or a specific grant opportunity.’ Some grant seekers use them as a way to speed up the process and reduce the costs of preparing proposals from scratch. More often than not, they are a waste of time and money.
When used in competing for grants, proposal templates offer far more disadvantages than they offer advantages. Among such disadvantages are that they are generic, inauthentic, and unresponsive. At times, they are also explicitly prohibited in a grant maker’s instructions to applicants.
Since their creators commonly furnish them for use by multiple applicants, proposal templates are generic by design. They are created to be shortcuts to funding. By their nature, they are one size fits all. The language used in templates rarely if ever reflects the particulars that set one applicant apart from others.
Reviewers often disdain the use of template proposals. They may tire of reading the many repetitions in phrasing and seeing the same errors or defects so frequent among them. And they may register their boredom and frustration by awarding lower scores or by recommending rejection, if not also by raising an alarm with the specific funder — or even with a constellation of potential funders.
If funded, a template-using applicant can reasonably expect a funder to hold it to whatever it has stated in its proposal — just as it would any other applicant selected for funding. If such a funded applicant is unaware of the narrative and budgetary details of what it has proposed, it may come to regret its proposal having been funded; however, often template proposals don’t get that far.
In some grant competitions, reviewers may discover the repeated use of the same template among multiple applicants. They may object to all such proposals because they are all similarly inauthentic. Since authenticity itself is seldom a selection criterion, reviewers may not be able to withhold points for its absence; instead, they may become disinclined to overlook or to minimize other flaws in such proposals. They may more actively look for reasons to deduct points. And they may red flag template proposals for panel monitors or grant program administrators.
Template proposals often fail to reflect a grant program’s purposes, priorities, and selection criteria. Frequently, they furnish mere generalities, rather than specifics. Their ultimate focus is often more on whatever is expedient and beneficial for the vendor or the consultant that furnishes them to multiple applicants than on anything else.
Inevitably, unresponsive proposals earn low review scores, rarely high enough to result in funding. On occasion, the first template proposal to be reviewed may win a grant, while those reviewed later in the same process only will incur their reviewers’ wrath. All such proposals will become part of an applicant’s record with the grant maker that received and reviewed them.
Transparency in Grant Making:
With the trend during the 2010s towards ever more transparency in grant making — in both public and private spheres — an applicant’s use of a template proposal may become far more a matter of public record than it ever imagined when it elected to submit one. The short-term expediency of using templates hardly seems worth the long-term risks.
- How to Win Grants: 4 Grant Writing Myths (grantresults.wordpress.com)