Biddy Bird Twitterings for Grant Success

Week of January 7, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: To find funding opportunities, elect to receive regular emails from various sources based on your interest criteria. Try SPIN or Foundation Directory Online (MSU memberships), federal agencies and information services.

How do you learn about funding opportunities?  First, pay attention to the weekly “MSU Research Funding Opportunities” email that lists a curated selection of internal and external grant programs.  Email lists that will apprise you of funding opportunities can be based on the interest criteria you provide (see “Funding Opportunities Search Resources” for a substantial listing of these, plus useful websites).  Possibly more useful will be finding out who funds your colleagues doing the kinds of projects you’re interest in.  Usually, this same funder will be a good prospect for you.  Don’t worry about competing with your colleagues – funders will be interested in related AND distinct projects to fill out their program portfolios.


Week of January 14, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Careful reading of a request for proposals can be daunting, but is absolutely necessary to obtain funding. Below is a preliminary scavenger hunt list.

Grasping the structure of an RFP and familiarizing yourself with the critical elements can take practice.  Here’s a scavenger hunt list and a Funder Evaluation Checklist to start with: 1. Find the due date(s).  2. Find the eligibility criteria (are you included?) and partnership requirements (if any).  3. Find the program’s goals.  4. Find the types of allowed proposals (and absolute content requirements).  5. Find the proposal evaluation criteria.  6. Find the list of required proposal elements (this plus the criteria give you your outline for writing the proposal narrative).  7. Read the background information to get a feel for the funder’s culture and interests.  Once you’ve taken these steps you’ll be able to discern whether this opportunity is a good fit for you right now (maybe later! Keep track of the program so you can revisit as your agenda evolves or your time opens up).  If it is a fit, continue the hunt: 8. Find the font, page margins and page number limits (ignore these at your extreme peril!).  9. Find the program officer contact information and/or the program web page and FAQ (Hint: don’t contact a program officer with questions until you’ve thoroughly read the RFP and web materials to try to find your own answers).


Week of January 21, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Every funding opportunity is different. You can “cannibalize” your own writing but every grant proposal should be distinct and tailored.

While I always recommend cannibalizing your own previous writings for any new writing project, it’s highly unlikely you can use basically the same proposal narrative for more than one specific opportunity.  Each program is looking for proposals that help them meet their own unique set of goals, so every proposal needs to speak to a unique agenda.  Think of your project as a puzzle piece, and each funding opportunity as a different puzzle.  First you need to decide if your puzzle piece bears a strong resemblance to the gaps identified by the funder.  When it does, then your job is to tweak your piece to fit with the funder’s unique picture.  A successful grant meets the funder’s needs while also meeting your own.


Week of January 28, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Public and private funders have different cultures, interests, imperatives, decision-making processes, and ways they can and want to relate to you.  

Public and private funders are differently motivated.  Government agencies are guided by legislation, and by program goals that are conceived as advancing the public interest through scientific procedures.  They’re bound by law in terms of what they can fund, and by published rules about how they can fund.  They generally rely on peer review, and will give you written feedback on your proposal.  They seek to expend all available funds each year.  In contrast, private funders have broad discretion, both in what to fund and how much to spend.  They may make all decisions “in-house” and you’ll be extremely lucky if you get feedback on a rejected proposal.  Private funders are driven by the change they want to see in the world and so place a higher premium on moral persuasion and assurance of your competency to meet their expectations.  Check out my comparison chart at “Public vs Private Funders.


Week of February 4, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: The best way to learn how to write effective public sector grant proposals is by serving as a proposal reviewer. It’s time well spent!

The best way to learn how to write effective grant proposals is by serving as a proposal reviewer.  Most public agencies utilize peer reviewers, some for on-site review panels (generally in the nation’s capital), and some as external/ad-hoc reviewers (where you work from home or office).  A list of strategies for getting on a funder’s list of reviewers is available at “How to Serve as a Proposal Reviewer.”  What you learn from reviewing is what effective proposals look like, and, if you’re part of a panel, the culture of the funding institution (how they frame their funding interests, common jargon you might want to use in your next proposal, proposal aspects that get the most critical attention, etc.).  The group process also teaches you how arbitrary decisions can be (the most vocal critic can swamp a broader positive consensus), and the size of the workload reviewers face (putting a premium on the most succinct, clear and easy-to-navigate proposals).  Hint: because of the load, reviewers are incentivized to find quick and easy reasons to reject proposals that are convoluted or don’t follow the rules.


Week of February 11, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Plan ahead for multi-disciplinary or multi-institutional proposal collaborations since these should serve everyone’s interests and they take more time. 

Plan ahead for multi-disciplinary or multi-institutional proposal collaborations!  If you wait to start cultivating collaborative relationships till after an RFP is issued, you’re likely to make yourself and your partners crazy trying to meet the deadline.  This is a reason to track programs over time, so you’ll have an idea of when the next deadline will come up and you can be prepared for it.  (Hint: a program officer will usually be able to tell you if an opportunity is likely to open again, and an approximate timeline.)  One-time opportunities with 4-8 weeks to prepare your proposal are not your best bets for effective collaborations.  Generally a solid proposal will take you a couple months to prepare.  You’ll do well to add at least a month for each additional partner; more if it’s a partner you haven’t worked with before.  What takes the most time is getting all partners on the same page about what exactly you’re aiming for and what you want to try to accomplish with your joint project.


Week of February 18, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Background research will help you match your “puzzle piece” project to the right funder’s program “puzzle.” This “fit” will determine funding.

Reading the RFP thoroughly is your first step toward understanding the culture and interests underlying the funding opportunity.  Usually funders have available much more information that will help you.  For example, look for what other projects have been funded by this program – sometimes you will see patterns of what the funders like, or even discrepancies between what they say and what they do (more likely with private funders).  Doing this also gives you a chance to examine effective proposals (see next week’s tip for how to get hold of them).  Another strategy is to look for white papers or reports written by the funder in anticipation of writing this RFP.  Federal agencies may have published strategic plans.  Some RFPs provide background literature reviews that you can use to familiarize yourself further with the research they find compelling.  Foundations may publish issue papers that explain their analysis of the social problem they’re interested in, and the solutions they think are most plausible.  All will help you massage your puzzle piece to make a smooth fit and persuasive proposal.


Week of February 25, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Read many examples of funded grants, especially those responding to a similar call for proposals. Learn what makes a successful proposal, and whether your project will fill an empty niche.

Publically funded grants are in the public domain.  Some funders have examples on their websites, but most will only provide project titles, abstracts and names of PIs.  Use that information to decide which funded proposals you want to read.  You are entitled to use the “Freedom of Information Act” (FOIA) to request a funded proposal from the government, but that can take a long time.  Better to contact the PI directly and ask them to please share a copy.  If you get resistance you can remind them, if their funded proposal is in the public domain, that you have another avenue (FOIA) to get it, but it would be ever so nice of them to make it available now!  Most PIs understand this dynamic, have read other proposals before they were funded, and are happy to help you out.  Who knows, you might build a professional relationship from this start, and if you’re compatible you might even want to consider asking them to be a mentor.  After all, they’ve had proven success in your field.  In any event reading examples, or even just titles, of funded work is important background research.  Many private funders with websites will at least give you example project titles and the organizations that were funded.  It will help you determine whether your project is needed, and what a prospective funder is truly interested in.  Sometimes the things they fund are different from their mission or program statements.  Trust what they do more than what they say.


Week of March 4, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: A proposal submission now might let you start spending in a year, so plan ahead! Very few funders award grants as quickly as you might like.

Plan ahead to start spending your grant a year from now.  Most funders will take a minimum of 3 months and up to 9 months to let you know if you’re funded, and then it can take an additional 3-6 months for your funds to be available to you.  So, plan ahead with your grant writing efforts if you want to be implementing a funded project in the next year or two!  The time between notification and having a contract in place can depend on funder factors (out of your control) or documents the funder needs from you (such as IRB approval).  Moreover, with many funders you’re unlikely to get funded the first time and so you should factor in the time to get constructive reviews and resubmit.  Hint: it’s nearly always worth resubmitting a revised proposal – you don’t stop at one rejection of a manuscript do you?


Week of March 11, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Start a proposal by making a comprehensive checklist, and you’ll stay sane and on track to complete your proposal submission process. 

Make a checklist to stay sane during your proposal submission process.  Your first step with developing a proposal (once you’ve confirmed a good fit) is to rake through the RFP AND the submission guidelines (which may be one or even two additional massive documents!) to glean a list of all the required proposal elements: forms, budget documents, letters, etc., all supplemental to your core narrative.  Create yourself a list or a chart with each element, which team member is responsible for it, page numbers allowed and margins/font required, available resources, and interim deadlines for each piece.  Available resources may include templates from the EHHD/ORD and from MSU/OSP ( (e.g. facilities descriptions), or guidance that may come directly from the funder (e.g. specific biosketch formats), from MSU/Library (e.g. what needs to go into a “data sharing plan”) or MSU/Academic Technology and Outreach (suggestions for ways to ensure your NSF proposal evidences “broader impact”).  A good checklist will keep you on track to ensure by deadline you have EVERYTHING in place.


Week of March 18, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Start a narrative by making an outline based on the Request for Proposals and you’ll find the writing is easier.

Most funders spell out the components they expect to see in your proposal narrative (project description).  You can make it easy for reviewers to find these elements by simply using them as your headers and sub-headers throughout.  Sometimes evaluation criteria are given separately.  It’s also helpful to incorporate these criteria into your headers and sub-headers, to make sure you’ve addressed them and also to help reviewers in applying the evaluation criteria by easily identifying where you’ve addressed them.  The outline you generate with these headers/sub-headers will make it much easier to write the narrative by clarifying what you need to say and in what order.


Week of March 25, 2019

Biddy Bird Grants Advice:  Format your headers and sub-headers to make it easy for reviewers to follow the flow of your argument.

Section headers and sub-headers help readers understand where they are in the flow of your argument, and how one section relates to another.  Make sure the formatting of these headings is consistent and clear.  There are no hard and fast rules about when to use boldface, underlining or italics, but the more modalities you use, the higher the level of header.  I tend to like using boldface for an upper level header, followed by underlining for a mid-level and italics for the lowest level (that is, italicized headers are sub-heads within a section led by an underlined header, and the underlined headers are sub-heads within bolded sections).  Placement of a section title can also be a clue to readers.  Centering a bolded header might serve as a title, or to tell a reader that this is the top level of sections.  Indenting a bolded header might tell the reader this is a big next section, but within a broader heading with left-justified boldface.  To help distinguish them you could also underline the higher level of boldface titles.  Similarly, starting a paragraph with an italicized title, with just a period and no line-spacing following the heading, can indicate the lowest level of sub-headers.


Week of April 1, 2019              

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Smooth your proposal submission pathway by attending to college and campus submission requirements and processes. 

Plan ahead to meet internal deadlines and ensure your proposal can be submitted on time. The college (EHHD) requires an internal “Letter of Intent” (you’ll find the latest iteration at, ideally 3-4 weeks ahead of your submission deadline.  This gives you a chance to work out details (e.g. salary and hiring plans, match requirements, etc.) with your department head and the dean in advance of final budget or project plan commitments.  It gives these decision-makers advance knowledge before they’re asked to sign off on your “electronic Proposal Clearance Form” which is required by the Office of Sponsored Programs.  Usually OSP submits your federal proposal for you (by government rule) and often your foundation proposal, and for that they need a fully approved ePCF, so this is NOT something to short-circuit!  Your ePCF should start circulating for signatures at least 3-5 days ahead of deadline, and OSP’s stated requirements are that you provide your final proposal ready for submission 3 days ahead of deadline as well.  They have certainly been known to accommodate more last-minute proposals, but then you’re risking potential roadblocks either in the signature queue, or the submission website/software, or OSP or agency rules you weren’t previously aware of.  Don’t get caught out!


Week of April 8, 2019                    

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Find out what help is available to you on campus, both pre-award and post-award.

Montana State University and the College of Education, Health and Human Development are rich in resources to help you with your proposal submission, and with managing your grant after it’s awarded.  EHHD has an Office of Research Development employing the Associate Dean for Research, and the Project Development & Grants Specialist.  Both individuals can answer questions and the Specialist can walk you through and/or help you complete the forms and procedures.  They can also assist with your budget development and writing processes.  After a grant is awarded they organize a “grant startup” meeting for you which includes your Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) fiscal manager along with the college staff who will work with you on your grant spending and tracking and any hiring.  In addition, the MSU/OSP has a “pre-award” division that also can help you with forms and the submission process.  The MSU Center for Faculty Excellence offers workshops on many aspects of grant proposal writing and grant management, including proposal development “boot camps” and training on how to mentor students working on your projects.


Week of April 15, 2019                 

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Plan ahead for commitment letters and/or “match” or “cost-sharing.” 

Be kind to colleagues from whom you need letters of commitment.  Assume that they have plenty else to do and so will need a couple weeks’ lead time to return a substantive, signed document printed on letterhead.  You can help them by providing a draft of the desired letter, or bulleted talking points they may wish to use.  NSF has a specific, very abbreviated format for commitment letters, but otherwise letters should reflect the actual role of the letter-writer in the project, and convey their interest in the collaboration.  Likewise if your grant requires a match, allow 2-3 weeks minimum lead-time to gather and detail the necessary commitments of funding or in-kind cost-share.  Depending on the level of match required, this can be a complicated and time-consuming process.  The details of matching should be spelled out in letters of commitment (if applicable) and in your budget justification.  This is not something to gloss over!


Week of April 22, 2019                 

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: There are myriad ways to provide “match” for your grant, but each must be documentable.

Plan well ahead if your proposal requires match.  Match, or cost-share, consists of actual funds or in-kind contributions that meet a certain funder’s required dollar threshold.  Match can be some of your state-paid salary/time, it can be contributors’ time or resources, foregone Indirect Costs (IDCs) (if applicable), use of equipment, etc.  If you’re funded, you’ll need to be able to document how you met the requirement.  The easiest is through payroll and IDC charges that OSP will report, but you can document third party match through signed forms that show the amount of time spent at a reasonable hourly rate (sometimes provided by the funder), or the value of the contributed resources.  Hint: MSU allows you to pledge match ONLY if the funder REQUIRES match.  And your match value should be within about $1000 if your calculations put you over the required match.  If you’re struggling, EHHD or OSP staff can help you get creative with how to meet match requirements.  This is a tricky part of proposal budgeting so get help early!


Week of April 29, 2019                       

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Seek first to understand. This basic Stephen Covey communications principle, applied to funder relationships, will help you succeed. #MSUEHHD #SevenHabits; @StephenRCovey

Seek first to understand.  This basic principle of collaborative communication offers a strategy to reduce the level of conflict in a conversation.  Your first job is to understand where your communication partner is coming from.  In a grant-writing context, you first want to understand what the funder really has in mind to fund so you can be sure your puzzle piece fits in their funding puzzle, and so you can speak to their frame of mind.  A close reading of the RFP as an expression of the funder’s culture and policy drivers, with careful attention to the embedded assumptions and author frame of mind, is your first step.  Just as your research is grounded, at least in part, in something you’re curious about, being curious about a potential funder will position you to learn what you need to know in order for them to want to invest in you.  Prior funded projects and documents the funder has published are other important clues.  A funding relationship is a 2-way conversation  - why would you want to give money to someone who isn’t even interested in you?!  Remember Alan Alda’s assertion, “The person who’s communicating something is responsible for how well the other person follows him” (If I Understood You, Would I have this Look on my Face?). 


Week of May 6, 2019                           

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Logic models can be fun to write – they encapsulate what you want to do, for whom, and why it’s important.

A logic model is a way to summarize and coherently depict the arc of your project.  As you read a logic model, it goes (left to right) from the condition you aim to address, to describing the resources you have and need to address it.  Then it describes the activities you plan to conduct, and the “outputs” that will result from those activities.  Finally it shows the “outcomes” you’ll generate with these activities and outputs, outcomes that relate back to the condition and reflect the change you hope to help make in the world.  In writing a logic model, it can be useful to start with condition, then go straight to the outcomes (in knowledge, behaviors, and/or systems and structures), because your head is probably already jumping ahead to the difference you hope to make.  Then you can back up to articulating the outputs needed to achieve those changes, and thinking through the activities (and engagement of stakeholders) that will generate those outputs.  I recommend using a template such as Logic Model Template open.  Once you’ve clarified what you want to actually do, it’s easier to see exactly what kinds of resources will be needed (existing and proposed) to conduct the activities.  Key to the logic model is that it forces you to think beyond what you want to do (activities) to what you want to create (outcomes), and helps you to clarify the logic for how the activities will generate the outcomes.  Working backward from outcomes to activities will help you clarify your strategy and ensure that the activities you have in mind at the outset are the right activities to actually reach the outcomes.  It counteracts the natural human tendency to jump into action when we see a problem, without fully thinking through which among the many possible actions will be the right one for you to make the difference you want to achieve.


Week of May 13, 2019                              

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Carefully follow the directions in a request for proposals. If you can’t follow funders’ rules, why should they trust you with their money?

Read the RFP thoroughly and follow directions closely.  Why do funders care what font and margins you use? Because they don’t want any applicant to have an advantage by providing extra text – everyone has to be equally succinct.  Most funders will not review proposals that don’t follow ALL the rules.  Similarly, why do funders care how you organize your proposal?  Because reviewers have to read a bunch of proposals, and they want to readily assess whether you’ve met the criteria they’re scoring on.  Use the structure of the RFP as a guide to organize your narrative.  Hint: even within one agency, the rules on font, margins or page numbers may vary among types of proposals.  Familiarizing yourself with the specific rules for your proposal is an essential step.


Week of August 19, 2019                           

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Ask an expert for guidance if you have any uncertainty about what something means in a request for proposals. Don’t assume you know!

Read the RFP thoroughly and ask an expert if you have questions when you’re not positive about what something might mean.  Don’t assume you know!  For example, an RFP that says there’s a limit of 1 or 2 proposals per organization, means that MSU can only submit 1 or 2 (though MSU Alumni Foundation may also be able to submit the maximum, doubling our opportunities).  If this is the case, OSP conducts a pre-proposal process to determine which MSU candidate is allowed to submit.  Pay attention to the OSP grant announcements for notifications of deadlines.


Week of August 26, 2019                              

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Funders will tell you what they want to hear from you, so listen and read carefully. Use the funder’s language and outline.

Read the RFP thoroughly in order to understand who you’re talking to and what they’re bringing to the conversation.  How many times has someone excitedly told you about their work but you really didn’t follow the gist of it because of their jargon?  Funders have jargon that should be familiar to you – use it and repeat it back to them in your own narrative (Uri Hasson, Princeton neuroscientist says that the more commonalities between writer and reader, the better the understanding – see Alda p.178).  That way you’re a little bit surer they’ll understand what you’re aiming to do.  But more than that, as with any persuasive writing, try to imagine yourself in the reviewers’ shoes.  Avoid your own jargon, or at least explain it.  And explain your assumptions (remember the reviewer isn’t inside your head); make everything super explicit and easy to understand (start by thinking about how you’d explain your project to a youth, or your mother).


Week of September 2, 2019                                 

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Contact government funders to test your ideas; if you listen carefully you’ll hear guidance on how to approach and write about your project.

Very often, if you’re able to have a conversation with a program officer who oversees your RFP, you’ll get some great guidance about what to emphasize about your project, what to guard against, and what kinds of questions or approaches will be non-starters with reviewers.  But it’s good to prepare for the possibility that the conversation may lead you to abandon the RFP you were considering, for lack of fit.  In that case be sure to ask the program officer if they might recommend other programs they think could offer a better fit with what you’re trying to do.  Or they might point you to other funded projects related to your problem of interest, possibly saving you a lot of time, or providing wonderful resources to cite.  If your proposed project seems redundant with another grant recently made by the funding agency, you’ll likely get turned down.  Knowing about that other project may help you both gain new knowledge relevant to your work, and design a project that’s complementary but not duplicative.  Or it can help you make the case as to why your proposal is a necessary test of others’ findings, or applicable to a different context or population. 


Week of September 9, 2019                             

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: If your research involves people, you’ll need permission from your IRB (Institutional Review Board) before proceeding. Often you can do this post-submission, but it’s essential for accepting funding!

When (in the granting process) should you submit an IRB application?  Few funders require that you have the IRB approval for your research before you submit your proposal.  However, don’t wait till OSP is breathing down your neck – you must have an IRB approval in place before they can issue an index for spending.  Usually there’s a period of time between your notification that you will be funded, and the contract being in place.  Ideally, you should be prepared to submit your IRB application as soon as you have an inkling (might be informal) that you’re going to be funded.  That way you’ll have your approval in hand by the time the contract machinery reaches its conclusion.  If you really want to have your funds in hand as quickly as possible, go ahead and submit your IRB application before you even hear about your proposal reviews/scoring/decision.


Week of September 16, 2019                                      

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Grant writing is persuasive writing – you must attend to both the heart and head of your reviewer.

A good proposal engages the reviewer’s mind, with logical argument and clear structure, but also their values.  It’s critical to paint a picture of why your proposed work matters – what problem do you intend to solve, and what change you expect to make in the world.  This usually means beginning with a needs statement: what is the problem, who is affected, why it matters to them, and why it matters to the country (or world).  Then the investigation or solution you want to undertake to address this condition (your methods) should show clear links to how it’s going to help generate an improved condition.  These proposal elements help the reviewer to care about your work, get on board with your “mission.”  A reviewer who believes your work is important to the world will make more effort in reading your proposal, and probably will score it higher.


Week of September 23, 2019                                       

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: In general, your proposal story will convey why, what, how, where, when and who.

Most proposals should start by explaining why the condition you want to address is important and what makes your approach/solution to this condition significant.  Then you’ll explain what you intend to do (strategy), and then describe how, where and when you’ll do it (methods and timeline).  Finally you’ll need to persuade reviewers that you’re the right person to do this work and you have the skills and resources required to be successful (the “who”).


Week of September 30, 2019                                       

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: The hardest part of writing is getting outside your own head to be able to recognize what may be unclear to others. A reader will see what you say with different eyes.

Recruit a diverse group of colleagues to assess your proposal drafts at multiple stages.  Proposal reviewers don’t live inside your head!  You may be making assumptions or leaps of logic that are perfectly sensible to you but can lose your reviewers.  Critical readers will help you identify where more explanation or examples are needed, or how a paragraph doesn’t hang together.  They’ll tell you where they get lost in the overall organization, or in a single sentence.  They’ll help you see what you’ve assumed that you need to make explicit.  The more folks you can have read drafts, the more you’ll simulate the reactions you might get from reviewers.  But choose your readers well, provide them with ample time to respond, and think ahead to who you’d like to review your work at which stage of its development.  And like in a writing group, tell your readers what you need from them at the stage of writing you’re sharing.  Is it early in your process, with time for them to critically assess your basic program model?  Or are you at the final stage where you only need a proofreader?


Week of October 7, 2019                                         

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Separating your Self from your Writing is a key challenge in becoming an effective writer. 

Let your words be just something you’re working on (like building a rock wall), not your babies.  Each rock can be replaced by another; there’s no perfect way to put it together.  It’s just that some will fit better in the open space, and fit better with what is to follow.  Good writing usually requires scribbling down more than you will need (collecting a larger supply of rocks than you’ll use), and then removing and rearranging till you have the puzzle worked out to your satisfaction.  The goal is not to include every rock, no matter how much you might like them all, but to construct a wall (a text) that’s stable and functional (and hopefully attractive in its own way).  You might find the leftover passages (and rocks) useful in constructing something else, or maybe not, but what’s important is you get your idea across and the reader doesn’t have to work hard to understand it.  Let go of what you’ve written and read it dispassionately as if you occupied another’s shoes  You’ll need to get your ego out of the way if you aspire to edit your own work (or accept editing from another) to achieve clarity, precision and beauty.  And remember this: no matter how good you get at reviewing your own writing, you’ll never see everything that might get in a reader’s way.  That’s why the best way to learn how to write well, as well as to become an effective critic of your own work (develop that objective eye), is by allowing editors help you.  A good editor is anyone who can help you see your product as others might see it, and correct it in order to convey your desired impression.


Week of October 14, 2019                                       

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Do effective academics toss aside papers that aren’t published with the first submission? Don’t expect to get funded the first time either. You only get funded if you (re)submit!

Few grant writers are funded their first time out, and even experienced proposal submitters regularly get rejections.  Is the problem with the idea, or with how you’ve presented it?  If you really believe in your idea, talk through the rejection with the funder or your colleagues to see what you can do to make the proposal more competitive.  If a particular funder doesn’t resonate with the idea, perhaps another will.  If the problem was the presentation, you may do better to stick with the first funder.  “Practice makes perfect” applies to grant-writing as much as sports or other talents.  A rejection can be discouraging after all your effort, but how have you met other challenges?  Most academic papers at a minimum require a “revise and resubmit” and you likely have had to try multiple journals to publish some papers.  Grant proposals are the same type of challenge (though the competition in some cases is greater). 


Week of October 21 2019                                   

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Budget writing is a creative process of project design. A clear budget goes a long way toward achieving your funding aspirations.

Writing a budget is a creative process of going from a big idea to a concrete vision.  There’s nothing like writing a budget to clarify your program or research plan.  To generate realistic budget projections you need to imagine who is going to do what to accomplish your objectives, when, and for how long.  And in order to do that work, what resources or travel will they need?  A clear budget (and work plan) is also critical in persuading a funder to trust you with their money; it’s central to your proposal.  You don’t get funded just based on a compelling budget, but you can lose a grant because of a poorly written budget.  Work up a preliminary budget as soon as you have a clear concept of your aims and your pathway to getting there.  That will help you be more specific as you write your proposal narrative that describes what you’re going to do.

Week of October 28, 2019                                           

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Keep your own detailed background budget with notes as you prepare the funder’s forms. It will help you write the budget narrative.

Proposal writing can be more vexing and take longer if you record budget numbers without remembering how you generated those numbers.  Writing an Excel formula for each budget item is a good start but remind yourself as you generate them what the formulas mean.  20 people x $10/meal x 3 meals?  Or 10 people x $20/meal x 3 meals?  Whichever it is, it will be helpful to spell it out in your budget narrative.  Picking numbers out of a hat to put into a funder’s worksheet won’t serve you, and it won’t help you convince a funder that you have a solid basis for your budget request (a component of their assessment whether you’ll be a reliable user of their funds).  A formula will better ensure your budget is adequate but not excessive.  Bear in mind that the numbers you transfer to a funder’s worksheet will be whole numbers rather than the fractions that might result from formulas, so finish their worksheet before you complete your budget narrative to ensure the worksheet and narrative are consistent.


Week of November 4, 2019                                           

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Find yourself a mentor by engaging with those whose work you most admire.

Everyone does better with the help of a good mentor.  Find a mentor who has good people skills and suits your temperament, not just expertise in your profession.  Sometimes you’ll find a mentor by cold-calling a leader in your field (or introducing yourself at a conference).  Or don’t be afraid to ask a senior colleague.  Other times look to those colleagues or your institutional leaders to set you up with a mentor.  Just as important is learning how to be a good mentee!  Be clear about what you want to learn or what kind of support you need.  It’s generally helpful to have two or more different mentors to assist you with different aspects of your work.  Listen to your mentors.  If you’ve chosen well, you should trust and act on their advice.  Check out Zerzan et al (2009), “Making the most of mentors: a guide for mentees,” Academic Medicine.


Week of November 11, 2019                                         

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Remind yourself, reviewers are looking for reasons to skip past your hard work, in order to reduce their own workload. Don’t give them any!

Reviewers generally have piles and piles of proposals to review, so don’t make it easy for them to write yours off (which helps them reduce their workload!).  First they’ll likely look for whether you followed all their application rules.  Your proposal may not even get reviewed if you haven’t adhered to guidelines or provided all the proposal elements – they said 1.5” margins, you used 1” and now it’s in the trashcan.  Second, reviewers may look to the coherence of your proposal narrative – is it easy to read and understand?  If not, rather than struggle with it they may just write you off.  Next they may focus on whether you’ve justified your model of action – is your proposed program or research built on a solid foundation?  In that assessment they’ll also consider these questions: is your model addressing an important problem in a dynamic way? is your research innovative and will it make a significant contribution?  Keep your writing clear and lively so they’ll feel compelled to keep reading! 


Week of November 18, 2019                                         

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Use charts, tables and graphics to help make your case and keep your reviewer’s mind fresh.

Strategic use of graphs, charts and white space lets your reviewers breathe.  You want reviewers to stay alive to your work and read all the way through!  Charts, tables and graphics should be self-explanatory (possibly by including a legend) and easily legible (not too tiny).  They should help you sell your story and clearly align with the logic of your document.  Depending on the funder (read the RFP!) your tables may have to use the same fonts and line-spacing as required overall, so these special features may not save you space.


Week of November 25, 2019                                             

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: What is an “outcome” and why is it core funder vocabulary? Funders are out to change the world. Each “outcome” you deliver helps them achieve that. 

Outcomes are the change that happens in the world as a result of your project, what difference you made for your clientele, for example.  Generally outcomes are divided as short, medium or long-range, or they may be divided as learning outcomes, behavioral outcomes, and system outcomes.  Outcomes are not the products you generate in your project (such as workshops and trainings, reports and publications).  Rather they are what you expect to happen as a result of those products (which also are labeled as “outputs”).  So what did your participants gain or learn from your workshops (learning outcomes)?  What policy will be affected by your report (system outcome)?  What new skills or behaviors did participants adopt as a result of your training (behavioral outcomes)?  Funders are looking for what change you effected, rather than what you did.  Outputs versus levels of outcomes are important concepts for your logic model (see #FunWithLogic in this series).


Week of December 2, 2019                                        

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Do you want to know a vendor will stand behind their product? Your attention to “evaluation” is your funder’s guarantee. 

Many grant-makers, even for some research projects, require you to evaluate your project.  A good evaluation is planned at the beginning of the project, and usually includes both “formative” (process evaluation) and “summative” (outcomes evaluation) components.  Funders who want evaluations often ask you to use an “external” evaluator – somebody outside the sphere of your project.  Sometimes they expect the evaluator to be outside of your institution as well.  It’s helpful to collect a list of possible evaluators you hear about from others so you can bring someone on-board fairly quickly and elicit a letter of commitment for the proposal.  Your evaluator should collaborate closely on the evaluation design, and ideally help write that section of the proposal.


Week of December 9, 2019                                           

Biddy Bird Grants Advice: Most good writing requires 3 to a dozen re-writes. Never submit a proposal that only you have read! 

ALWAYS have someone besides yourself review important writing.  These might be a writing group member, a colleague, a relative or a professional.  Every person who has been funded appreciates early comments and reactions from critical readers.  No matter how good a writer you might be, you can always improve.  Good editors won’t judge your writing, they’ll just help you express yourself more clearly.  Everyone starts the process somewhere, so don’t worry if you feel like you didn’t leave school an effective writer.  Fear of judgment will never help you build that skill!  If you want others to see and benefit from your writing, or participate with your project by funding it, then getting another’s perspective on the writing will only make it easier for the target readers to grasp your intent.