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Common Grant Proposal Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Grants are a great way to fund all sorts of projects, ideas, and endeavors. They offer money you never have to pay back and usually don’t require any money to receive. If there is one major drawback associated with grants, it would be that they are difficult to get, extremely difficult.

There is only so much money set aside for each grant and lots of people looking to bag it. To aid in the selection process, applicants must create a compelling grant proposal. The more effective the proposal is, the better your chances of getting the money.

We’d like to help by pointing out some of the more common pitfalls proposal writers fall into and how to avoid them.

Applying for the Wrong Grant

You may have a great idea. You may have a great proposal. None of that matters if it doesn’t fit the parameters of the grant you’re applying for. Trying to contort your proposal to fit a grant that it doesn’t is just a waste of your time and energy.

When going after a grant, your best bet is to build around what the institution offering the grant is looking for, instead of trying to make the grant fit what you want it to (because that probably won’t happen).


Grant proposals can contain a whole lot of information. You have to discuss what problem your proposal solves, how it solves it, how the money will help it solve it, and so on and so forth. Any inconsistency anywhere in the proposal can derail the whole thing. Even something as simple as not having something in your summary/outline that shows up in your proposal proper is problematic. Or worse, having something in your summary/outline that never shows up in your proposal can be devastating to your chances.

There’s a surprisingly easy fix considering how many proposals run into this problem. Simply create a working outline, write the proposal and revise the outline accordingly. This will help you stay on subject and create an accurate roadmap for both you and anyone else who reads the proposal.

Biting Off More than You Can Chew

This may be the hardest to avoid. Grants are extremely competitive. If you want to compete at the higher levels, you’re going to need impressive proposals. For many, an impressive proposal translates to an ambitious project.

However, this can be a sucker bet for some people. The very nature of a grant means that you have to lay out the feasibility of your project for everyone to see. If you don’t have the resources to pull something off (even if you get the grant) no one’s going to award you the grant.

Biting off more than you can chew leaves you with two options. You can cook the numbers a bit, something that many grantors are aware of and know to look out for (in case it wasn’t clear, don’t do this).

Your other option is to seek out help before writing the proposal. Find partners with likeminded goals that can make your project possible, where it would have been impossible for your alone.

There’s a misconception that grants have to be a solo endeavor (potentially motived by people not wanting to share the award money (but, I’m not here to judge)). But in reality, teams have a much higher likelihood of success.