Getting Too ‘Attached’ To Your Application

In addition to a program narrative and budget, almost every grant proposal includes attachments. Some funders strictly limit the attachments they’ll accept, and others give the applicant free reign. But, does free reign mean there are no rules? 

“There are definitely do’s and don’ts for this portion of the proposal package,” said Barbara Floersch, grants professional and author of You Have a Hammer: Building Grant Proposals for Social Change. “To get full value from attachments, follow both the written and unwritten rules.”

Some attachment rules also apply to every component of the proposal. Give the funder what it requests. Include required information in the order listed in the application guidelines. If the funder limits what you can include, don’t push the envelope — follow instructions. Watch page limits. It’s usual for the maximum allowed page limit to include attachments and missing that nuance can eliminate your request from competition. 

Beyond the fundamentals, following best practices will ensure attachments add value to the proposal package: 

  1. The narrative should carry the full weight of the argument for support. Even when you’re up against tight page limits, use attachments to support rather than extend the narrative. For example, rather than taking the time to succinctly summarize community needs, you may be tempted to refer readers to an attached report. Don’t. It’s your job to support your request with clear, easily digestible data and reviewers won’t do that work for you. 
  2. Commitments are golden. Unless the funder forbids it, include letters of commitment or memoranda of understanding from groups that will contribute effort or resources to the program. Be sure each document syncs with the proposal narrative and is signed by someone with authority to make the commitment. “Endorsements don’t carry much weight,” said Floersch. “Reviewers want to see real buy-in and teamwork.”
  3. Be sure they’re fresh. The feverish pace of change in the last two years means that unless documents are recent, they may raise questions. Attachments should accurately reflect your organization and community in light of changes precipitated by the pandemic, the mandate for equity, climate change, and the many moving parts and pieces that are recasting the social landscape and how we do business.
  4. Organize for easy access. A thick stack of supporting documents that are not clearly identified make the reviewer’s job more difficult. To short-circuit this problem, number and label each document, provide an index of attachments, and number all pages in the section. When referencing attachments in the narrative, provide the name of the document, attachment number, and page number.

Attachments should respond to funder requirements, enhance credibility, document commitments, and add value to the proposal package. “Curate this section carefully,” said Floersch. “Well-selected items give the request extra heft, but a hodge-podge, kitchen-sink approach erodes confidence in your organization’s professionalism.” © copyright 2021,