As a 40-year grant writing veteran, I’ve learned a lot about the art of winning grant awards. At first, everything I wrote turned into money for my clients. This was back in the days of relatively little competition and lots of Uncle Sam’s bucks to spread around.
Then, in the early 1980’s and again in the first decade of this century, my win rate declined. I was inconsolable. Was it my writing? Was it my budget forms? Was it my letters of support? Did I miss something? What did the federal grant application peer review team members find weak? Sometimes, self-doubt is good. We all need an open mind about our abilities and the desire to be better at every level of our skill sets.
So, what does it take to win more grant dollars? In this article, I’ll share some ways that I increased my funding success rate when my rate for government grant awards dropped from 90% to 50%, which is not acceptable. Everyone writing and submitting grant applications should have, at a minimum, an 80% win rate, receiving funding for 8 of every 10 grant applications submitted. Here are three simple ways to increase your municipality’s federal grant award win rate:
1. Only go after grant monies when the total number of grants awarded will be greater than 20. Why? There are 50 states, 14 territories under U.S. jurisdiction, and 566 federally recognized Indian tribes. If the eligible grant applicants include subdivisions of state government (townships, towns, cities, villages, and counties), multiply the eligible applicants by at least 50 per state. Your chances of winning a highly competitive federal grant award are slim if the total number of awards is below 20. What could change the odds? Suppose the funding priority targets large urban cities with populations of 1 million or more. Even with 10 awards, if your city has 1 million or even more residents, you have a better chance of scoring a win. The higher your population, the higher your chances of getting Uncle Sam’s dollars.
2. Ask for congressional advocacy from your elected officials. As soon as you know that your unit of government will be applying for a federal grant funding opportunity, make the call to the Washington, D.C., staff office to let them know of your plans. Ask for help early on, during the grant writing process, and after you upload your grant application. Having this level of advocacy in place can help your application make it to the “recommended for funding” stack. Even if your grant application is rejected by the peer review team, congressional staff members can give your failed efforts a second chance during the last three months of the federal fiscal year. Miracles can happen when a federal grant making agency has funding left over in their coffers. I’ve seen some of my apparently failed efforts get funded at levels of $350,000 and higher per year for 3 to 5 year awards. And this all happens with no major changes to your initial grant application.
3. Contract with a grant professional for help with statement of need research, program design assistance, and overall polishing of your grant application narrative. Don’t forget that eCivis Grants Professional Services (GPS) has more than 120 expert-level grant writers and evaluators. They have experience in writing winning grant applications for every federal grant making agency. The majority of our grant professionals are available evening and weekend hours; many also work on holidays. Of course, your internal department personnel that will reap the benefits of a grant award must be involved every step along the way, because they are the experts when it comes to knowing why your community needs the grant funding and how it can best be used to reduce the financial strain on your annual budget.
About the Author
Dr. Beverly A. Browning (Dr. Bev) joined eCivis in 2010 and has been consulting in the areas of grant writing, contract bid responses, and organizational development for nearly four decades. Dr. Bev’s clients have included chambers of commerce, faith-based organizations, units of local and county municipal governments, state and federal government agencies, school districts and colleges, social and human service agencies, hospitals, fire departments, service associations, and Fortune 500 corporations. She has assisted clients and workshop participants throughout the United States in receiving awards of more than $200 million.
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