The notice of funding availability (NOFA) is not the final word on a grant program. In fact, whenever I find confusing or contradictory information in a NOFA, I contact the program officer (PO) not only to clarify crucial details but also to establish contact and dig in for info I couldn't otherwise extract from the NOFA. Nine times out of ten, I come back with extra information that the PO has provided and that can't be found in the NOFA and that I didn't even ask for, giving me a sharper view of a program's scope.
eCivis’ research analysts contact program officers daily. You might also want to contact a program officer to pick up extra information about a grant program not readily accessible in the NOFA.
Besides, to aid your decision-making in the grant application process, you should develop a relationship with the primary funding agency contact for the grant program you intend to apply for. POs are a valuable resource because they can notify you of any changes or errors, and offer clarification or elaboration of particular points. Having a strong relationship with the program officer may help you get a fast response to questions, insight on a grant solicitation, and input about other grants that may work with your project.
Here’s an example of some questions I posed to a PO a couple years ago:
Is there are minimum and/or maximum amount for awards for FY 2010? Is there an average grant size? And is there an estimated number of grants that the foundation intends to award for FY 2010?
The PO was more than helpful, explaining to me how the committee grants the awards ("bonus material," to my thinking) and where I could find an eligibility map for the region the foundation served (information that was unclear in the NOFA). Here’s her response to the questions about the award:
There are no minimum or maximum amounts set for awards. The grants have ranged from less than $10,000 to over $200,000. Because there are no set amounts per award, it is difficult to estimate how many grants will be awarded in the next 12 months. There were 14 grants awarded in our most recent round.
None of this information could have been obtained without a simple, cordial email to the program officer, who wrote back that day. Easy enough: send off the email, gather your materials, continue your research, get more details than what you asked for.
That’s an ideal scenario, of course. But the habit of contacting program officers makes for optimal research and preparation for a competitive application and helps establish a potentially long-lasting relationship with a funder.
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