A Grant Proposal’s Most Common Pitfall

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Accurately identifying the problem or need your organization wants to tackle is the single most important factor in developing a powerful grant proposal.

The problem, or "need," is the situation that’s driving your organization to take action––it’s the reason you’re seeking grant funding. A proposal’s definition of the problem effects all components of the request and when it’s wrong, the entire proposal suffers.

The Grantsmanship Center defines the “Problem” as a situation that is causing harm, threatens harm, is less than ideal, or is an opportunity to be seized. But the terminology is not important. What’s important is understanding the situation that’s rousing your organization to action, and then documenting and explaining it clearly.

The most common (and fatal) mistake inexperienced proposal writers make is arguing that the lack of the program they wish to implement is the problem. But a program is just a tool for tackling a problem. If, for example, you claim the problem is, “There’s not enough substance abuse treatment available,” then the outcome you’ll probably propose is that “there will be more substance abuse treatment available.” A funder’s reaction will probably be, “So what?” You will have failed to define a problem for which the additional treatment is an appropriate response. Why should the funder care about putting more treatment into place if you don’t explain that there are people struggling with addiction, who want to change their lives, but who can’t get the help they need because treatment facilities are full and waiting lists are long. How many are waiting, and how are their lives affected because they cannot get treatment?

There are three primary reasons grantseekers make the mistake of claiming that lack of their proposed method is the problem.

• Novice proposal writers struggle to differentiate between a problem (situation motivating action), an outcome (desired change in that situation), and methods (activities to produce the desired change.).

• Grantseekers sometimes fail to understand that a grant award is a social investment, and funders must be convinced that the change is worth the money. It’s about change, not activities.

• Grantseekers sometimes become so infatuated with the methods they wish to implement that they can’t see beyond them–they’re smitten. The methods become all-important and the program, rather than the change, becomes the purpose of the grant.

If you’re arguing that the lack of a program is the problem your organization is trying to solve, step back and think again. Grants are meant to create positive change, and the methods you wish to implement are only a means to that end.

 

— Barbara Floersch, Chief of Training & Curriculum

 

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