The Secret Life of Grant Reviewers – What Exactly Are They Looking For?

Grant reviewers know that there are always 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 grant reviewers, our job is to assign point values based on the rubric provided for each section of a grant. And, as a grant reviewer myself, I can provide an inside perspective to this process.

A Grant Reviewer’s Perspective

Grants writers who are not clear and concise consistently lose points in program design, sustainability, program goals and objectives, and sections dealing with community partnerships. Grant reviewers assess the points for each of these sections. We must follow the rubric to be absolutely fair and impartial. This means things like clarity, brevity, attention to detail, and formatting are really important.

Have you ever wondered what causes one grant reviewer to score an application high, while another receives a lower score? What makes each perspective differ?  What guidelines can I follow to ensure that I have written the strongest grant application possible given my writing style? Does it matter that I lose points in some areas of the grant that may not be weighted as heavily as other sections? Why? Why not?

The 21st Century Learning Grant

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 current emphasis is on community partnerships because they reflect long-term relationships, authenticity, and true sharing of resources.

Grant 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 the applicant provides in terms of the what are you planning to do, where, how, when, and how will you measure your success. Grant 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.

Libby Hikind

“A grant writer’s job is to fully respond to every single point raised by the funding source,” said Libby Hikind, CEO of GrantWriterTeam. “The weight of a score for a particular section is for guidance purposes, only. Never, ever do you leave out any question or point. 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,” said Hikind. “Their experience and expertise will strengthen your proposal and touch on the point.”

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. They will coach you throughout the entire process and curate the project to fit your needs. Your grant-seeking success is our priority at GrantWriterTeam.

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