The purpose of a grant proposal is to convince a funder that the situation you plan to address is significant and the change you plan to achieve (aka outcomes or result) is meaningful. The methods you’ll use to achieve the change are only a means to an end. They only matter to the extent that they’re capable of producing outcomes.
“Methods are like workhorses,” said Barbara Floersch, executive director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “They’ve got to be strong and well-suited for the job. No matter how beautiful they are, the question is whether they can pull the weight.”
Unfortunately, grantseekers often allow methods to drive their argument for support. They declare that the problem their organization wishes to address is the “lack of a tutoring program,” “lack of a needle exchange program,”– basically, the “lack of” whatever activity they wish to implement. “It’s a beginner’s mistake that sets up a circular, nonsensical argument,” said Floersch.
For example, if you claim the problem is “There’s no teen center in the community,” then the outcome you’ll probably propose is that “the community will have a teen center.” A reasonable person’s reaction is likely to be, “So what?” or “Why should I care?” You haven’t defined a problem for which a response is needed. You’ve only defined a response — a method.
There are three reasons grantseekers make the mistake of arguing for activities rather than change. First, many people have a hard time differentiating between a problem (the situation motivating action), an outcome (the desired change), and methods (the activities that will produce the desired change). “Until you get that straight, you’ll be unable to make a coherent argument for grant support,” said Floersch.
Second, 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 always about the change, not the activities.
Third, 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. The program rather than the change becomes the purpose of the grant.
“Always begin by explaining the situation you’re concerned about and why it matters,” said Floersch. “Then specify the measurable changes you expect to achieve and argue that those changes matter.” Only after you’ve done that, dive into an explanation of the activities you’ll put into place to achieve those changes.