The Final Step to Avoid Grant Rejection

I have received funding for the majority of the grants that I have submitted. One of the main reasons for my success is the pre-review process which, I believe, is a must before proposal submission. This process involves asking three different types of colleagues to provide feedback on your grant.

The pre-review steps are:

  • A rigorous review of your grant by one or more of your trusted colleagues, who are equally knowledgeable in your discipline.
  • Comments from a naïve reader, who is a professional outside your field. If that person does not understand 50% of what you are trying to say, your grant is in trouble. The reason for this is that often, the donor reviewers who score your proposal are not necessarily knowledgeable in your area of expertise.
  • Proofreading by a professional editor, who will check for correct grammar, transitions, effective language, and the fit for the audience you will be addressing.

Alternatively, you can enlist the services of an organization that conducts professional grant reviews for a small investment. This type of grant review will encompass all three colleague reviews described above in one package.

Following is the pre-review process further broken down into key elements:

The Content Reviewer(s)

Experts in your field should be your first reviewers. My recommendation is that you select one or more trusted colleagues, who will be critical, have received grants in your area, and who serve on review panels on an ongoing basis. They will give you invaluable information about the strengths and weaknesses of your proposal, and how to address any problems.

We follow this process at the Grant Training Center. In many cases, our pre-reviews are more extensive than the donor review process your grant will undergo. We rigorously address each sentence and paragraph, along with the totality of the proposal, according to the RFP/RFA directions and the review guidelines. Once you receive this methodical feedback, you will be in a much better position to assess what needs to be changed and proceed accordingly.

The Naïve Reviewer

It is a good practice to have your grant reviewed and scored by those who may not be in your field. Consequently, you will be able to gauge how much of your grant can be understood by an educated layperson through their comments. They could be professionals who have been funded in the past, but in other areas of expertise. As is the case with most foundations, you might not know who the reviewers of your grant will be; it could be the program officer or perhaps some of the board members, who may not necessarily be knowledgeable in your specific discipline. Thus, it is essential that when you write, you write for a broad audience that will need your assistance in understanding your proposal. I have seen very complicated research grants that were written so effectively that they could be understood on a variety of expertise levels.

The Editor

Editing the proposal is the last phase of polishing your final product. Editing should take place after you have made all content changes and simplified your concepts for a larger audience. This phase is much more extensive than just grammar corrections. The editor should address effective transitions, make sure sentences are short and meaningful, and ensure the overall professional appearance of your grant. This person may not need to share your area of expertise, but should be a professional editor/writer who does editing on an ongoing basis. Editors can be found at your institution, through professional associations of editors, or through organizations such as ours.

You may wonder if money spent on review services could be better utilized in other ways. The reality is that the pre-review process dramatically improves your chances of being funded the first time. Thus, the time and resources that you will save more than justify the cost.

Even if you chose to hire an external organization, the amount of money you will spend on a grant review should be a small fraction of the grant budget. Hence, my strong recommendation is that you include this pre-review step in your timeline for preparing your proposal.

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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