5 grant writing tips for corrections administrators

Quality writing, demonstrated need and staying within the financial parameters are critical in determining whether or not you win an award


Winning a federal, state, local or private grant is tough. As a former peer reviewer for the United States Department of Justice, I can tell you first hand that the quality of proposals received for funding consideration often exceed peer reviewers’ expectations. Knowing this, there are actions you can take to make sure your proposal stands out from the others. 

1. Clear, concise writing

Every sentence in your proposal must be clear and concise. Sentences should be constructed in such a way that any lay person or subject matter expert can understand the message your seeking to convey. Writers should avoid using jargon and acronyms as much as possible. Also, it is important to avoid complex sentence structures – in other words, do your best to minimize the number of words and compound sentences in your proposal.  Once the proposal is drafted, it is a good practice for a lay reader and an expert reader to review it to make sure everything makes sense and is easy to read. No grant writer should ever assume that every individual reviewing a proposal is a technical or subject matter expert.

It is a good practice for a lay reader and an expert reader to review it to make sure everything makes sense and is easy to read.
It is a good practice for a lay reader and an expert reader to review it to make sure everything makes sense and is easy to read.

2. Quality assurance and alignment

After the proposal is written, it is critical for to perform quality assurance checks to make sure everything you proposed (including any financials) are in alignment. A best practice is for two or three individuals to double-check for accuracy. Typically, funding agencies ask for financial information in the program narrative or abstract, in a budget worksheet and in a budget narrative. Often times budget worksheets are adjusted once the proposal is completed, and sometimes these late changes are not adjusted in the other sections of the proposal. This oversight may lead to deductions in your overall score and it may cost your agency an award.

3. Citations with facts

Every fact or statistic that is included with your proposal should include a citation. Ideally, every grant proposal will have a combination of sources from local data, state or federal data and other relevant empirical research that you can cite. It is important to demonstrate the local needs you’re addressing and how the problem is also relevant at a larger (regional, state or national) scale. The reason being is that it is important for funding agencies to know that you’re aware of the significance of the issue and also that your proposed effort can be replicated in other jurisdictions. Make sure to follow the solicitation’s rules for citations (e.g. footnotes, endnotes, bibliography).

4. Colors, graphs and images

Imagine if your agency sent out an RFP and you got multiple vendor responses. Which proposal will you gravitate toward prior to reading? Will it be the wall of words or the proposal that has breaks in it with colors, graphs and images? Peer reviewers and funding sources receive several proposals, so put yourself in their shoes when taking a critical reviewing of your own proposal. Quality writing, demonstrated need and staying within the financial parameters are critical in determining whether or not you win an award, but don’t discount the importance of a proposal that is aesthetically constructed. Before you begin including any colors, graphs or images, make sure it is within the parameters of the solicitation’s rules. And when in doubt, always ask.

5. If you don’t win, build a relationship with the program office

It is important to realize and accept the competitive nature of grant funding. Further, it is also important to establish relationships with the program office from which you’re seeking funding. More than likely, future solicitations will come out from that organization. Therefore, building a relationship with the program office will help you stay current on the organization’s priorities, and you will better understand how to align your agency’s needs to complement their areas of focus in your next proposal.

Grant writing is more than writing a response to a solicitation. It is a craft that requires attention to detail, an understanding of local and national needs and should always have more than one individual working on it (and reviewing it) if you want to win. 

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