Developing a competitive federal grant proposal is not simple. Typical corporate and foundation requests range from two to ten pages and provide a birds-eye view of the program. By contrast, federal proposals range from 25 to 100 pages or more, and require meticulous descriptions of the program’s research base, plans, and management structure.
“Developing a federal project narrative is much more than writing up a strong pitch. It’s an exercise in soup-to-nuts program design,” said Holly Thompson, contributing editor for the Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “A team approach is essential. These applications are too complex for a proposal writer to go it alone.”
Thompson advised pulling together a lean team that takes responsibility for producing a competitive proposal. The composition of an ideal team will vary in different organizations and for different applications, but Thompson said it should include the following roles:
- Project Manager: This person, who is often the lead proposal writer, must have strong organization and project management skills and an intimate understanding of the application requirements. She is the “brain center” of the project and assigns tasks and deadlines, keeps the process moving, and takes the lead on assembling and submitting the application.
- Program Expert: This person is the executive director, program director, or a key staff member who understands both the inner workings of the program and the related field or discipline. Her role is to map out the program plan and contribute content for key sections (e.g., problem/need, methods, evaluation).
- Administrative Leader: Often an operations or finance manager, this person provides details relating to program oversight and compliance, expertise on staffing and salaries, input on management and facility capacity, and guidance in preparing the budget.
Federal proposals are complicated. But a tight team with a drive to get it done right will improve the likelihood of a high-quality proposal and smooth sailing to the finish line.