Federal Grant Ready Part II

Recently, we looked at your agency readiness for federal grants. In this post, we’re looking at your specific readiness to write successful grants that will be funded. This also has several factors to consider, plus an informative (we hope!) story from our experience. 

The first is grant writing capacity – given the deadline and complexity of the proposal, can you (and your colleagues if you have more than one grant writer) put together a high quality proposal within those parameters? 

How not to use a timeline to write a federal grant proposal

You need to think carefully about this. In his younger and more reckless days, Stan once discovered an exciting Request for Proposals (RFP) released by the U.S. Department of Education for youth mentoring. (We know when people talk about their young and reckless days, they’re not usually talking about grant proposals they wrote. Stan was pretty sheltered. Heather might have more exciting stories to share.)

Anyway, this RFP was perfect for the agency. Except for one thing (and you’re probably ahead of us here). It was due soon. Like really soon. Like the very next day. Technically, it was due in two days, but these were the days when mighty dinosaurs bellowed and walked the earth, and you still had to send a paper application with copies to the federal agency (generally via FedEx Priority Overnight for us). Nowadays, it is all online submission via Grants.gov (and no copies- trees and grants writers all cheer). Check in soon for our overview of Grants.gov. This site can get a bad rap, but we actually think it does a good job in showing you available RFPs and as a portal for application submission.

Soooo, that meant that Stan discovered it first at noon, and it needed to be submitted to FedEx no later than 6pm the next day. With copies. So of course he did the correct and mature thing and noted the program and when it was released (often RFPs for specific programs will be released at a similar time each year). He then shook his head and made a note to check for relevant RFPs more often. Maybe review the awardees this round and note if it seemed plausible that his agency would fit in with this group as an awardee in the future.

Yeah, right. What he actually did was to leap into frenzied action and put together the entire proposal, including the project narrative, abstract, budget and budget narrative, and all required forms to send off at 5:58pm the next day.

And it was funded! No, of course it wasn’t. Stan still insists to this day that if the competition was for the Best Proposal Created in Under 30 Hours this would have been top scoring. Who knows? But the actual scores were mediocre, as they had to be, because it was a rushed proposal with glaring weaknesses not properly addressed. Yes, he can admit this now. At the time, like all grant writers, he cursed the reviewers who couldn’t see the pure gold in front of them. But they knew what they had and scored it properly.

Anyway, on a saner note, we’ve had cases where we weren’t aware of a particular grant until only a week or two before the deadline, and at that point we generally do not feel there is sufficient time. We’ve had other cases where partnership requirements were too onerous for us to be able to pull together the right type and number of partners in time.

Unfortunately sometimes we start to work on a grant before realizing it is going to be too big a lift to put together a competitive proposal by the deadline; it’s difficult to drop a grant once you’ve started to work on it, but in the long-run your time is better spent on a proposal that has a better chance of being funded- not the 30 hour youth mentoring plan. 


A requirement for matching funds is the second important factor to check for early in the process – this is when the funder wants to see that your agency has other sources of funding to support the project for which you’re applying. Make sure you review match requirements closely – is cash match required or can you use in-kind match? Are there limits on allowable sources of match? Often federal agencies won’t allow other federal grants to be used as match, so you need private, state, or local funds going toward that project in order to meet the match requirement. And in-kind match requirements are easier to meet than cash match, as you can use things like the time of your current staff members to meet the match. 

Are you ready?

We do want to make one important point. Often the best way to understand and prepare for writing federal grants is to just do it. You learn far more about what it actually takes to write a successful grant proposal by really grappling with the requirements (Stan’s 30 hour youth mentoring example above perhaps being the exception to the rule here). And the scoring and feedback you receive can potentially be invaluable when you do take a second whack at this RFP down the road. But ultimately, this is the decision you and the agency you are working with have to make.

So are you ready to tackle a federal grant?

If the answer is yes, fantastic! Go get started!

If the answer is no, you can use the grant readiness criteria above to identify how you can improve your agency’s competitiveness and readiness for a federal grant. If you would like additional resources to help you write a competitive federal grant proposal, sign up for the Grants Republic newsletter below to get updated blog posts and be one of the first to find out when our federal grant writing course is released. Good luck!

Do you have a good grant deadline story?

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