by Stephanie Blenko, American University
The process of writing grant proposals is one with many challenges. The speakers on the APPAM lunchtime panel on March 29 offered advice and guidance for students in order to make grant proposals seem a bit less daunting for those just beginning to get involved in the process.
The panel was moderated by Aeric Korner of American University, and the speakers included Frances Carter-Johnson of the National Science Foundation, Allison Holmes of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Dave Marcotte of American University, Liz Peters of the Urban Institute, and Jennifer Steele, also of American University.
At the beginning of the writing process, it’s key that students take advantage of the resources
uniquely available to them through their universities. Jennifer suggests speaking with professors
about what you might want to research. They have experience in writing their own grant
proposals that they’re often happy to share with their students. Plus it serves as a great way to
network with those in academia. Dave adds that every major university has some kind of
infrastructure to assist faculty and students in writing grant proposals, whether it be a team or
advisors or a whole department. Make an appointment to speak with them and ask to see
examples of successful grant proposals.
Throughout your career, Frances says to “never throw away an idea.” You never know when it
might become a point of interest for a grant later on. The entire process can be long and
grueling but it’s crucial that you have a good work ethic and continue to motivate yourself along
the way. Treat it like a class, stay on top of deadlines and contacts. Continue to ask for
feedback throughout the writing process, from both mentors and peers. Dave also adds that
participation in events like this APPAM conference is a great launchpad for writing a grant! Take
away ideas and tips from the conference and use that creativity and inspiration to make
headway on your own grant writing.
Before submitting a proposal, think about what the reviewers will be looking for. Always follow
the organization’s specific guidelines as though they were a rubric for an assignment. It should
tick off all the boxes they ask for, and more. Allison notes that review boards often ask the
question, “does this push a policy lever?” In other words, does it spark further action in a field
area and therefore add something to the discussion. Organizations want their grant money to be
put towards questions and projects that apply to the world.
While it’s difficult to anticipate the amount of time between submitting a proposal and hearing
back from the organization, the process typically takes between six months and a year.
However, each organization is different and philanthropic organizations tend to move faster than
the federal government. It never hurts to check in with the relevant point of contact and ask if
there’s anything you can do to assist their evaluation process. But don’t
be surprised if your own grant proposal has a turn around outside of this time window.
Inevitably, when submitting grant proposals, you will have to deal with rejection. It’s a difficult
thing to face, especially at the beginning of your career, but overcoming that rejection and
moving forward is key to crafting successful grant proposals. Jennifer notes that you are trying
to get a group to buy into your idea: “the reviewer is always right...the onus is on you to sell your
idea.” Understand why it wasn’t successful and change that aspect in the future. Dave offers
that if you follow up with the organization after being rejected, they will sometimes tell you
exactly what didn’t work for them. Find out specifically what to change for next time.
Overall, the main takeaway from the lunch panel is that while the grant proposal writing process
is long and difficult, it is realistic to achieve success. By following the tips providing and
constantly seeking out support and advice from trusted colleagues, it’s only a matter of time
before your own grant proposal will be successful!