Inside the Mind of a Grant Reviewer: What Funders Want

Have you ever wanted to get inside the mind of a grant reviewer to learn the ins and outs of what they look for in grant applications? Have you ever wondered what causes one reviewer to score a grant application high, while another receives a lower score? What makes each perspective differ?  GrantWriterTeam asks some hard questions and offers a comprehensive look at the criteria and thought processes that influence grant review decisions. Understanding the factors that reviewers prioritize—such as clarity of objectives, feasibility of the proposed project, and alignment with funding priorities—you can tailor your applications to meet these expectations. This insight, from the mind of an actual grant reviewer, can significantly enhance your chances of securing the funding you need.

A Grant Reviewer’s Inside Perspective

There are typically very specific reasons why grants fail to get funded, and those reasons can go well beyond poor program design or not following the rules. As a grant reviewer, whose job it is to assign point values based on the rubric provided for each section of a grant, I can provide an inside perspective. The 21st Century Learning Grant is, perhaps, one of the largest federal after-school program grants in the nation. I have served on a state vision team for this grant for many years (these are half-million dollar, multi-year grants). The emphasis is on community partnerships because they reflect long-term relationships, authenticity, and true sharing of resources.

What Grant Reviewers Look For

Reviewers examine budgets to determine the overall quality and strength of a proposal, but differ on what makes a strong grant versus a mediocre one. What will carry weight with any reviewer is how much detail an applicant provides in terms of the what are you planning to do. In other words, it’s all about who you will help, what services and programs you will provide, where the eligible areas are, when the program starts and finishes, and how you will measure your success. Reviewers don’t make final funding decisions; but their individual scores on any application factors in heavily. An understanding of how they score and what matters to them in distinguishing one application from another is essential.

In the Words of a CEO

“A grant writer’s job is to fully respond to every single point raised by the funding source,” says Libby Hikind, CEO of GrantWatch and GrantWriterTeam, the host of GrantTalk, and author of the book, The Queen of Grants: From Teacher to Grant Writer to CEO. “The weight of a score for a particular section is for guidance purposes only. Never do you leave out any question or point, because the weights are subject to change. At the time of review, a section can be deemed unfair or not clear and then all weights are readjusted.”

“If your organization cannot respond with experience and clarity to a specific question or point, consider a partnership with an organization that you have an established understanding of referral or some working relationship,” says Hikind. “Their experience and expertise will strengthen your proposal and touch on the point.”

The Bottom Line

So, what’s the bottom line? The goal is to understand the criteria and thought processes that influence review decisions. When you have a clear view of what those are, you can tailor your proposals to meet reviewer expectations effectively. Whether it’s clarity of objectives, feasibility of the proposed project, or alignment with funding priorities, addressing these factors can significantly enhance the chances of securing funding. I hope my words have resonated with you and given you what you need to successfully write a grant for your organization.

About GrantWriterTeam

Are you a nonprofit or small business in need of some help? If you are searching for grants but are feeling overwhelmed, hiring a grant writer may be the perfect choice for you! Grant writers thoughtfully grant opportunities and consider the pros and cons of applying and the chance of success. Consider your writer an extension of your organization. Your grant-seeking success is our priority at GrantWriterTeam.

Disclaimer: There is no guarantee that grants will be awarded as a result of this information.

About the Author: Elaine Rose Penn is an experienced and successful reviewer of federal grants.