7 red flags for funders in your grant proposal
Grant proposals take a lot of work. And nobody wants to see their proposal get discarded by a funder for something that could have been easily fixed. So, we asked you on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook: What red flags do funders look out for when reading a grant proposal?
Here they are in this crowdsourced list of grant writing red flags. Did we miss a red flag? Share it in the comments!
1. Not reading the directions
Forgetting to follow “funders’ rules” was the most cited red flag. This could be missing small things, like a requirement to use Times New Roman font, or bigger issues, like forgetting to include a section on sustainability in your proposal. It’s critical you read, re-read, and follow the instructions.
2. The numbers don’t add up
To avoid this pitfall, make sure your proposal’s financial statements and budgets (literally) add up to the correct amounts. Double and triple check your math to be safe.
You’ll also need to ensure that the line items in your budget match the activities outlined in your broader grant proposal. For example, if you’re requesting funding to host an event at a local park, make sure you include every single expense from staffing and catering to rental and promotional costs.
3. Outcomes are not clear—or are confused with activities or outputs
When it comes to grant proposals, funders care about outcomes, which are different from activities and outputs. An activity is a specific thing you are planning to do as part of your program. An output is the number of times you do that activity, or the number of people it serves. An outcome is the broader change that occurs as a direct result of your program activities.
Confused? If so, you’re not alone. Let’s make it as clear as we can. Activities are plans; outputs are counts; outcomes are changes.
For example, an activity is running a series of workshops to teach high school students in your district how to do workouts at home. An output is hosting six exercise workshops for 300 students. The outcome for this program might be improved physical fitness for 80% of these high-school students within a six-month period.
4. Proposal is not personalized to the funder
Grant writing takes a lot of time, and we’re all guilty of reusing content from one grant in another. While it’s ok to take this approach, make sure you’re also taking time to personalize it to the specific funder and their grant requirements. The more generic your grant proposal reads, the less exciting it will be to the funder.
5. Not being clear about who is going to do the work
To bring your ideas to life, you need people to do the work. Every activity in your grant proposal should have at least one identifiable person who is going to help make it happen, whether it is a staff member, volunteer, consultant, or collaborator.
6. Your proposal is unrealistic
It’s great to dream big, but grant proposals aren’t the best place for that. Here’s why: You’ll want to show that your proposal is realistically achievable within the specified time period if you were given the funding.
If you’re taking a chance on a big idea, make a good case for it by backing it up with research and data to show it’s a smart, calculated risk.
7. Not checking spelling, grammar, and formatting
Once your grant proposal is done, don’t forget to edit it. It’s easy to miss errors if you’ve been spending a lot of time writing and editing the same document. To avoid this scenario, use a spelling and grammar check tool on your computer to find mistakes. Similarly, ask a coworker or friend to proofread your proposal to get a second set of eyes on it. Finally, make sure it is formatted properly; all the fonts, margins, tables, and images should be standardized across the document.
Now that you know the top red flags to avoid, you’re ready to tackle your next grant proposal. Interested in some additional pointers? Here are our favorite resources to get you started: