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Developing a Competitive Grant Proposal

Once an identified solicitation fully matches and aligns with an organization’s goals, a clear and articulate proposal must be developed. Starting early and allowing sufficient time to research, write, and revise the proposal is the best approach. Competition for federal grants is fierce and a disciplined method toward proposal drafting will increase the overall chances of success. While proposal requirements vary between solicitations and agencies, generally a proposal will always require a detailed project plan, a budget by year (and, at times, also by task), and an outline of the qualifications of the key personnel proposed to perform the effort.

The best grant proposals begin with a demonstrated understanding of the grant requirements crafted into a compelling narrative supported by data. Discussions beyond the basic requirements to include a deep grasp of the stated problem is a meaningful way to establish a baseline level of mutual comprehension and trust with the proposal reviewer. Highlighting connections between existing solutions and the proposed solution often further enhances the impact of the proposed approach. Always clearly define the impact or success of how the project will be measured. It is important to write a strong proposal that clearly demonstrates how your project meets the program's goals.

Grant budgets are very detailed and attempt to accurately reflect project costs to demonstrate responsible financial planning. Most similar to budgets for time and materials or cost reimbursement contracts, each budgetary line item should be listed, to include indirect rates, and supported documentation provided. Labor, for example, must be broken down by individual or, if appropriate, labor category, hourly rate, and number of hours. Indirect rates currently used by the organization that are applied to direct labor dollars must be listed as both a percentage and the resulting dollar amount. Estimated materials are listed as a total dollar amount with the full list adding up to that proposed total included in an attachment. Depending on the value of each item, a quote or invoice from a previous purchase should also be included. Not only does this level of detail make it easier for the proposal to be reviewed from a technical perspective, it also makes award issuance with the grant specialist performing the budgetary scrutiny quicker.

A showcase of the team’s experience and expertise of the primary grant offeror as well as those of any sub-grantee is another important aspect of the proposal. Often, a curriculum vitae (or CV) or resume is a good the starting point. When collaborations or partnerships are proposed, be sure to further illustrate the importance of those team members as well. It is also a good idea to use previous successes as evidence of the team’s ability to deliver a completed project.

Strong proposals are those that meet the solicitation requirements and reflect a willingness to go above-and-beyond minimum requirements. Connecting with the technical reviewer(s) starts with a strong technical concept and well-documented cost proposal. Ultimately, the proposals that stand-out from the others during the competitive award process are the ones that receive funding.


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