In my many years of teaching about the world of grants, I have come across eight recurring myths that can derail your proposal writing efforts. When I began writing proposals, I too sometimes felt lost. I knew though that I needed to win grants to be able to creatively enhance the lives of others, and to advance my career. The more proposals I wrote, the easier the task became. Soon, I stopped counting how much money I had received, and turned my attention to teaching others this skill. Today, I conduct workshops on grant seeking and proposal writing around the world. Through these seminars, I have encountered many rumors and myths. I hope you can benefit from my experience by seeing through these false assumptions:
Money is scarce and grants are difficult to receive as a new grantee.
Wrong. In 2013 more than $855 billion was awarded in grants, with $520 billion from the Federal Government and $65 billion from foundations and corporations. The remaining funds were from individual donors and bequests. More applications are submitted now than ever before, which make competition difficult. However, donors tend to favor excellent proposals from new grantees and investigators to support original ideas.
Grants are about money to fortify our budget.
Wrong. Grants are about good ideas that lack the money to be executed. However, good ideas need to be effectively researched, developed and written in terms that are compelling and convincing. Further, good ideas must have an excellent presentation to attract the attention of the donor.
Grants are awarded to those who have the greatest need.
Wrong. Grants are awarded to those who have the ability to deliver on the donor’s interests. Frequently, donors are looking for applicants that demonstrate credibility, strength, ability, and commitment. You must also parallel the donor’s goals with yours. In other words, make the match between you and the donor.
Prestigious institutions get all the money, no one else has a chance.
Wrong. The big-name institutions often have proven to be good stewards of the grants they receive; they are credible for delivering, and for complying with the donor’s guidelines. This is why donors continue to fund their efforts. However, many relatively unknown institutions do the same and have earned the confidence of their donors. Don’t be intimidated by the reputation of prestigious institutions. At the end of the day, the money goes to those who have established credibility, have a quality proposal, and deliver on the promises made to the donor.
Writing a proposal is hard.
Wrong. Most people confuse something that is time-consuming with something that is difficult. Writing a proposal will take quite a bit of time, relative to the product. Like anything else, the writing process can be made easier through practice and patience, and by using the proper mechanics, techniques, and grammar. Most importantly, if you are passionate about your subject, writing a proposal can be a much easier undertaking.
We can put a winning proposal together in a couple of weeks.
Wrong. Certainly, a proposal can be composed in a couple of weeks, but the quality will suffer heavily. Grant complexity varies, and some may take months to complete. It takes time to do the research on your topic, assemble the right team, and gather institutional buy-in. The final processes of writing the proposal, discussing it with the donor, rewriting, and editing can take weeks. Meanwhile, your competition has probably taken the time to do it right. If you ask yourself whether you can still compete with them and the answer is no, wait until the next cycle and do it right.
To win grants, I need to apply to as many programs as possible.
Wrong. Many institutions and individuals believe a shotgun approach is the way to get funded. The true results are a burned-out staff, multiple failures, and disillusionment. Instead, how about writing five proposals to receive three grants? If you produce quality work and make the proper match between you and the donor, this is entirely possible. Remember to ask yourself: “Is this the best work that I or my team is capable of?” If the answer is yes, you are ready to submit a quality grant, and greatly increase your chances for being funded
I have to write the proposal all by myself.
Wrong. Proposal writing is a team effort. It will involve collaborators, partners, departments throughout your institution, fiscal officers, evaluators, graphic designers, and editors. It takes a community to write a quality proposal that will overtake the competition.
Buying into any of these myths can stifle your efforts to write proposals. Debunking them can allow you to clear the path toward a rewarding effort that gives you freedom, flexibility, and credibility.
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