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Choice of voice in proposal writing should reflect the nature of the funder, the type of grant sought, and the nature of the proposal component. This post offers several tried and tested general rules for the choice of voice in writing competitive grant proposals.

 

General Rules:

As general rules for choice of voice in writing competitive grant proposals:

 

  • If applying to a Foundation of whatever type — on behalf of an organization — use the first person plural (we/us/our).
  • If applying to a State or Federal grant program — on behalf of an organization — use the third person singular (it/its, the hospital/the university/the school district).
  • If applying for a grant for an Individual — in a proposal to whatever funding source — use the first person singular (I/me/my).
  • If describing anyone’s Background and Qualifications — in a proposal to whatever funding source — use the third person singular (he/she, his/her, Dr. Garcia/Dr. Garcia’s).
  • If submitting a Letter of Transmittal or a Cover Letter — to introduce a proposal to whatever funding source — use the first person singular or first person plural — as appropriate to each statement in it.

 

Caveat:

These are general rules only. As with most rules in grant seeking, exceptions may occur. If you know of any exceptions, please share them.

 

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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.

 

This is another one of an ongoing series of posts on Grant Writing as a Career. It discusses proposal review and editing fees. Earlier posts discussed hourly fees and flat fees (also called per-proposal fees or per-project fees), and consultant retainer fees and prospect research fees.

 

Proposal Reviews and Critiques:

As consultants, grant writers market their research and technical writing skills to potential clients. Although egregious exceptions may occur, their skills as writers and researchers are supposed to lend a competitive edge to proposals as instruments of solicitation and persuasion.

 

Sometimes clients may already have the rudiments of a proposal at hand. They may desire only a third-party critique of a proposal that they have already started or which has failed to win funding and for which no reviewers’ comments exist. Consultants may serve such review-and-revise functions with more detachment than those who created an existing proposal.

 

Many consultants are willing to proofread and edit a preliminary proposal rather than always write it from scratch. They are also willing to serve as objective, technical reviewers before a draft or a revision is made final. Consultants may furnish written comments on such a proposal and suggest how it might be improved. Alternatively, they may contract both to provide a critique and to revise or rewrite a proposal entirely.

 

Editing, Review, and Revision Fees:

Fees for proposal reviews vary with its nature and complexity, its state of readiness for submission before review, and the extent to which the consultants are to take an active role in revising the draft. In addition, they may vary with its length and with the type of funding source. Fees for reviewing or reworking longer proposals and those to be submitted to government agencies tend to be higher than others.

 

Fixed fees quoted on websites generally range from $250 to $1,500 per proposal reviewed. The pricier exceptions charge a minimum of $1,750 (10 hours at $175 per hour). Such hourly fees, if specified, are often similar to those consultants charge for preparing a brand new proposal and readying it for submission as a final draft.

 

In this arrangement, consultants are able to practice their technical writing skills and to see how applicants have handled a specific grant program’s proposal review criteria. Clients get an objective analysis of the merits of their proposals before they submit them.

This is one in an ongoing series of posts on Grant Writing as a Career. Based on a review of consultants’ websites, it discusses hourly fees and flat fees (also called per-proposal fees or per-project fees). A later post will discuss: retainer fees; prospect research fees; proposal review and editing fees; and general consulting cost recovery.

 

Perhaps surprisingly, some professional grant writing consultants do not quote fees – least of all online – since each proposal and each client is different and they want to honor and preserve their uniqueness in some way. Other consultants may charge by the hour or by the proposal – and go into great detail in describing how they do so.

 

Competitive applications to corporations or foundations tend to be significantly less complex (and thus less costly for clients) than competitive applications to units of local, state, or federal government. In addition, the amount of effort required to develop a strong proposal (and thus ultimately costs to clients) tends to rise in proportion to the amount of funding requested. Both tendencies affect how consultants determine their fees for writing grant proposals.

 

Hourly Fees:

For consultants, charging hourly rates tends to reduce the risk of lost income by reflecting more closely exactly how long it takes to develop a given proposal. For potential clients, this arrangement may appear to be disadvantageous, since it seldom sets a limit on what getting a given proposal ultimately will cost.

 

Hourly rates for writing grant proposals vary greatly. They start as low as $15 per hour for inexperienced consultants to develop the most basic proposals for shallow-pocket clients to submit to private grant makers. Rates may surpass $100 per hour for highly experienced consultants to develop complex proposals for deep-pocket clients to submit to state or federal agencies. A higher hourly rate also often reflects a consultant’s record of success in winning grants. Hourly rates for skilled grant writers tend to average from $50 to $70 per hour, or the equivalent of from $1000 to $1400 per 20 hours.

 

Flat Fees:

An alternative to charging by the hour is to charge a flat fee (also called a per proposal fee or a per project fee). Usually a consultant will perform a thorough analysis of the details of a Request for Proposals (RFP) before estimating the hours needed and calculating a flat fee. While a consultant may charge a minimum flat fee of $2,500 for a proposal to a private grant maker, it may require a minimum of $4,000 or more for a proposal to a federal agency.

 

For consultants, charging flat fees puts a premium on being able to predict how much time developing a given proposal will take. It also puts a premium on consultants being able to develop the proposal efficiently so that the effective hourly rate of income on the work remains acceptable. Potential clients may regard a flat fee as more advantageous than an hourly fee, since it allows them to anticipate the maximum cost of getting a proposal developed.

 

The floor for a flat fee tends to be at least $1,000 for the most basic proposals for shallow-pocket clients to submit to private grant makers. Some consultants set the floor as high as $3,500 or $5,000 or even more. Flat fees may surpass $10,000, $12,000, even $15,000 for a complex proposal by an experienced consultant for a deep-pocket client to submit to a federal agency.

 

Many consultants will adjust their fees depending on the nature of a funder. While a quoted general per-proposal rate range may be $1,000 to $8,000, they may charge less for an application to a foundation or a corporation than one to a state or federal agency. Alternatively, a consultant’s quoted fee range for foundations may be $500 to $6,000 while its quoted fee range for government grants may be $1,200 to $15,000. Beyond these variations, a consultant may charge extra for preparing a proposal having a very short lead-time before it is due, not matter what its source.

 

Often consultants will require advance payment in full if the flat fee falls below $3,500 or some other predefined threshold. If the flat fee exceeds $3,500 or some other given threshold, they often will require from 50% to 70% of the total fee to be paid in advance. And they will require the balance to be paid either upon delivery of the completed proposal or within 15 to 30 days thereafter.

Grant writing (or ‘proposal writing’ for the linguistic purists among us) is a type of technical writing. All grant writers (or ‘proposal writers’ if one prefers) do research on many aspects of their proposals – both by meeting with various individuals and groups and by doing print- and Internet-based research. Most grant writers tend to be both creative and analytical. They are equally comfortable with both words and numbers. They tend to manage time efficiently and to organize information effectively. On many occasions, they may write, coordinate, and/or manage multiple proposals at the same time.

 

Attributes of Grant Writers:

Grant writers must establish an applicant’s credibility with proposal reviewers and other decision-makers; to this end, they must apply logic, analysis, statistics, and appropriate research citations, as well as rely upon the quality of the ideas or innovations themselves. Grant writers must select the information and data they will use, organize and sequence it, and present their ideas simply and directly. They must be both thorough and precise. They should expect to revise sub-sections or sections or even entire proposals several times. Often they must do so not only to improve the quality of their writing, but also to make a proposal fit a funder’s limits on the allowed number of characters or words or pages.

 

Some grant writers are specialists; others are generalists; virtually all have a bachelor’s degree and many have advanced degrees. A degree in English, Communications, or another writing-related discipline is helpful, but seldom required. Formal training in grantsmanship or fundraising is available, but also seldom required. Membership and participation in professional associations is available, but not compulsory. Some states require a grant writer to register as a professional fundraiser; others do not.

 

Some grant writers work as consultants or independent contractors. Others work for a public or private organization, which may be of any size and nearly any type. In either setting, some grant writers work full-time, others part-time. Some prepare proposals as one of many  job tasks; others have grant writing as their primary or exclusive task.  Some work in an office, others at home. Many grant writers set their own hours, particularly if they freelance or do contractual work. Given the high-pressure nature of the work when a deadline looms, most of them must be willing to work for as many hours as it takes to complete a specific proposal on time.

 

Skills of Grant Writers:

Grant writing is trend-driven, knowledge-based, and technology-intensive. Virtually all grant writers use a computer as well as writing-related software. Such software may support composition, graphics, statistics, data analysis, communications, and publishing, among other core tasks. Grant writers often scan and convert documents or images to match required file formats. They use and integrate mobile phones, cameras, and myriad other devices. Very frequently they deliver proposals over the Internet, using a grant maker’s online application forms or its web-based submission portals.

 

Specialized technical vocabulary is useful, but grant writers often can be acquire or borrow it by engaging the expertise of other professionals. Mastery of essential writing skills is indispensable, regardless of a grant writer’s level of educational attainment, or degree of specialization, or access to others’ deep subject area expertise. In addition to such basics as diction, grammar, and spelling, a grant writer’s must-have writing skills include proofreading, editing, and synthesizing materials. In addition, strong mathematical skills are useful for developing budgets and analyzing statistical data.

 

For some basic information about Writing as a Career look up the United States Department of Labor at http://www.bls.gov/oco/pdf/ocos320.pdf. For similar information about Technical Writing as a Career, see http://www.bls.gov/oco/pdf/ocos319.pdf.

This is the first of a series of posts discussing grant writing as a career.

If your organization intends to compete to win a highly coveted and widely sought grant award of $50,000, $500,000, or $5,000,000 or even much more, teamwork and persuasion often will prove indispensable. A funded proposal is a product of both attributes, which are key aspects of nearly every effective grant proposal.

1. Teamwork:

Ours is an era of ever more intense competition for grants from public and private sources. Strong teamwork is invaluable.

Virtually anyone can play a valuable part on a grant-seeking team. For example, in the context of grants for public education, specialists, experts, and technicians can serve as contributors of professional knowledge and research-based rationales. Parents, students, and other types of clients can share perceptions and insights about needs and priorities. Teachers, clinicians, and other types of practitioners can identify appropriate activities and effective strategies.

Although good technical writing helps a proposal to command attention and win approval, shared commitment, networking, energy, and imagination are equally indispensable.

2. Persuasion:

Grant proposals both describe and persuade. They appeal to both heart and mind. Good proposals respond meticulously to selection criteria. Their narratives support identified needs with data and research findings and build compelling arguments around them. Since successful applicants keep their decision-making audience in mind at all times, the proposals also incorporate the grant maker’s interests and priorities. They offer cost-effective solutions to problems regarded as important on both sides of the grant funding equation.

3. Product:

It is seldom enough these days only to use a team to develop a proposal or to make a compelling case for funding. The finished proposal, as a final product, will play a critical part in funding outcomes as well. Its outward appearance must connote the quality and completeness of its contents and the processes used to generate them. It must look the part it plays as a fund-raising document and an instrument of persuasion. In all respects, both its appearance and its contents – in every detail – must match the specific grant-making occasion.

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