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Up to the Last Minute: A Cautionary Tale

We have read over and over again that it is better to submit a proposal earlier than on the day it is due. Yet even with the best intentions, we often end up working right up until that deadline. As grant writers, we all have tales to tell: horror stories that are funny now, but definitely not then. Here's my embarrassing, completely true story. 


I had been trudging through an online proposal for a large, national corporate funder. It was one of those long-shot, “the money was too good” opportunities that fit our program, but probably fit about a million other programs too. There was a lot of iteration and many opinions about how to make our request stand out (also known as: too many cooks in the kitchen, and a lot of time trying to satisfy them all.) And I was not working my fastest either because I had more proposals to get out the door.

Finally, the last edit and proofread was completed the morning of the deadline. I logged in to the online portal and saw the grant writer version of the Blue Screen of Death: “This deadline has passed. Applications are no longer being accepted.”

Cue panic. This funder had no program staff listed on their website. The only contact information I had was the help desk for the company hosting the application portal. I double- and triple-checked that yes, in fact, today WAS the deadline… and then:

  1. Emailed support for the online proposal platform, all returned undeliverable.
  2. Called the company's general line hoping to get through to someone who would know what the heck I was talking about. No success.
  3. Walked around my cubicle, flailing my arms in abject terror.
  4. Tracked down the email of someone who might be connected with the foundation arm of this company, using my Google stalking skills.
  5. Cried in a colleague's office.
  6. Called their general line again, with no response.
  7. Ate most of the chocolate in the finance office.
  8. Breathed in.
  9. Calmed down.
  10. Received email from their staff explaining the situation.
  11. Accessed online portal and submitted proposal.
Turns out there was a glitch in the system that converted their 5 p.m. deadline to military time, 5 a.m. And, they were kind enough to extend the deadline a few days to make up for it (but you can bet I did not use those extra days!)

Even though we did not get the grant in the end, I learned a very important lesson: Anything can happen. It looks more professional if you can avoid those problems by submitting a proposal early, and not just in time!

What is your story and what did you learn?

Kat Champigny writes grants for marine research, science education, and community programs at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, ME. 


By: Tamara
On: 09/19/2017 11:15:09
Our development office knows all about the Blue Screen of Death, mostly because our technology is...shall we say, complicated. For that reason, I try never to submit the day proposals are due. I give the team a deadline of the week prior to our final deadline and myself a deadline of 2-3 days before. Still, those last-minute submissions do happen. I think our Finance office needs some chocolate, just in case.
By: Kat
On: 09/19/2017 15:17:49
I was submitting a hard copy proposal with a postmark deadline. The people involved in planning kept changing their minds up until 8 pm. I finally got to the post office where there was a line of people mailing their state tax payments at the deadline. There was even a post office employee reassuring everyone that their envelopes would be postmarked before midnight. Months later, got a rejection from the funder because our postmark was just AFTER midnight--a day too late. After that, the proposals went in the mailbox by 5:00 no matter what.
By: Tracey Martin
On: 09/19/2017 15:33:44
Thanks for sharing your story. You're right, it's funny now but I'm sure it wasn't then. It's good to know others struggle with deadlines and multiple input partners too. We are not alone! We shall eat chocolate to soothe our worried souls!
By: Jennifer Hixon
On: 09/20/2017 08:35:51
This all sounds too familiar! I especially liked the part about eating most of the chocolate in the Finance office. The only sensible response to a crisis! (Only in our case, the chocolate is kept in HR. Finance seems to favor Skittles.)
By: Kat Champigny
On: 09/21/2017 12:27:14
Thanks for sharing, everyone! It's good to know there are other great and terrible stories out there. Stay strong, submit early, and keep the chocolate (or Skittles) coming!

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