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What Makes a Winning Grant?

July 31, 2014 by
With the decline in Congressional earmarks in 2012 came the rise of grants.  Universities, hospitals and nonprofits had to turn to other ways to find federal funding for specific projects.  In fact, today the vast majority of Congressional offices have a “grants” staffer who helps sign letters of support and facilitates the grant seeking process for constituents. 
The grant seeking process, however, is very competitive.  Often less than five percent of applicants are funded.  Yet the rewards are huge; winners can receive millions to implement innovative projects.  And once there is a large investment of federal funding, an organization tends to get more funding from other sources.  In sum, those that have received federal funding tend to get more because support from the federal government gives other investors confidence that the project is sustainable.
Everyone wants to know what makes a winning grant.  Here are some tips:
1.      Tell a story – Tell your reviewer what your project is in plain language and concrete terms.  Assume your reviewer knows nothing about your project.  And tell the reviewer a story about your project – how it came to be, the results expected if funded, and why it is unique.
2.      Do not assume your reviewer is a subject matter expert – For some grant opportunities, those evaluating your grant may in fact be lay reviewers. For example, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Healthcare Innovation Challenge is initially reviewed by a panel of healthcare generalists. If the language you use is not accessible to the general healthcare community, your grant may not make it to the secondary review by the subject matter experts. Be concise, and assume your reviewer is not a subject matter expert.
3.      Collaboration is key – Reviewers always like to see strong public-private partnerships.
Reach out to community partners (nonprofits, universities, hospitals) and build a strong coalition.  Secure compelling letters of support from the partners.
4.      Connect the dots to other federal investments – The federal government always likes to see the tying of previous federal investments to the proposed project.  If your organization or a partner received funding from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, or another federal grant, state this explicitly so the reviewer can see that synergies can be achieved by tying two grants together in the community.  For example, a telemedicine provider may want to write a grant to receive federal funding to implement a telemedicine project in a rural area. If it decides to partner with a rural health care system, and that system has received a federal grant previously to launch a telemedicine program, reference this in your application.
5.      Show a Pathway to Sustainability – The goal of any project is to be sustainable in the long-term without the need for additional federal funding.  If funding has been obtained from private donors, a foundation, or the state, state this and show that the project is on a pathway to sustainability.
6.      Show why the project is novel – Most importantly, tell the reviewer why your project is unique and merits funding.  Applicants often assume the reviewer understands why this is the case, but you need to be persuasive and convince the reviewer that your project deserves to be funded above your competitors.
Set forth below are some recently released funding opportunities:
1.      National Science Foundation (NSF) Advancing Informal STEM Learning
The Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments; provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and develop understandings of deeper learning by participants
Estimated Number of Awards: 36 to 51
It is anticipated that about 6-10 Pathways awards, 7-10 Research in Service to Practice awards, 10-13 Innovations in Development awards, 3-6 Broad Implementation awards, 5-7 Conferences, Symposia, and Workshops awards will be made in FY 2015, pending availability of funds. EAGERS, RAPIDS, and CAREER awards are also made from these funds. Five (5) Science Learning+ Planning awards are anticipated in FY 2015, pending availability of funds. Up to three (3) Science Learning+ Partnership awards are anticipated in FY 2016.
Anticipated Funding Amount: $25,000,000 to $32,000,000
Normal limits for funding requests of AISL proposals are as follows: (1) Pathways projects: up to $300,000 with duration up to two years; (2) Research in Service to Practice projects: from $300,000 to $2,000,000 with a duration from two to five years; (3) Innovations in Development projects: $500,000 to $3,000,000 with duration up to five years; (4) Broad Implementation projects from $500,000 to $3,000,000 with a duration from two to five years; (5) Conferences, Symposia, and Workshops projects up to $250,000 with a duration of up to two years; and (6) Science Learning+ Planning projects up to $115,000 for a duration of one year in 2015, and Partnership projects up to $2.4 million with a duration of up to five years in 2016.
Deadline: November 14, 2024
2.      HRSA – Health Center Program New Access Point
Anticipated Funding Amount: Total of $100 million awarded to 150 centers.  Up to $650,000 per center.
Purpose: The purpose of the Health Center Program New Access Point (NAP) funding opportunity is to improve the health of the Nation’s underserved communities and vulnerable populations by increasing access to comprehensive, culturally competent, quality primary health care services.  
Deadline: August 20, 2014

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