5 Fatal Idea Flaws

The one part of your proposal that must not be flawed is your idea. If your proposal is rejected on these grounds, there’s not much hope of saving it. Ideas can be judged as poor for many reasons, but the five underlying causes are the most prevalent.

  • Poorly Developed Idea It takes time, effort, and thorough research to develop good ideas. You might think you have a good idea until it is tested, with the results revealing the flaws. Thus, every precaution needs to be taken to ensure that an idea is sound and well-developed. Preliminary data (if it’s a research project), research on existing successful models, and your own data are all evidence of a sound idea.
  • Overambitious Idea – One of the major reasons for the rejection of proposals is that the idea tackles far more than can be accomplished in the timeline of the grant. Rather than trying to solve every problem related to your research or that your constituents have at once, focus on one or two issues that can realistically be resolved within budget and time constraints of the proposal. Narrowing the scope of your idea to a smaller scale is often a much safer and more successful approach.
  • Homeless Idea – This often occurs if your proposal is sent to the wrong donor, one whose mission is not aligned with yours. If you have made the match, it’s possible that your institution does not have the resources to undertake your project. It may also be that your credibility is not in the area for which you are submitting your application.
  • Idea Without a Cause – The cause for the idea has to be well explained. Particularly, explaining your project to the beneficiaries – who may not be willing to participate or stay in the program – could be a major hurdle to overcome. If your idea is a research project that has already been accomplished, your idea will be said to lack innovation.
  • Unloved Idea – You should be the first person to be in love with your own idea. It can make sense for others not to love it, but not you. If you do not demonstrate this in your proposal, it will immediately be apparent to others, and will probably crash and burn in the first few pages.

To avoid these deadly flaws, you will need to reflect on your work. The best way to accomplish this is to think about related projects. This will lead you to anticipate how your solution may or may not work. Ask yourself what steps you can take to make your idea viable. You should also consider the following:

  • Innovation – A good idea must offer a substantive degree of improvement or if you are writing a research grant for the NSF or the NIH, it should involve a paradigm shift in your field. At the very least, it should be different from what has been done before.
  • Deliver Value and Need – Two elements will add value to your idea: first, that it is better, more powerful, more efficient, and/or more effective and secondly, it must be what is needed. Thus, value by its very definition is an important element of a good idea.
  • Doable – For an idea to be good, it has to be possible. A planning grant or a seed grant might be good approaches to assess feasibility. Also, many grants require various potential factors to consider before concluding that the idea is doable and promising. You need to envision as many of these factors as possible to be certain that you are on the right path.
  • Cost Effective – If the idea costs more to implement than it can deliver in terms of value, it is impractical. This applies not just to financial cost, but time, resources, and energy. If no one is willing to pay the price for whatever benefit the idea delivers, it’s not a good idea. Further, unrealistic budgets will definitely kill an otherwise sound proposal.

Focusing on your goal, understanding the need for an idea, and coming up with creative solutions that have value and substance will help you avoid the flaws that are so often found in bad ideas. You and your team must know that you have a good idea which you can proudly ask for support from a donor. You will need to have the data to prove it, an audience that needs it, and a team that can deliver it.

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

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