The 5 Grant Writing Indiscretions That Drive Funders Crazy

It was a rainy and cold Tuesday morning and I had just made my way into the office. As a funder, I loved my job. I loved connecting with community organizations and doing everything possible to support them in their incredible work. But this particular Tuesday, I felt tired and wasn’t at all energized about my upcoming day.

What was my problem you ask? I had just spent the entire previous day combing through a stack of new grant proposals and the majority of them had careless mistakes. Some were “lucky” enough to have combined a few of these gaffes into one submission!

After seeing thousands of applications, all with the same errors, it made me want to do something like a sailor (if you thought swear, you’re right)! I always loved the grant review process. It was exciting to see new ideas that would make our community better. But it could be really frustrating to see great project ideas weakened because of careless mistakes.

Here are just 5 of the frustrating writing indiscretions that grant writers consistently included in their proposals. Read them, and then please don’t ever do them again.

1. Submitting An Application In A Different Format Than Specified

Funders spend a lot of time working on and tweaking their application forms. Even though it may not be apparent to you why the questions appear in a particular order or why they are worded in a particular way, the funder has their reasons and expects you to apply using the format provided. No cheating on this! Typing “see attached” in a section and then attaching other documents is not a successful way of dealing with word count limitations. Most funders are happy to provide clarification about what they are looking for with specific questions – more and more are moving to the provision of online resources and transparency around their assessment process.

2. Use Of Jargon And Acronyms

We all develop language that becomes second nature to our specific organization and sector, and often lose track of the fact that not everyone has a common understanding of those words and symbols. If you are going to use an acronym throughout your application, make sure you spell it out the first time you use it. You want to make it simple for the reviewer to be able to read straight through your application and get the full picture, without having to constantly refer back to an earlier part of the application to remind themselves of what the PSAC is, as opposed to the PCAS. I always say, use the Aunt Betty test – if Aunt Betty can read it and understand your story and what you are asking for, you are good to go. In fact, I often encourage grant writers to ask someone who knows nothing about their program or sector to read their application before they hit submit.

3. Inconsistencies

Once you have completed your application, leave it for a day or two and then reread it, looking especially for inconsistencies (this means you can’t be preparing an application at the last minute – a topic we will address in future blog posts). Does the budget request in your financial section match the amount you listed in the rest of the application? Do the numbers add up? If you are providing quotes, do they match to the amounts you have included in your request? Does your work plan line up with the project description you provided? Are the attachments you provided connected to the project you are requesting funds for?

4. Incomplete Applications

You may have a fantastic idea, which is a great fit with the potential funder’s programs, but if the application is incomplete, it likely won’t go forward. This absolutely kills the reviewers who want to fund your project, but are unable to do so. It simply wouldn’t be fair to the other organizations applying if you received funding for an incomplete submission and they were required to submit a complete one. If you are asked for financial statements, make sure you include the full set (the notes section of an audited statement is a key part of those statements). Once again, building in enough time to do a good job on the full grant seeking process is key.

5. Spelling And Grammar Mistakes

Believe it or not, a lot of spelling mistakes can be really off-putting to a potential funder. The message it sends is that you couldn’t be bothered to look over your work, and that doesn’t give the funder confidence that you will pay attention to the details of your project/program. “Spell check” certainly helps, but may substitute the wrong word for a misspelled one, so don’t rely on it. Asking a third party to review and potentially edit can often be more effective. Remember, first impressions count. Funders try to be as fair and impartial as possible, but they are human beings with opinions and experiences that shape their responses to applications. Check out our free resource, Five Commonly Misused Words, which can be downloaded at the end of this blog post, to improve your grant applications!

While these five writing indiscretions may seem incredibly basic, they’re not. I’ve seen thousands of grant applications that have at least one, if not more. Avoid these five indiscretions like the plague, so your grant slides right into the “approved” pile.

Make sure you’re not misusing these five commonly used words in grant applications! Download our free resource, Five Commonly Misused Words.

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Two Actions That Are Sabotaging You From Becoming A Grant Writing Superstar

I can think of a number of times I wanted to be a superstar. In grade four, I thought I could be famous by rocking out on the recorder. I didn’t get out much at that point in my life. By grade six, I had plans of being a superstar comedian travelling all over the world telling my stories to stadiums full of laughing people. By high school, I was on my way to stardom as a major league baseball pitcher.

As I’ve matured, I’ve become a little more realistic and grounded. However, my early pursuits taught me an important lesson. Becoming a superstar, in any field, is a combination of what you do and what you don’t do.

Let’s dig in to what you should stop doing, if you want to become a grant writing superstar.

1. Stop Looking For The Grants First

Have you ever watched a child play with one of those shape sorter toys? If they match the shape to the right cut-out, it falls right in, perfectly. But, when they’re just starting, it takes them a while to figure this out. They spend a ton of time and energy smashing the plastic pieces against the toy, trying to find the right fit.

Too many organizations do this with funders. Organizations and grant writers look for funding opportunities first, then try to create a program, and ultimately a proposal, that fits the fund. In a haste to secure financial support, the appropriate effort isn’t given to researching the need, building the case for support, establishing collaborative partnerships, or exploring how to evaluate impact. The focus becomes trying to come up with a new program to be able to access the money available.

In many cases, the result is an ineffective project rationale, unreasonable project outcomes, and a proposal that doesn’t necessarily fit with the stated mission of the organization. Mission drift and burnout are serious effects of this type of grant writing approach.

When grant writing is done in this way, often the grant doesn’t get approved. As hard as we try to lead funders toward a yes, they quickly see through the proposal, and it gets a big, fat no.

SOLUTION: Start By Creating Your Program First.

2. Stop Writing Grants Without A Plan

2 Stop Writing Grants Without A Plan

It doesn’t surprise us anymore, at GrantsEdge, when we hear the stories of stress, and the grumbling and panic that sets in as grant application deadlines loom.

We know how busy you are and understand that your grant writing tasks are often done “off the side of your desk.” We know that for many of you, grant writing is not your primary responsibility. We get it. We understand the stress and we understand the angst. There always seems to be a lack of hours in a day or week to get this work done. The clock and the calendar really can feel like the enemy.

We’ve heard from funders that they frequently receive grants that have incomplete information or grants that weren’t checked for spelling and grammatical errors. We’ve also heard from grant writers about the fact that they’ve abandoned half written grants because they don’t think they can get it done on time or find the information they need to get it right.

All of these factors lead to frustration, proposals not submitted, and emphatic “no thank yous” from funders. In the end, this approach leads to zero dollars. This is definitely not grant writing superstar territory.

SOLUTION: Stop The Last Minute Dash By Using A Work Plan.

There has to be a much better way! For what you should do, wander on over to Two Simple And Strategic Ways To Become a Grant Writing Superstar.