Oh, yes they will

3 May

It’s no secret that grant writing is an exacting business. The guidelines for government grants in particular can run to 50 to 100 pages or more. With the attachments, the response to these guidelines (or Request for Proposals–RFPs for the initiated) can be just as long.

Buried in these RFPs are byzantine instructions on how to prepare your proposal–from the specific questions to be answered to the number of pages you should not exceed to what type face to use and of course when the whole thing is due. Ten pages into reading this tome, you have to think to yourself, “Come on, no one will notice if I cheat the margins a little. Who’s going to know if I use 11 point font or 12 point? They’re not really serious about this, are they?”

The answer is of course, YES, very much so. An RFP is a clear (well, most of the time) road map to preparing your proposal. It lays out the expectations of the funder. Who frankly has every right to have expectations on what information they need to have to make a decision about their money.

I am often asked, “Well, what’s the worst that can happen if I cheat the margins or turn in 16 pages instead of 15?” Hmmm… What is it about rules that make people want to break them just to see what they can get away with? Most everyone is pretty clear about not missing a deadline (though less people than you would think), but almost everyone wants to go over page limit or fudge a margin.

Honestly? Reign in your inner rebellious 10-year old and follow the instructions. You’re not proving anything by going your own way on this one. This is the time to establish trust and credibility with the funder by respecting their wishes. Ask any question you like, clarify their instructions, call and email until you are clear on what to do. But do it their way, not the way that is just plain easier for you.

Reading 50 to 100 pages of an RFP isn’t always fun. Okay, rarely is it fun. Okay, it’s just plain old not fun. We will talk later about how to read an RFP and maintain your sanity, but for now just read and respect.

Back to the question at hand–what is the worst that can happen? Let’s go there. What is the worst that you can imagine? Not just not getting the grant, but working so hard on that proposal and…having it disqualified and not even read or scored.

Does it happen? Oh, but yes. Government funders in particular are notorious for doing a screening of the proposals they receive and throwing out those that do not adhere to restrictions on page limits, font sizes, etc. This achieves two things:  1) it holds everyone to the same standards and 2) reduces the number of proposals they have to review.

One of our fine State agencies has a reputation for this. I wrote and submitted a proposal to He Who Shall Not Be Named just this week, and I was par-a-noid about doing everything just right. Especially since the proposal submitted the previous year was kicked out of the process for failing to list both the number and percentage of clients achieving certain goals. Only the number was listed, and even though He Who Shall Not Be Named is perfectly capable of doing the math… So this year I was given the rewrite as a fresh set of eyes. My strategy was that nothing, not a single line or cell was left blank, even if the answer was a simple N/A.

I hope I caught everything, but of course I can’t guarantee that I did. If the submission does get kicked out, I’d rather it be due to a simple oversight than a desire to dip a toe over the line.

Save your rebellious impulses for clothing or even an ill-advised hair cut. Your hair will always grow back. Your proposal will never make it back out of the “does not meet standards” pile.

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