My Grant-Writing Super Power

Photo by Kamran Chaudhry on Unsplash

Just kidding, I don’t have a grant-writing super power and, to be honest, the thing I have in mind is not a power so much as it is a lesson I have yet to learn.

The lesson is: when you’re considering a grant, you need to look not just at the call for proposals, but also at the specific method by which you’re going to submit your proposal.

Some proposals get submitted by just attached a PDF to an email, while others get submitted through an online form or an application portal. In any case, make sure you not only know what is being asked for not just in the call for proposals, but in the submission method as well.

For example, I recently found myself in the position of submitting a grant recently where I had written out a detailed project narrative, timeline, and impact statement, totaling nine pages. But when I went into the application portal for this particular grant (for the first time, mind you) I found that each of those sections was limited to 1,500 characters each.

Not 1,500 words, 1,500 characters.

As a result, I had very quickly cut out most of my lovingly crafted prose to make it fit in the space allotted. I could have probably saved myself quite a bit of writing time, and a significant amount of headache right before the deadline, by doing just a little bit more due diligence at the beginning of the whole process.

I wish I could say this was the first time this has happened to me; it wasn’t. But maybe you—and I—can learn from my mistakes and do just a little bit better next time.

On Grant Writing

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Writing grants is one of those things that we (or at least some of us) in the worlds of higher education and non-profits do a lot. There are obvious benefits to being good at grant writing, which might help you to fund your research, an initiative in your department, of your very salary, depending on where you’re working.

And yet, even though grant writing is important, I don’t recall getting a whole lot of formal training in it as part of my journey through graduate school. I did get some good advice from my dissertation adviser—that I should mirror key language from the call for proposals in my application—that I still use to this day. But what about putting together the proposal itself? What are the key components that make up a good grant narrative?

For that, I’ve been using the same resource for the past ten years: Karen Kelsky’s Foolproof Grant Template. I’ve gone back to it more times than I can count, and I’ve had a fair amount of success in winning grants (if I do say so myself) as a result. One of the things that I like about it is that it gives you a framework for writing your grant narrative as a narrative, i.e., as a story. To me, that’s much more compelling than the dry or disorganized proposals that people often put together.

Which is to say: although I have been rejected for plenty of grants over the last ten years, I’ve also won quite a few. I think the Foolproof Grant Template has worked well for me, and I hope it works well for you, too.