Freelance Fridays: Lessons From a Failed Grant Application


Everybody falls now and then. Photo via Visual Hunt

A deadline blew by this week.

Not on purpose, of course. I didn’t know about it until after it was far too late. That’s the thing with deadlines, though. Each time you miss one, you stand to lose major opportunities. This one got expensive. You don’t get jobs if you don’t pursue them, and making this deadline was particularly important.

It’s a good a time as any to talk about failure, I suppose.

It’s Round 2 for a grant I reached for—and lost—last year. In preparation for the new grant cycle, I’ve been going over the previous application, searching for ways to improve my client’s chances of success.
The thing with grant writing, of course, is that there’s no guarantee that a particular application will work. They’re mos

tly long-winded crapshoots. It’s entirely possible that I won’t win anyway, because crapshoots are like that. Still, I found a few takeaways from my previous attempt that I’m working on for next time.

Freelance Fridays: Coffee
Drink up freelancers, it’s Friday!

We bit off too much. The original project scope was not narrow enough, which became clear in hindsight. We were trying to do too many things at once. I don’t believe we requested too much money; if anything, we could have asked for more. We needed a tighter vision of what we wanted to do, however, and we needed to present it more clearly.

Resolution: Examine the project proposal for co

mponents that seem too vague or do not fit well with the other elements, and throw them out. Work with the client to fund those parts of the job another way.

We didn’t have all our ducks in a row. At application time, we still needed certain permits. In addition, there were a few feasibility questions that had not been fully resolved. Had we gotten the money but failed to obtain the rest of the documentation we needed, the entire project could have been held up or scrapped.

Of course, we didn’t have to have all the details perfect before applying, and we made a good case for why we expected things to work regardless. Unfortunately, in a very competitive environment, minor details are make-or-break things.

Resolution: Obtain the outstanding permits. Review any remaining potential holdups and discuss what parts of the project could still go forward, no matter what.

My client didn’t have skin in the game. It’s quite typical for grant programs to require recipients to put up matches, either cash or in-kind. The reasoning is pretty simple: Why should the program give you money for your project if you aren’t willing to pitch in yourself? If the applicant doesn’t have money to add to the project pot, an in-kind contribution (think donated time, labor or physical items) may be acceptable. But while this particular program “recommended” applicants plan to put money in, it didn’t “require” them to do so. Of course, that meant some people were going to ask for money without expressing intent to contribute anything on their own. Others knew better. Which would you fund? Yeah, I thought so.

Resolution: Work with the client to determine how the client will be contributing to the project, and rewrite the application to reflect that change.

What have you learned from your writing failures?

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