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Patience & Perseverance: The Key Ps to Winning Grants

Nov 1

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Thursday, November 1, 2018  RssIcon

By Chris LaPage

Every now and then a reality check is in order. Anyone who thinks securing grant funding is easy either hasn’t tried or is delusional. There is an economy of scale to grant seeking, in that once you break through and prove you are a good steward of other people’s money, you increase your odds of securing subsequent funding. Unfortunately, so many folks become discouraged and give up on grants after only a single or handful of attempts. It’s only human nature to feel demoralized after you put all your time and energy into a proposal only to receive a negative response from the grantmaker. The easiest thing to do is throw in the towel, protecting both your time and ego. However, if you are willing to be patient and persevere, the rewards can be plentiful.

Let’s Start with Patience

There is no substitute or shortcut around being patient. Until the field of physics progresses to the point where time travel is possible, we are stuck with 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. The key to winning any grant is making sure the funder or grant program is a fit for the project being proposed. Since many grant programs are cyclical with defined deadlines, often the best strategy to fund a project is to wait for the right opportunity to open. One should be careful not to confuse patience with inactivity though. In fact, any time afforded to you as you remain patient for the right funding opportunity can – and should – be used to strengthen the project and plan for the proposal. Many grant programs require extensive collaboration but only allow four to eight weeks between the solicitation opening and the submission deadline. Prior to the solicitation being released, you should be aligning partners, developing memorandums of understanding, and strengthening the project. If you have, you can hit the ground running when the application window opens and focus exclusively on proposal development.

One should also make sure not to confuse patience with putting all your eggs in one basket. For instance, the perfect program you are waiting on may be a federal or state grant that requires a funding match or cost share. One strategy might be to research and target foundation funding that may be used towards the expected cost share requirements. You may even be able to put a contingency agreement in place with a foundation indicating they will provide matching funds if the federal or state dollars are secured. Even if a cost share is not required, you may use the time to target other funders for components of the overall project. In the foundation space, you will likely receive feedback much more quickly than the federal space, which may help you refine the project in the meantime. The key piece to remember is patience is a key to winning grants, but it should not be equated with inaction or inactivity.

On to Perseverance

At one point or another, you will likely hear ‘no’ from funders during your grant seeking efforts. There are many reasons funders may deny your grant application, but failure should not be taken as an indictment of the worthwhile nature of the proposed project. The process is very competitive, and you simply will not win every time. For those that are trying it for the first time, a denial may turn them away from grants as a source of funding indefinitely. An instant assessment is made that grants are not worth the organization’s time or effort, or no one is sure of the next steps. The truth is that it may take multiple tries before you are successful in securing your first grant award. Keep in mind that once you secure that first grant, it improves your odds of positive results on subsequent applications. You gain valuable experience and confidence with the process of applying and winning grants. In addition, you can leverage wins to gain additional investment from other funders.

Perseverance requires strength and will power to move forward in the face of failure. However, this is only one part of the equation. Persevering without a strategy will likely result in more application denials, reinforce poor grant seeking technique, and a negative perception that grants are not a viable source of funding.  For instance, some individuals find the motivation to continue but may deploy an ineffective strategy, such as the “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” approach. They may develop a one-size-fit-all letter of intent and blast it out to 30 foundations thinking that the key to success is increasing the volume of submissions. The truth is, however, that funders usually can sniff out this strategy and it is not well received. Generally speaking, a much more successful strategy is to align your project with the appropriate funder and be judicious in the grantmakers you target. The first step with any failed proposal, should be to contact the funder and request feedback. The feedback you solicit will be crucial to examining the situation and determining a path forward. In many cases, you can modify your project, make changes to the proposal, and resubmit the same funder. Think of this process the same way you might have approached rewriting a paper in school in hopes of getting a better grade. Securing feedback and knowing the reviewers’ thoughts increases your chance of winning the grant exponentially on a second attempt. Again, the key is to persevere with an intentional plan, as the best strategy will not always be to reapply to the grantmaker that denied your application. Which brings us…

Back to Patience

Patience and perseverance are not mutually exclusive strategies, they should be deployed in tandem. After examining reviewer commentary and feedback, the best decision may be to take a step back and evaluate other funding sources. This does not mean all your work and effort is lost. As you position the project to other funders, you will likely be able to leverage any previously denied proposals as well as any corresponding feedback from these grantmakers. For instance, you may have a great research project that is denied by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) because they viewed the project as “exploratory”. A great strategy would be to target private foundations that have interest in providing seed money for pilot projects from early career investigators. Not only will the NIH proposal be useful as you seek out these alternative grantmakers, once you are funded and compile pilot data through a foundation-funded project you will be in excellent position to go back to the NIH for more extensive funding. Just like most things in life, winning grants requires both patience and perseverance.




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