Category Archives: Proposals

grant proposal weaknesses
Writing a grant proposal takes a lot of leg work, and nobody gets it 100% right the first time. If you’re looking to improve your grant writing skills, it’s important to do some reflecting on prior proposals, and understand where you can improve. In this article, we’ll be going over some of the most common grant proposal weaknesses, so you’ll have the tools necessary to make your next proposal the best it can be. 


grant proposal weaknesses


Weakness #1: Using too many hyperboles. 


Hyperboles are exaggerated statements or claims that are not meant to be taken literally. We have a tendency to include these without realizing it because naturally, you want to “show off” your organization and highlight all the wonderful things about it. But make sure you’re being factual, and not overselling. Don’t include any unnecessary fluff, or make claims about your organization that can’t be backed up 100%. Keep in mind, there’s also a fine line between confidence and arrogance. You can speak highly of your organization without boasting! Reviewers have a heightened sense for scoping out these ego trips, so make sure you remain confident, but humble. In addition, we also recommend using language that suggests real action, versus a thought. So for example, use words like “expect” and “anticipate” vs. words like “hope.” These words are more action driven and show that you’re not all talk.


Weakness #2: Poor organization. 


These are arguably the biggest grant proposal weaknesses today. Remember, you’re supposed to be telling a story. And if you’re jumping all over the place, it’s harder to convey your message. If your story isn’t presented in a logical order, the reviewer is likely to lose interest or misinterpret your goal. We recommend using numbers, letters, and/or bolded headlines to create structure in your proposal. Be clear in your writing, and think about it as if you were reading it from the reviewer’s lens. There’s a good chance the bulk of the proposal will be scanned, so really drive in the main points as concise as you can. Be sure to start off with your hypothesis, go into the specific aims and goals, and close with a conclusion. We also recommend sharing the proposal with an honest friend. Reviewers aren’t going to spare your feelings, and it might be better to hear any constructive feedback from a friend first. 


Weakness #3: Failure to prove significance and innovation. 


One of the toughest parts about grant writing is finding a way to stand out. It’s possible to write a great grant proposal without providing any real uniqueness; and we see it often. Make sure you’re honing in on the “why.” Why is this problem particularly important? How does the grantor fit into your overall efforts and what part do they play in shaping the future of this problem? In addition to not proving a problem’s significance in grant proposals, we often see a failure to communicate any real innovation. What are you doing to make this project original? What makes your efforts special and what unique ways are you approaching the situation? In a nutshell — stand out! 


Weakness #4: Language and grammatical errors. 


There is no excuse for turning in a proposal with spelling and grammatical errors! You should have at least two other people proofread before submitting it. If you want to go the extra mile, consider hiring a freelance proofreader. It’ll give you peace of mind knowing you’re letting someone handle this who does it for a living! In addition to spelling/formatting errors, make sure you’re focusing on your language. If you fail to use the correct industry terminology, your credibility will decrease drastically and quite frankly, you’ll look ignorant. If you’re unsure on terminology, try reaching out to an industry professional for a second look. 


If you need assistance with your grant proposal weaknesses, RBW Strategy has you covered! We create a work plan to ensure alignment with funding opportunity guidelines. Our team is also skilled at integrating program-specific language, graphics, literature reviews, and research to create a detailed statement of need that effectively demonstrates your organization’s request for funds. Contact us online today!



In honor of Halloween, I wanted to share a scary story… I am sure my fellow writers (and almost anyone who works on a team where the end product is a final document) can relate to the #FRANKENPROPOSAL (queue scream). Do you know what the #Frankenproposal is? Well, what starts out as a document full of promise and creativity quickly devolves into a freakish and chaotic mess with too many people involved in its development. You know what I’m talking about…. Mixed up acronyms, passive voice and active voice, run-on sentences, spelling errors. This is what happens when tracked changes are not integrated and a number of people have their hands on a specific proposal at one time. Also, the final reviewer doesn’t have enough time to integrate changes and try to make a more seamless and integrated voice throughout the document.

I’ll refer to this phenomenon as the #frankenproposal. I have experienced this several times, and although I have done this work for many years, I still get vexed and frustrated with last minute additions, lack of clarity regarding a proposal concept and different viewpoints as to how grants language should be written.

By far my worst experience was a federal proposal I wrote several people that not only involved several people, but several people with different writing styles, connection to the proposal (meaning they would be impacted differently if funded) and feedback was integrated in each draft (not just the 1st draft). Needless to say, the application was not funded and still remains one of the most difficult proposals I ever worked on in my career.

Let’s try to stop the madness and eliminate #frankenproposals for good. What is your most salient #frankenproposal that you have experienced in your career and what did you learn from it? Let’s keep the hashtag going and create a list of scary stories of our own….

Isn’t it much easier to create a blanket proposal template in response to a request for proposals (RFP) rather than develop a customized proposal in response to each specific grant and/or contract opportunity? Well…. The answer is not so simple. What are the considerations in deciding what information can be used in multiple proposals versus information that needs to be customized? Let’s discuss them here (please note this list does not reflect all proposal items, but those that are commonly used).

Common proposal items (for the same project/program/organization)

  1. Key personnel
  2. Organizational/company/departmental capabilities
  3. Organization’s logic model
  4. Background and history of organization
  5. Research and statistics that support statement of need
  6. Evaluation measurement processes and tools
  7. Project and program management and oversight practices
  8. Program summary
  9. Project design (research proposals)
  10. Case studies and past performance documents
  11. Sustainability plan
  12. Attachments (including, but not limited to) – resumes and curriculum vitaes, board of directors listing, financial documents (budgets, audits and 990 forms), 501(c)(3) status, organizational policies and procedures, marketing materials, annual report

Proposal items that require customization

  1. Proposal narrative that is responsive to specific requirements of an RFP (may lift elements from a template proposal)
  2. Budget and budget narrative that adhere to a specific funding request
  3. Logic model (if project/program specific) and aligns to specific funding request
  4. Project workplan for the initiative/program
  5. Evaluation plan that adheres to logic model and narrative
  6. Alignment of key personnel to implementation of the project/program

How can you best use a proposal template to your benefit?

  • Prepare narrative language that is approved by leadership and also includes graphics in advance of a proposal deadline
  • Identify statistics, best practices, and research that bolster your case statement
  • Ensure alignment with your project/program design, evaluation process and goals prior to make best use of strategic planning

While you will always have to develop a unique proposal for each opportunity, there is A LOT you can do in advance to prepare yourself for upcoming deadlines.

It’s the age-old “chicken or the egg” question, a brain teaser and an example of the cycle of life. As we all know, having access to information upon preparation of a grant application is essential to the success of the proposal. How can any application (large or small, federal or private) be successful without essential elements such as the organization’s mission, evaluation plan, description of the program and statement of need? However, beyond these elements, which are crucial to the success of the proposal, what about the budget? Does the budget request drive the focus of the application, or does the narrative paint a picture and then the budget supplements these words? Let’s review to think through the importance of both throughout the pre-application process.

First comes narrative

The application narrative should encapsulate the organization’s need, project/program design and capacity to implement the funding requested. In an ideal world, this should directly align with the organization’s mission and vision, as well as the strategic plan. In what instances should the narrative be prepared before the budget?

  • The funder does not request a budget (i.e., this is a letter of intent or short application).
  • The request is for general operating support, and therefore a specific programmatic or project description is not required.
  • The budget section is completely separate from the narrative.

No wait, let’s start with the budget

However, the budget is crucial as it lays out the specific financial request in detail for the funder. This information guides the presentation of the application and is interwoven into the request, as references to the budget are made throughout the application narrative. In what instances should the budget be prepared before the narrative?

  • The funder requests specificity pertaining to how funds should be spent.
  • The request is for a specific program or project.
  • The application is focused a great deal on the budget, and in many cases contains references as to how the funds will be spent (via job descriptions, timelines, project design, logic models), which requires a prepared budget.

Before pursuing any grant, make sure you have an understanding of the funding request and the information you need to compile. While the budget can often be the last item completed, this may actually end up hurting your chances of success due to the integration of the narrative and budget elements. If your application does not flow, it will showcase inconsistencies and lack of cohesion. The more you understand the type of application and creating a checklist of what to prepare in advance, the greater your chances of success.

This post originally appeared on the Grant Professionals Association Blog

Most of you who write grant applications always include the basic components: statement of need, project design, sustainability plan, evaluation strategy, budget and budget narrative. This is what makes you successful-identifying the required components and preparing an application that meets these requirements. However, as you write application after application (especially for the same organization) you often can lose sight of what’s important and why you seek funding. Here are some considerations to help ensure you bring in the element of the story.

Please note that while these suggestions mostly apply to applications where there is a bit of leeway on the proposal style (i.e., not federal applications or online applications) you can still apply some of the suggestions into more structured applications.

Focus on the Mission
Why are you seeking funding? This seems easy enough to understand-insert the organization’s mission statement into the application and then you’re done, right?! (Cue game show buzzer.) The mission is the guiding element that allows you to remain focused on the target population-the purpose for why you seek funding. Is your mission aligned with the funder’s mission? How can these two guiding forces be united towards a greater common path? Remember that you are helping the funder achieve their mission just as much as they are helping you achieve yours.

You’re Only Human
The organizations, programs or projects you write about focus a great deal on community impact and helping the target population. In order to bring a more personal touch, without distracting from the application content, here are some suggestions:

  • Use a quotation from a program participant in the narrative
  • Imbed a brief paragraph about the success story of a participant when you describe past accomplishments or achievements
  • Insert a callout box into the narrative to add some additional information in a unique way

Attachments, Please
Attachments and appendices can become the ugly stepsister of the application process. You know that they can add tremendous value, but when focused on the narrative and/or budget, they can be left to the end. Here are some ways that you can use attachments to help tell your story:

  • Newspaper articles, press releases and websites that help provide additional details on the organization, program or project
  • Photographs that showcase a successful event and/or highlight an accomplishment (this can be especially helpful for capital campaign requests)
  • Statistics/graphs/charts that expand on information included in your statement of need
  • Marketing materials, annual reports or fact sheets

While there are many different ways to showcase the value of the proposed work, these samplings will perhaps trigger some additional thoughts. While grant writing can become tedious if we rewrite the same narrative, the use of other tools can help make each application fresh and help you become more engaged in the process.

This post originally appeared on the Grant Professionals Association Blog