5 Things You Can Do in Less Than a Minute Help Your Grant Proposal Succeed

Our grandmothers were right: little things mean a lot. Especially to someone who has to read a lot of little things . . . called “grant proposals.”  So, what can we do to make our document stand out?  Here are five things that we can do in less than a minute to make a difference.

  • Check the spelling of the recipient’s name . . . and the correct gender.  How many books on the topic of sales tell us that one’s name is the sweetest music we ever hear.  And when that tune gets mangled, we are oftentimes taken aback.  I have enough email and snail mail addressed to “Mr. Hick” to use as exhibit A.  And a few addressed to my fictitious alter-ego “Ms. Hick.”
  • Confirm the deadline date for the umpteenth time.  One minute after midnight doesn’t work with grantmakers who are overwhelmed by requests and need some ground rules to help cull the load of applications.  Mark the date in your calendar and then set your own deadline a few days earlier to make sure that you get that application out the door on time.
  • Decide to let go of the editor’s pencil.  This one is tough! I remember working with a client once who kept making edit after edit to a proposal.  At some point in the process, I told him that the proposal doesn’t mean anything until it is sitting on the grantmaker’s desk.  At some point, the rubber must meet the road and the paper must meet the desktop (real or virtual).
  • But not until you proofread the first page . . . again.  A misplaced comma or even an overlooked typo is not necessarily going to doom your proposal.  But given our ready access to spell-check, grammar-check, and online dictionaries and thesauruses there is really no excuse for sending a grantmaker a proposal with a lot of typographical or grammatical errors.  Even though you should proofread the document (or better, have someone else proofread it) before it is submitted, a final run through of page one is worth the 45 seconds it will likely take.  If an error is found there, it may well prompt the reader to pull out the red pencil for the remainder of the document.
  • Add up that budget one more time.  Proposals are, at their heart, about dollars and cents.  A survey of grantmakers by The Foundation Center found that six of ten grantmaking professionals turn to the budget before reading the rest of the proposal.  Their biggest frustration? When the math doesn’t add up.  Yes, Excel will total that column for you — provided you select the right range of cells to add up.  Review those numbers and keep in mind the carpenter’s adage: measure twice, cut once.

Proofreading.  Confirming deadlines.  Just plain letting go.  What other things can we do in less than a minute to help our proposals along?



  1. Funders don’t always group their required attachments into a nice, neat list “Required Attachments”. So double-check throughout the RFP or other funder guidelines to make sure you’re including everything asked for in a proposal. I learned that one little missing document can instantly screen out a great proposal right at the front end of the process.

  2. Great list. I couldn’t agree more re names and budget. I always tell my clients that the cover letter (opening paragraph!) and budget determine if a proposal is read at all.

  3. Good advice. Letting go of the editor’s pencil is difficult. I ask, Will the edit contribute to a ‘yes’ and make the submission stronger and better? If it will, let’s make change. If it won’t, let’s not make changes for the sake of making changes.

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