When Application Guidelines Are Unclear

Funders often complain that they don’t receive high quality grant proposals. Grantseekers often complain that they can’t make sense of application guidelines. “This is a persistent problem, and there’s responsibility on both sides of the funder-grantseeker divide,” said Barbara Floersch, executive director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

To support the ability of nonprofits to develop high-quality grant applications Floersch urges grantmakers to assess their guidelines from the applicant point of view to ensure that they’re clear and helpful. “Some guidelines are confusing and filled with jargon grantseekers don’t understand,” said Floersch. To improve the quality of proposals that funders receive, she urges them to “examine the areas where grantseekers most often stumble, clarify those spots in their guidelines, and be willing to answer applicant’s questions.”

Experienced grant professionals can usually sort out confusing guidelines and put together a responsive proposal. “Poor quality proposals are often developed by staff members who don’t have experience with grants, who’ve had the application guidelines thrown at them and been told to write something up,” said Floersch.

The best approach is to develop a staff team and give it the time and support to learn the ropes. Not every proposal will be perfect, and even some good proposals won’t get funded. But when your organization approaches grant proposals methodically, you’re much more likely to submit fundable requests, and the skills and knowledge of the team will grow over time.

Submitting on-the-fly proposals, expecting an inexperienced staff person to figure it out alone, and failing to provide organizational support for grant development will end up wasting the funder’s time as well as you own.

If you have questions about application guidelines and you’ve done your homework and know the question isn’t already answered on the funder’s website, it’s always best to ask the grantmaker for clarification. But when that’s not possible, or when the response still leaves you confused, you’ll have to take your best shot.

* Ask others within your organization to help you decipher the guidelines.

* Reach out to colleague organizations who have worked with the same funder and ask them for advice.

* Reach out to the most experienced grants professional you can find to get their take on what’s being requested. © Copyright 2016 The Grantsmanship Center