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Grant Applications: Four Formatting Errors to Avoid

by Linda Yates on June 28, 2017
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woman-in-computer-room-in-an-article-about-grant-applications-and-errors-to-avoid+Guest blogger Linda Yates is back with helpful tips on how to avoid fatal mistakes when submitting a grant application.  This is essential reading for those in local government who are new to grants, and a great review for  seasoned professionals in all grant arenas.  Have you had a similar experience? Please feel free to share it in the comment section below!

As grant developers, we have all probably had one or more occasions when we have been working on a grant proposal package up to the last minute. We may have the greatest of intentions, and feel a great sense of pride thinking our plans to submit before deadline are effective and doable. Then, a computer goes haywire, or data you have been awaiting gets hung up in review for some reason, and you’re left holding the proverbial bag waiting until the last minute for something.

It’s in those “last minute” scenarios that formatting errors can occur, and some funders (private and governmental alike) will effectively can your chances of receiving that very grant you just judiciously worked so hard on completing. Common formatting issues can include:

Placing information in the wrong field (within an online application)

I have been guilty of this. It’s so close to deadline, and the eyes are crossing because I have been looking at the same text and numbers for days on end. The brain has completely lost any sense of objectivity. You’re trying to fill in the online application and get it submitted before a time cut-off… and then you realize you should have skipped one field (because it wasn’t applicable) and placed information thereafter. Those are the moments I find myself looking at the screen and audibly (and loudly) saying “Really?!” a number of times.

Transmittal media doesn’t work (i.e. Proposal won’t ‘burn’ to CD or DVD)

I have experience working with statewide funding agencies that used to require those submitting proposals to also save them to CDs or DVDs (this is post-2000, kids, and no, I’m not kidding). If you did not double-check that the proposals were saved correctly to the disc, and then submitted the same said disc with your paper copy of the application, you either 1) lost serious points on your application, or 2) were disqualified. We’re talking a 6-digit, $100,000+ level mistake!

File formats – Does your funder only accept Word files, PDF files, or some other format?

Depending on funder, each may have different file formats that they prefer receiving. At the same time, there is concern that numbers or information be changed (by accident) if certain file types are submitted. I’m a big proponent for sending anything – spreadsheets, narrative documents, you name it – in PDF format. Unless a spreadsheet needs to have formulae attached to its data post-submission, or the data in the cells needs to be dumped into another spreadsheet, why create the potential for a mistake to occur? I still firmly believe in “to err is human, but to really screw things up takes a computer!”

Did You Save?

Some online applications will not accept your changes, even if you hit the “next” button, until you also depress “save.” I learned this the hard way (again, recently) when I was trying to finish an application on a very impending deadline. I didn’t hit save, then hit submit, and THEN discovered none of my changes had taken. I had to eat proverbial crow, get in touch with the funder, and tell them to delete the first application I sent, and that in short-order I’d be sending a new application with the correct information. Luckily it worked out, but I felt epically stupid.


Long story short, it’s always a good idea to have one or more pairs of eyes to look over not only your content and context, but also for grammatical, formatting, and punctuation errors before a package is submitted (even if it’s an online application). As writers, we have all been overwhelmed with the motto that “it’s not personal,” but sometimes it’s hard to let someone else take a proverbial fine-tooth comb over the tome you have just essentially given birth to, to critique it. That said, have someone review it, and make sure they are aware of your formatting requirements. It can mean the difference between being funded and NOT being funded!

LInda Resized.jpgAbout Linda : Founder and Principal of XRD|Resource Development, Linda is a dedicated grant developer for non-profit organizations and political subdivisions. She has served as a dedicated fundraiser for non-profit organizations throughout the Great Plains and Midwest, and as an independent contractor for organizations devoted to homelessness, mental health, the performing arts, human services, and IT education. In addition to being a successful grant developer, Linda provides training in fundraising, public relations, social media, and marketing for new non-profit professionals. She can be reached at linda@xrdresourcedevelopment.com. Linda is also a recent second-place winner in the 2017 Winning Grant Proposal Competition, sponsored by Grant Professionals Association and GrantStation.

Building a Grant Funding Strategy for Cities and Counties

Topics: Grant Articles & News

3 min read time