Gearing Up for Grants: Don't Make These Mistakes

Grant season is underway and many of you are working around the clock to prepare your Basic Center Program (BCP) and Street Outreach Program (SOP) funding proposal(s).  NSPN understands how important this funding is and hopes this "Gearing up for Grants" email series has been helpful.  While you are writing narratives, searching for statistics, and tracking down letters of support, NSPN provides the following information for your assistance.  Best wishes to all of the organizations preparing proposals.  Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions. NSPN is here to help!

Common grant writing mistakes that can sink your proposal:

  1. Focusing on a problem in your organization, rather than in the community you serve. Your organization may desperately need funding.  But a funder's goals are not achieved when your organization makes payroll. Focus instead on the people who need your services. The grant proposal should be based on problems your organization solves in the community.  Clearly describe how the funds you're seeking will allow your organization to do more for the people it serves - even if you're asking for operating support or equipment. Don't focus on seeking money to fund a staff person; focus on money to carry out a program that solves a community problem.

  2. The problem statement is not compelling. Your proposal could be well-written and follow all the rules, but if it does not provide the funder a compelling reason to fund your project, your project will likely be overlooked.  Describe the importance and magnitude of the problem in the community. Why is this an urgent problem? Why does it need solving? What will happen if it's not solved - or even better, what will it look like when you do solve it? In addition, funders have specific focus areas included in the RFP as well as on their website, so adapt your problem statement on the concerns of the funder. 
  3. You have confused outcomes with outputs.  Funders want to have an impact with their dollars. You need to move beyond simply describing the services your organization provides. Focus instead on the results of those services. How will your work fix the problem that you described in your proposal? How will the community, and the population you serve, be different or forever changed as a result of the program you are proposing?

    Outputs are products created, training received, workshops held, and youth served.  Outcomes are the results of those outputs - the knowledge you've gained, the behaviors you've changed, the problems you've solved.

  4. Evaluation of the program is not included in your project description. This element is frequently left out of proposals, and making sure to include it can help yours stand out. Continuous evaluation of the effectiveness of your program, and the services you're providing, is essential - not just to your proposal, but to your organization and the community. How do you really know your work is solving the problem highlighted in your proposal? What will you measure? Explain the methods you'll use to carefully measure the impact of your proposal on the community. Include how the end users of your services - the people in the community you're helping - are involved in evaluating the program. Keep in mind that you're assessing the outcomes (decrease in homelessness in the community, for instance), not the outputs (presentations held about risks of homelessness).

  5. The budget doesn't match the proposal, is not reasonable, is too generic, or contains items the funder doesn't allow.  The committee evaluating your proposal will have seen many, many budgets from similar organizations over the years. Be transparent, specific, reasonable, and closely follow their directions. The evaluator will know if your budget is too high or too low. Making the budget unreasonably low may be tempting because it makes it seem that you are stretching the funder's dollar. However, evaluators can view this as a demonstration of lack of experience on the organization's part, and you may get passed over for someone with a more reasonable budget. Similarly, don't pad the salaries or include unnecessary expenses. Make sure all of the elements of your proposal are reflected in your budget. Finally, funders state clearly what they will and will not fund. One of the easiest ways to get eliminated from consideration is to include budget items the funder has stated they don't fund. Read carefully and follow the instructions exactly. If you're unsure even after researching, contact the funder to ask whether the budget item is eligible for funding.
Proposal Reviews

It's important to make sure you get someone with "fresh eyes" to review your proposal for errors. NSPN offers grant proposal reviews for Organizational Development members. Grants are reviewed on a first come, first served basis. Review opportunities are filling up and we encourage all Organizational Development members to take advantage of this member benefit. To request a grant review, please click here:

Don't have the Organizational Development package? Learn more and sign up today:

If you would like to verify your membership status, contact your membership team at [email protected] or 502.635.3660. 

Watch for more NSPN "Gearing up for Grants" emails.  You may also visit and contact us at [email protected] if you have questions. 


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