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You Want to Fax What? Submission Nightmares

Seven months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy said the following in a speech. “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word crisis. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger---but recognize the opportunity.” This is still a great quote, and it points to many situations grant professionals face during the submission process. We can all learn so much from those crisis situations, and I hope you take away some tips from the situations described here to avoid particular submission nightmares. Some of these happened to me, leading to valuable lessons.


Following RFP instructions: A new grant writer/manager was recently hired in a large school district without any previous grant experience. She was immediately thrown into the busy world of state and federal grants. A grant consultant was procured to help with a large grant project to take some of the burden off this woman and others due to many leadership changes in the district. The consultant spent 1,000 or more hours on a very large proposal, and soon it was time to submit. She shared the submission guidelines with the district grant writer multiple times, including specific instructions that the proposal must be mailed or hand-delivered with three hard copies and original signatures. Faxing was not allowed. The day before the grant deadline arrived, the district prepared to fax the grant proposal to the state. Despite this crisis, the grant consultant caught it in time and the grant proposals were hand delivered on the deadline date. This is a great example of what happens when you are thrown into the grant profession with little training or support. Always make sure the person submitting the grant understands the grant submission guidelines.

Changing budget total at last minute: Most grant guidelines specify a maximum funding amount to include in the proposal budget. For a multi-year state grant, a grant consultant meticulously prepared the budget, and made sure finance officials were included on the grant team. It took numerous requests to get all the amounts needed along with independent research. The last week before the grant deadline, someone on the grant team added costs to the budget without notifying the grant consultant and went over the maximum limit allowed in the proposal. Luckily, the grant consultant caught it during her final review, and the crisis was averted. Correct and detailed budgets are integral to winning grant awards. Don't wait until the last minute to make sure they are accurate and match the proposal narrative.

“I thought by not answering your emails or returning your phone calls that you knew I agreed with everything in the grant proposal." After multiple emails and phone calls to a school principal involved on a federal grant team, a grant consultant was frustrated with not receiving any responses. She decided to speak to the administration representative in charge of the grant team, and convened another grant planning meeting. During the meeting, the principal responded with the above statement. The administrator told the grant consultant, “You need to let us know when we have reached DEFCON level.” The consultant's response: “We are already there, sir.” Require grant teams to meet early and often. “Make sure your potential clients understand that grant proposal development is 80 percent planning and 20 percent writing” ( Keep the communication lines open, understand how busy everyone is, and stress to all involved the importance of their contributions to the grant project. They are the ones who must implement the grant program, and should be aware of what has been proposed in the grant application before you push that submission button.

Consultants submitting grants: As a grant consultant, I'm on the fence about this. Clients waiting until the last second to submit a grant you wrote is a nail-biting experience. They often hire a consultant because they are too busy to write grants, and appreciate not having to worry about the submission process. On the other hand, a client submitting a grant demonstrates buy-in, ownership, and fiscal responsibility for carrying through with the project. If applying online for state or federal grants, a consultant often has no right to submit since they are not an authorized representative/employee of the organization. Sometimes, you cannot even find the grant questions without registering online with certain funders. The client must have email addresses and passwords used to register and submit grants; this appears as a privacy issue to me, and besides, one day the consultant will go away, and the organization will continue. How do you handle this issue in order to avoid a submission crisis?

A few more submission nightmares: Immediately before submitting a grant, you discover that you never received permission from the right organization representative or government authority. An example includes missing a required signature from a Governing Board President or union representative. The grant was never submitted, and would have been thrown in the trash through preliminary review. Another example involves a grant pro arriving at the post office five minutes before it closed to submit a multi-million-dollar grant application in time. Lastly, one organization thought they could fly to deliver the grant on time, but flights were delayed. The grant was not submitted. Don't fall victim to the top ten grant pro horror stories from #grantchat here:        

Jenny Braswell, a fellow grant consultant, offers great advice ( “Things are going to happen. People are going to drop the ball, information is going to arrive late and change everything, someone is going to leave town right when you need a signature, the internet is going to go out just before submission day. Don't dwell in the frustration that these troubles bring – find a solution and get it done.”

How will you turn your next submission crisis into an opportunity for your growth and help others on your grant team learn with you?