Summer 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 2 // Tools of the Trade // 2TOT3

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Writing Successful Grant Applications


David A. Philbrick
Extension Energy Program Leader and Initiatives Coordinator
Oregon State University-Corvallis

Successfully competing for grants allows Extension educators to enhance their Extension programs. In some cases, grant money alone supports the program. Here are suggestions I've found useful in writing successful grant applications:

1. Write clearly and simply. Your written proposal may be the reviewer's only contact with you and what you propose. Thus, your proposal must communicate what you plan to do, why it needs doing, and why the team and approach you propose is the best way to do it. Use simple straightforward language and be specific.
2. Structure the proposal around what's requested and the review criteria. If you know the review criteria, be sure each point is covered as fully as possible.
3. Be on time and be complete. Reviewers find it easy to discredit a proposal if it's late or incomplete.
4. Make your proposal visually appealing and as short as possible. Reviewers often have hundreds of proposals to read. Make it easy for them to focus on your important points.
5. If a specific format is requested, use it.

The following is an overview of the kind of information generally requested:

Importance and Overview of the Proposal. To set the stage, start the reader with an appreciation for the importance of the issues and a vision of how you plan to address them.

Justification. Explain why your approach to the problem is the best one by briefly summarizing the process you used in developing the response. Include such things as research consulted, experience on this issue, other people or agencies consulted and a summary of what they said, the direction of a planning committee, etc. You may want to include key alternatives you considered and why you rejected them. Don't try to document all that has happened. Focus on why your approach is best and be brief.

Project Description. Describe what you plan to do and how you expect to do it. Be specific. If people and places are known, include them. If you're not that far along, include a description of the process you'll use to select key players. Cover project management - how will you assure that the project will be carried out with excellence and on time? Address coordination with other important players.

Project Evaluation. Describe how you'll track and report your accomplishments, and how you'll use what you learn to improve your project.

Credentials. Describe key qualities or experiences of the principal organizations and people. Communicate that these are the best people to carry out the proposed project. Focus on important information. A complete resume, listing of experience, or description of an organization can be included in an appendix.

Timeline. When will you carry out major action? Include enough time to hire staff, find volunteers, gather materials, and all the other things involved with getting a project started. Breaking a bigger task into its components will help communicate that the time estimates are reasonable.

Budget. Often a specific format is requested. Your budget and its justification need to communicate you'll provide good value for the dollars requested. However, be careful not to be more specific than necessary. Giving too much detail limits flexibility if your project is selected. Also, too much detail may highlight specific (sometimes minor) elements that can raise a concern with one of the reviewers.

Be sure to justify items in the budget. Showing a clear link between the project description and the items identified in the budget takes care of this. In other cases, such as special equipment items, it's often necessary to include a specific justification.

Appendices. Likely items include resumes for key staff, lists of references, or letters of support that substantiate what has been stated in the proposal itself.