I taught a State & Federal Grant Writing Workshop with the help of Marie and Amy this past week. One of the topics that came up was ‘grant guidelines’. What are they and why are they important?
Grant guidelines are instructions for composing an application. They should specify almost everything needed to put together an application. There is often a focus on formatting specifics. This can come down to fonts, font sizes, spacing, page numbers, page length, margins, characters, word limits, and I have even seen things as specific as the number of lines per page.
Why are there so many rules?
Every organization has their own format and it should be followed to a ‘T’.
I have spoken to program officers who explain the reasons behind some of their instructions, others don’t know or choose not to elaborate on the guidelines. It truly doesn’t matter. The rules are there, and they are meant to be followed.
I had a foundation require 17 copies of an application, all paper clipped in the upper left corner. Not staples, not in the right corner, not in the middle, not in a three-ring binder, etc. They expect this followed exactly. For them, it is because they have 17 board members who review proposals and they want all of them in the exact same format to compare, make references to certain pages, etc. Makes sense to me. Wouldn’t much matter if it didn’t make sense. Right?
Some people don’t bother to fully read the instructions before beginning to compose an application. This is foolish to me. You may learn of a requirement you can’t meet or a formatting rule that will be easier if done from the beginning of the document. My rule of thumb is this:
Never write a single word of the proposal until you have read every word of the guidelines.
I have spoken with foundation staff who use guidelines as a way to eliminate applications before the review process. Someone didn’t double space their proposal? Discarded. Someone didn’t use 12 point font? Discarded. Someone didn’t include their board list and include the city of residence of each board member? Discarded.
For especially competitive grant cycles, there has to be a way to cull the pile. This is the easiest in my opinion. If an organization can’t follow the rules on an application, can they manage the dollars if they win an award?
I remember speaking to a foundation about an online application once and it was interesting to learn about their character limits. I could type way more characters than were allowed for each answer and I couldn’t’ figure out why. I called the foundation and was told that I could type as much as I wanted, but only the set number of characters they defined who print out when they printed my application for review. Wow! Glad I asked!!! Just keep following the guidelines.