Deciphering the secret language of grants

Grant writing! The very thought it can make you want to run away! Has someone ever placed a request for proposal on your desk, demanding that you be the one to write the grant and get the money so that the organization or program can keep on going? How are you as a member of the law enforcement community going to find that kind of time? Where and how do you start this lovely task? What do you do first? Where do you find the code book to decipher the grant writing argot into English so you can actually understand what the funder is asking you to do?

These are just a few of the questions Police1 and PoliceGrantsHelp is hoping to answer with this new resource for its law enforcement community. This column is being developed to help you work your way through the grant jungle to get the resources and tools you need to make your work more productive, get the tools you need and to meet the ever growing demands on law enforcement. The hows and whys, the ins and outs, the preparation shorts cuts and the deciphering code to grant jargon will all be attacked in future issues about grants.

Over the past decade in my LEA grant writing classes, I have worked with more than three thousand men and women from as many organizations nationwide who have taught me many things about their needs and difficulties with grant writing. With subsequent issues of this monthly column, I will begin the task of dissecting the grant process to make it work for you. Hopefully you will pick up a few pointers along the way.

Firsts things first, after interviewing all kinds of funders (federal, state and private) over the years I have developed a list of funder’s “pet peeves”. These are things which funders say are important for all grant writers to think about as they begin to write an effective grant application.

1. Speak English. Your proposal should be easy to read and crystal clear in scope, need, problem, project description and what you are really going to do. Grant reviewers like reading a proposal that speaks to the funder’s mission. Many tell me that they get grumpy when they waste their time reading proposals and in the end have no clue what the grant seeker is trying to accomplish.

2. Please Read: Funders want you to read ALL of their materials to get to know their passion and mission. It is your responsibility to read all documents, search and understand their website profile. Get to know the culture and personality of the funder. Get to know the funder. They only date people who really know them! Speed dating is not allowed!

3. Pay Attention: The grant seeker must come to a full understanding of the funder’s guidelines and application procedures. Formatting is very important. Follow the formatting rules so the reviewers may focus on your content rather than your mistakes. The funder should never doubt your ability to manage a grant if you can’t follow the rules for submission. Mother always told you to follow the directions!

4. Be Complete: Always remember to include your contact information with your application. Believe it or not, many grant applications are sent to the funders without contact information. If they can’t find you it makes it very hard for them to give you the money. Besides, if you and your organization are prepared for grant competition you would not have to complete the grant at 3 AM allowing for mistakes such as this one!

5. Submit Early: Don’t wait till the last minute to submit your grant proposal. Many e-grants systems send out busy signals the last few days, especially the federal system. Besides, last minute applications make a bad impression and it makes the funder work harder making them tired. Never exhaust a funder!

6. Get it Right: Make sure you get the name of the funder correct. Many applicants submit the same grant proposal to several funders usually leaving the name of the “other” funder in the application. That is just plain tacky!

7. Be logical: Create a proposal that makes sense and flows through a year sequentially. The timeline, goals and objectives, project description must be in order of when they will occur. Three by five cards can help you “shuffle” the major steps in your grant. Each need should have a stated objective, activity and evaluation statement. Confusion only ends up in the circular file!

8. Well Spent: Develop a budget that is complete and clear. Say what you are hoping to accomplish and don’t forget to buy what you need not want. For example, if developing a training program, be certain to include where, how many times, with what materials for what learning outcomes which will justify those budget items listed. The funders are very good at finding missing links so create a complete puzzle with a clear picture!

9. Be Professional: Proposal formats are essential. When scoring a grant application the formatting provides a guideline for “leveling the playing field”. If they all look the same they are easier to compare. Learn the professional formatting and you will never be turned down for the typeface.(Psst….The secret is Times New Roman 12 for narrative, 14 for headings, single space for paragraphs on 8 ½ by 11 24 pound white paper, no binding or stapling of any kind) But if the funder has other formatting parameters, always follow their directions first!

10. Just Right: Winning proposals are not too long or too short. They are just right. The funder wants just enough to make your point clear. The guidelines may limit your proposal to 10 pages and the scoring says the problem statement is worth 20 points. That means your problem statement should be no longer than 2 pages. Make sense?? Map out your writing to match the scoring! That will really make the funder happy!

Thank goodness grant writing is not as complicated as rocket science or few people would get their applications approved. With some clear guidance and some directions from a voice of experience any of you will be able to create and submit a competitive application. A series of articles has been mapped out to take you through the grant writing process with clear direction and of course the code book to decipher any funder’s materials. Examples will be provided for you to use as a guide and worksheets (yes cheat sheets) will be provided to help you work through any grant that comes down the pike.

Please feel free to email me at with questions you have about the grant writing process. I will also be checking the grants forum discussion board at the Police1 grant help webpage to see your questions concerning your grant writing needs. Next month I will be discussing how to prepare your organizational information and paperwork required by all funders. Having this information researched and well organized will assist you in reducing your time in creating a competitive grant application; let alone a surprise last minute application which someone placed on your desk.

Best wishes in your work to gaining the resources you need for your organization through grant writing.

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