Classic Grant Writing Mistake…The “Over-Promise”

You’ve probably experienced the “over-promise” and “under-deliver” dilemma at some point if you’ve ever been a consumer. The most recent for me came when our family thought it was a great idea to purchase a “robot vacuum.” It was going to solve ALL the vacuuming frustrations in our home. It was going to save us so much time. The promise was that we could turn it on and set it to vacuum our floors while we weren’t at home. The floors were going to be free of dust and dirt and ready for our friends and family to stroll happily across our floors in their new white socks. This was going to be the best…ever.

Well, did this thing ever disappoint! Oh, sure, we could let it run while we weren’t at home, but it never actually vacuumed anything. It didn’t pick up the dirt at all. Instead all it seemed to do was just redistribute the dust bunnies and breadcrumbs to other parts of the house. I don’t need my breadcrumbs in the front foyer, thank you very much.

But it came with such fanfare and high expectations. The commercials told me it was going to be amazing and revolutionize the art of vacuuming. I was never going to have to vacuum again. I’m such a sucker!

When all was said and done, the most prominent accomplishment of my robot “saviour” was becoming a play toy for the dog. The bottom line is that I’d never buy another vacuum like this again. It felt frustrating and like a huge waste of money! The robot vacuum definitely over-promised and under-delivered.

Don’t Over-Promise in Your Grant Applications

GrantsEdge has connected with many funders over the years, and the classic “over-promise” and “under-deliver” is a problem they have told us they have seen more times than they would care to remember.

But why does this happen? Why do grant writers and organizations continue to promise outputs and impact at a level that is unreasonable?

Funders Want To Give Money To Projects That Make A Difference

As grant writers, we know how important it is to be able to demonstrate to funders that your program or project will be successful and have a significant impact with your target population. Without that, funders may be less than excited to invest dollars in an idea that isn’t going to make much of a difference. And with that as the context, some grant writers “adjust” their numbers or create objectives and outcomes that aren’t attainable. Some grant writers complete proposals in a way that portrays greater benefit to the community than they can actually deliver in the hopes that funders take notice and say yes to their application. The result is that funders end up feeling frustrated when these projects don’t actually produce. When you under-deliver, your organization can erode trust with funders.

It’s OK To Fail

Now we know that not all grant writers over-promise on purpose or complete proposals in an effort to trick a funder in some way in order to get the money. Sometimes grant writers just aren’t sure how to best measure performance and aren’t strong with the evaluation process. If that’s you, you may want to look at “The Definitive Road Map To Evaluation” as that will get you started.

We also don’t want you to think you shouldn’t set some stretch goals or dream some big dreams or that funders will wag their finger at you like a disappointed parent if you don’t reach your goals. Funders understand that not everything works out, that circumstances beyond your control may impact your program and ultimately its outcomes. There is room to fail.

But, the rule still stands. If you are a grant writer, you need to work incredibly hard to ensure that your funded program or project delivers what you said it was going to deliver.

What Happens If You Don’t Deliver?

Whether it is a corporate funder, private foundation, or government funder, performance measures are an important part of every grant design and application. You will want to be able to accurately show that you know what impact your program will have on your target group and be able to demonstrate that you know how to measure it, track it, and use it in the future to make your program even better. Be clear and honest with yourself and the team about your target group, the need for the program, the benefits of the program for your participants, and how those benefits show up in measurable terms.

Not doing the hard work up front to know how to best communicate your program’s goals and eventual outcomes and getting an unrealistic proposal funded may actually be worse than not getting the funding at all. If you commit to certain outcomes and goals, you need to be able to deliver. When it comes time to report back to the funder, you need to be able to show them that you have accomplished what you set out to achieve.

But what are the possible ramifications of not delivering what you said you would deliver? It can’t really be that bad can it?

Is it possible an organization could have a grant rescinded? Yes, it’s possible.

Is it possible that you could severely damage a relationship with a funder? Yes, without a doubt.

Is it possible that funders might be suspicious of your future proposals? Yes, absolutely.

Is it possible that funders talk to one another, and that your overzealous goals could now be on the radar of completely different funders? I’m glad we’re thinking about this now, because funders do talk to other funders. So that is also a yes.

Now, we don’t want to be all “doom and gloom.” There is definitely opportunity to learn through evaluation efforts and course correct throughout your project. If things aren’t going as planned, find out why, build and implement solutions, and communicate with the funder.

OK, So You Won’t Over-Promise

We want your grant proposals to be compelling, but we want you to avoid dazzling funders today only to disappoint them tomorrow. Be realistic about what the program can truly accomplish and be sure to explain how you plan to evaluate your progress and success as it moves forward.

Don’t disappoint your funder the way my “robot vacuum” disillusioned me and my family.

How Do You Develop Realistic, Informed Outcomes?

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