At its foundation, grant writing is about building relationships. For applicants, the relationship can establish advocates for proposed projects and provide clarity on funding agency priorities and expectations. For funders, the relationship can provide the basis for new, innovative ways to address their organizational missions. As with any relationship, there are best practices that can serve to strengthen the ties.
Spend Time Together
Building a relationship takes time. As you begin to explore the potential of new funding opportunities, look for the names of program officers or foundation contacts connected with grant programs that appear to be a good fit for your project. Introduce yourself with an email or telephone call, and provide a brief synopsis of your proposed project idea. Federal agencies generally have program officers or directors assigned to specific grant programs. Additionally, funding from many private foundations starts with a conversation rather than a full application. There are, however, some funding agencies that explicitly request that applicants not contact them directly. This is particularly true for some large private foundations and corporate funders. In such a case, follow the preferred procedures outlined in their grant guidelines. The prescribed form of initial contact is often a brief letter of inquiry. Our website provides suggestions for how to prepare for your initial contact with a funding agency and questions you might ask.
Share Mutual Interests
When preparing for your initial visit, spend time doing your homework about the funding agency’s interests. Consider how your project interests may fit within their priorities and how the project may serve to advance their mission. It may help to briefly articulate your shared interests through drafting a brief project outline (alternately termed a concept paper or white paper). The outline can provide a launching point for a conversation by refining the project idea for your own purposes, framing a discussion over the phone, and/or providing a funding agency contact with a project overview. Ideas for developing an outline can be found on our website.
As you develop a grant application and questions arise, consider reaching out to the designated funding agency contact for clarifications. While it is not a standard offering, some agencies provide review of and feedback for full proposal drafts if they are received by a specified date. (NEH, for example, offers this for many of their grant programs.) Before posing questions to the funding agency, ensure you have thoroughly reviewed the grant guidelines and other agency guidance so that you are not asking questions that are addressed elsewhere. If you are not certain whether a particular question is appropriately directed to a funding agency contact, the friendly faces at your local Office of Research & Sponsored Programs can provide feedback as well.
Applicants who connect personally with their funding agencies have the opportunity to gain insights that may not be readily available through written guidelines. Reaching out also provides an opportunity to familiarize funding agency contacts with the merits of your ideas, potentially strengthening your proposal’s competitiveness. The designated contacts for grant programs are often the same people who make the funding decisions, and their feedback can be an invaluable edge to developing a strong proposal in support of your project.