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Bob Wittig

About Bob

Government Grant Writing Success Begins in a Coffee Shop

After working for a large nonprofit organization (where I had only limited development exposure), I decided to work for a small agency where as development director I would learn how to do "everything." "Everything" included government grants.

Government grant writing was an unknown to me and I didn't really know what to expect. The day came when the request for proposal (RFP) was issued and it was a zillion times more complicated than the local foundation common grant form. Panic set in.

I was the only fundraising staff, so the entire grant fell on my shoulders (not to mention all of the other fundraising deadlines that were imminent). Plus my agency was already receiving money from this funding source and it made up a large percentage of its budget.

Well, to make a long story short, the grant was refunded. But this began my government grant writing journey over eight years ago. Since then, I have written many more government grants. I have gone from doing the entire grant myself, to working with consultants, to having the luxury of having several other colleagues work on it with me.

What's evolved from all of this is a government grant writing process. It maybe part logic or maybe it is part luck. But I swear by it.

This process has worked for new government grants, for ones that have been funded several times already, for times when I had to do it alone, and for times when I had people helping me. Using it resulted in many of our grants being scored in the top 10 percent with one receiving a perfect score (I just put this in to build credibility!). So here it goes...

Get RFP and proceed directly to coffee shop! When I first got my hands on the RFP, I went to the nearest coffee shop and bought myself a large coffee, got comfortable and just read the RFP. I didn't make any notes or highlight anything. I simply read it from cover to cover and got a good overview. If you're like me, sometimes I get so busy highlighting or note-making that I don't really focus on what I'm reading. Even though I was "relaxing" while I read it, my adrenaline was already in high flow (maybe that was the coffee?!)

Re-read with two colors of highlighters. After my "relaxing" read through, I was now ready to go back through the RFP armed with two colors of highlighters. I used one color to highlight key points, words, or phrases that should be addressed or used in the proposal. The other color was used to highlight attachments. Using two colors helped separate out narrative key points from required attachments. Plus, I have found that sometimes an attachment requested in the body of the RFP does not appear on the attachment checklist. I may be paranoid but I always attached everything that was requested regardless of where it appeared in the RFP.

Create a Plan of Attack Table. At this point I took the time to create a table that included most of the highlighting information from above. The table had the following columns:

Section/Category/Objective/ Documentation Needed RFP Page Number Comments Assigned To/Due Date
Objective 1.1: State the Needs Being Met Page 1 Need to update census figures used. Find out if local statistics have been updated. Key word to use: marginalized Bob2/1/2004
Organizational Chart Page 50 Old org chart needs to be updated. See Bob before doing New Intern2/5/2004
10 11x14 envelopes addressed to: Government Grant
123 Main Street
Washington, DC 20005
Page 4 Must have exact language on each envelope. Be sure to refer to page 4. Admin
And so on...

This table became my "roadmap," so to speak. Depending on the RFP, it could be as long as 20 pages. I also left a few blank rows at the bottom of the table because invariably some other "item" or "piece of information" would crop up. Having the information in a table form gave me a certain sense of control. And, it could be sorted in a variety of ways to facilitate work flow. I also could cross of items as they were completed which gave me a sense of progress as the deadline loomed. I always assigned due dates that were at least one week before the actual grant deadline -- just in case there were some problems.

Create a Questions Table: I wasn't quite done with table creation yet. Sometimes I thought I was reading Greek when reading a government RFP or a statement in one section would be contradicted in another section. Making a list of questions helped ensure that I wouldn't forget a vital one that could send me into panic mode on the day of proposal submission. The table looked something like this:


Question RFP Page Number Answer
Page 10 says 8 copies with attachments but checklist says 1 original with attachments and 9 copies with no attachments. Page 10 and Page 17 1 original with original attachments and 5 copies with no attachments.
And so on...

Attend Technical Assistance Session: Now of course my ultimate goal was to have all of the above done (and maybe even some of the writing) before the technical assistance meeting. Especially with new government grant opportunities, I always went to the TA sessions and by the time I did all of the above, I was pretty familiar with the RFP and knew what questions I needed answering. Even for renewals, I always found it helpful to be in attendance and ask an impressive question!

Now the Fun Really Begins. Once I got to this point, I wasn't necessarily home free but at least I could feel pretty comfortable that I had done my homework and I wasn't missing something buried in the RFP. Now the focus was on writing a solid, persuasive proposal that incorporated key words and phrases that were peppered throughout the RFP.

End Where You Began: By using this process, what resulted for me was usually having the entire proposal completed at least one day in advance of the deadline. Then typically I could spend the day before the deadline photocopying the entire proposal and checking to be sure that all of the pages were copied.

On the grant due date -- I would bring the proposal in first thing and be done! I would head back to the office and most likely begin another grant project or give attention to something or other that had been neglected while I was focused on the government grant.

But my advice to you is to go back to the coffee shop, relax, and read something enjoyable rather than rushing back to the office craziness. Hope this helps and as always, good luck!



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