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Why Waiting until the 11th Hour is Never a Good Idea

We have all been there – you work until the wee hours on a grant application that is due in one week, and you mutter to yourself how this process isn't working. While everyone has his/her own reasons for waiting until the last minute, whether the choice is yours or not, those in the grants profession realize that your chances of success become significantly diminished the less time you have to carefully prepare and construct a high quality grant proposal. In order to remove ourselves from this chaos, I am offering some suggestions of when to pursue an opportunity, and when it is best to walk away - based on my experiences. Hopefully this can help you avoid those late night hours, and also preserve your reputation and sanity.


Jump in, the Water's Fine
I have found that even if an organization has a wealth of experience in a particular area, there are often internal and external factors that impact whether or not to pursue an opportunity. I realize that fundraising is a complex process, but greater success stems from the use of a thoughtful and strategic approach. You will be likely safe from unnecessary work, if a majority of these factors are met:
  1. The organization has a strong capacity to manage a quick turnaround such as, resources, leadership buy-in, equipment, planning, etc.
  2. You have solidified the roles and responsibilities of key players so everything has a task including project management and review of application for completeness and flow.
  3. The organization has a robust project design so you are not starting from scratch.
  4. You can leverage another proposal that the organization has written on your project or program.
  5. A completed program budget has been developed or at least drafted.
  6. You have an in-house or outsourced evaluator who has drafted an evaluation strategy, and/or has leadership approval to devise an evaluation strategy.
  7. You have the required attachments prepared already, or someone is tasked with completing them because these can take a while.
  8. You have previous experience submitting federal applications and are familiar with all the registrations (DUNS, SAM, and submission requirements.
  9. Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) are already developed for collaborative application proposals.
  10. Regularly scheduled meetings and calls are developed to ensure completion of all deliverables.
Hold your Horses
There may also be instances, however, when your progress may be stifled by lack of leadership buy-in, resources, documents, and messaging, which can severely hinder the completion of an application. You might want to consider the following as the justification for you walking away from an opportunity:
  1. Lack of clear project/program design or strategic plan.
  2. Lack of resources – brunt of work will fall to one person- probably you!
  3. Budget is not defined, nor does it map to the proposal narrative.
  4. Evaluation strategy is not developed, and a point person for completion has not been assigned.
  5. Focus of pursuing application is based on meeting fundraising goals, and not whether the application is a strong fit.
  6. The narrative is quite lengthy and the organization cannot complete the requirements within the limited amount of time.
  7. Organization is new to federal grant applications, and unaware of the experience.
  8. Collaborative partners have not yet held a brainstorming session, and may have different ideas concerning responsibilities and levels of effort.
  9. Lack of communication throughout the application process.
  10. Poor organizational practices that indicate something is substantively wrong - there are conflicting messages or some borderline unethical practices.
In the best of all possible worlds, we would have ample time, money and resources. While we can't ask for perfection, we can save ourselves from frustration and angst.