Insider Tips for Funding Success
Welcome to the first post in a series to help you better understand the world of grant writing and government funding as part of an overall business or nonprofit development strategy. This series starts out with the basics, assuming no prior knowledge of grant writing and government funding, then gets deeper on behalf of those who might want to compete to win launch or expansion money. To put it simply, government funding is not for everyone. Through these posts, I will provide information and point you to additional resources and help you determine whether a grant strategy is right for your organization and if so, how best to develop effective and competitive proposals.
In case you don’t know me, I am a cultural anthropologist by training, but some unexpected twists and turns in my career led to a position in a “soft money” center at a university in 1992. A soft money center has to earn its own way, and writing effective grant and contract proposals is its lifeblood. In 2002 I left the center and formed Pathfinder Research, Inc. to offer business consulting and grant writing assistance to a wider group of organizations. I now help entrepreneurs, university departments, business incubators, and other organizations to develop effective proposals for grants and contracts.
I get a lot of questions from entrepreneurs and managers of small businesses and nonprofits, such as the following:
• Can you write the proposal for us if we give you all of our data?
• Can we pay you for your help after we win the grant?
• How easy is it to get grant funding?
• We sent in a proposal for funding but didn’t get funded—why?
• We want to write a proposal but the application form is very hard to understand—can you help?
Startups—whether for-profit companies or nonprofit organizations—typically do not have any experience with the world of contracts and grants. That is understandable, especially for startups and small businesses. This blog is intended to answer these questions and help you make more informed decisions.
I’ll begin by addressing the question I hear most often from entrepreneurs:
Can you write the proposal for us if we give you the data?
My response is this — grant writing is a team effort.
No outside grant writer can ever know enough about your organization to craft a good proposal. You must educate the grant writer about your organization, key management and staff, products and/or services, intended markets and customers, and resources.
In some cases, you should have the grant writer sign a non-disclosure agreement or confidentiality agreement if you plan to share proprietary technical information.
You should communicate regularly and frequently with your grant writer and be prepared to draft the technical and other specific business-related portions of the proposal—things like the design of a set of experiments needed for a proof-of-concept, or the description of the end product and how it is or would be superior to existing and competing products already in the marketplace, or a description of the path to market including how regulatory requirements will be met.
Your grant writer can refine, edit and reorganize if needed to make sure that these most critical sections provide the type of information sought by the funding agency. I frequently use web-based tools so that I and my clients can work on proposal drafts together efficiently.
In my next post, I want to address another basic question most startups have—how to best utilize a grant writer.