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Winning Proposals: Understanding the Basics of Federal and Foundation Grants


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Sharing best practices for understanding and preparing proposals to both federal and private foundation sources, this webinar kicks off a professional development series designed to provide insights …

Sharing best practices for understanding and preparing proposals to both federal and private foundation sources, this webinar kicks off a professional development series designed to provide insights into the grantseeking process. During this webinar, Hanover Research Grants Consultants will offer practical tips for proposal planning and production, from project design to communication with funders. You will gain a big picture perspective on how to pitch your innovative project to both federal and foundation competitions.
What You'll Learn:
• An introduction to grant proposal production for public and private funders
• A basic understanding of how to tailor your proposal to different kinds of funders
• Common priorities and expectations of funders
• Effective strategies for communicating with funders
• Elements of effective project planning and design with proposal production in mind

Who Should Attend:
• Grants and development professionals looking to better understand the basics of federal and foundation grant writing
• Staff members who are involved in any component of the grantseeking or grants management effort looking for an introductory or refresher presentation of best practices
• Principal investigators, grant writers, and grant management teams seeking introductory strategies to best address proposal requests

Headquartered in Washington, DC, Hanover Research is a global research and grant development firm providing solutions to higher education, K-12, healthcare organizations, hospitals, municipalities, and other non-profit organizations. We work with executives and their teams across a cost-effective partnership to help them better understand and pursue external funding in the face of increased competition for funding with government and private entities.

Call 202.559.0060 or e-mail for more information.

To view the recorded webinar, open the following link

For more information on Hanover Research’s grant services, check out our capabilities at

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  • 1. Research Without Limits ™ Grant Development Center WEBINAR BRIEFING July 2013 Featuring Hanover Research Grants Consultant Bryan DeBusk, Ph.D., GPC And Hanover Research Grants Consultant Kristina Weaver, Ph.D. Moderated by Hanover Research Managing Content Director Chad Ross Winning Proposals: Understanding the Basics of Federal and Foundation Grants ©2013 Hanover Research
  • 2. OVERVIEW The first in the Three Pillars of Successful Grantseeking series that is designed to provide participants with an understanding of the key planning and implementation components of understanding, applying for, and managing grant funding, this webinar examined the basics of federal and foundation grants, including the trends in awarding grants, highlighting the importance of and providing strategies to get to know funders, and key elements of project planning. A key theme highlighted throughout this webinar is the importance of research and planning as components of a successful grantseeking strategy. CONTENT & PRESENTERS This webinar featured a presentation on federal proposals by Dr. Bryan DeBusk and foundation proposals by Dr. Kristina Weaver. Chad Ross, as moderator, provided insights into similarities and differences between federal and foundation proposals within each of the three sections of the presentation. Following the presentation, this webinar featured a Question and Answer segment moderated by Chad Ross. KEY CONTENT This webinar explored three components of understanding the basics of federal and foundation grants through discussions on an introduction to grant proposals, strategies for getting to know funders, and elements of project planning. Below, we present several of the key findings of the webinar. UNDERSTANDING GRANT PROPOSALS A key to understanding grant proposals is to understand the funder. Below, we present detailed information on characteristics and funding trends, rates, and timelines of federal and foundation grants to share an understanding and best practice strategies of this important component of grantseeking. Federal Funding The presentation on federal funding focused on sharing information on the federal agencies that fund grants, the current federal grant budget, differences in solicited and unsolicited proposals, the federal grant review process, and funding rates and timelines. A basic understanding of the federal funding process was shared to provide background information to participants. 2For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 Webinar Briefing: Winning Proposals: Understanding the Basics of Federal and Foundation Grants July 2013 PRESENTERS Amy Moynihan Content Manager Hanover Research Chad Ross Managing Content Director Hanover Research Dr. Bryan DeBusk Grants Consultant Hanover Research Dr. Kristina Weaver Grants Consultant Hanover Research “By being strategic and proactive, rather than reactive, you will build capacity for success as well as relationships with funders that want to help you better serve your constituents and want to invest in your great ideas and solutions.” – Dr. Kristina Weaver
  • 3. 3For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 While there are 26 organizing departments or agencies in the federal government that make grants, including 15 Cabinet-level departments, programs offered by five agencies - Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Education, and Justice - account for more than half the available federal opportunities.1 In FY 2013, $410.9B was allocated for grants, which includes $140B for R&D and $270B for non- R&D expenditures such as block grants to states and local governments for services such as education and housing and most non-science/medical/defense agencies.2 Proving context for the overall budget amount, the FY2013 budget of $410.9B represents a near return to pre-stimulus budget levels, such as the FY2008 $419B budget. The budget reached a high in 2010 of $617B. Hanover anticipates that federal funding in upcoming years will remain fairly consistent with FY2013 numbers. Upon understanding the overall budget and the agencies that fund the majority of federal opportunities, it is helpful to understand the types of projects that are funded by federal sources. Federal grants are used to fund basic and applied research, including opportunities such as university programs to increase student retention or community housing programs. Though there are a few exceptions, federal grants rarely fund large equipment, construction, or general operations in most cases. Additionally, other than a few small business opportunities, funding for for-profit activities is rare. Federal agencies accept both solicited and unsolicited proposals, so it is important to understand the policies of each agency and funding program to know the type of proposal that is accepted. Some agencies have standing grant opportunities that provide very general guidance for grantseekers in a particular area. For example, NIH and NSF welcome applications on any topic relevant to the missions of the agencies. These unsolicited proposals can be submitted to an appropriate review panel within the agency during multiple windows each year. On the other hand, solicited proposals are agency requests for proposals on specific topics or to fund programs that address specific needs. Examples include most programs sponsored by the Department of Education. To review submitted proposals, most agencies use some form of peer review to determine which proposals should be funded. Reviewers are typically either experts in fields relevant to the grant program or proposal content, or they are representatives of stakeholder groups likely to be affected by the proposed programs. Agencies have varying ways to use the reviewer information to making funding determinations. The review process is provided in detail on agency websites. It is also important to understand the funding rates and timelines of federal funding. Funding rates vary by agency and by funding opportunity within agencies. For example, the overall funding rate for the ~50,000 proposals submitted to NIH last year was about 18%. However, it is important to note that funding rates for first time submissions are less than 10 percent and in some cases 2 percent to 3 percent for some grant mechanisms and institutes. Within NSF, funding rates range from 12 percent to 62 percent depending on the division reviewing the proposal. Furthermore, some agencies, such as the Department of Defense, do not report funding rates. Timelines of federal funding are also agency and program specific. Mandatory programs, which are mandated by Congress and often funded for multiple years, typically have recurring deadlines. However, deadlines for many discretionary programs are only set after Congress approves the budget for the current fiscal year. 1. For more information, see the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance 2. For more information, see Prime Award Spending Data Webinar Briefing: Winning Proposals: Understanding the Basics of Federal and Foundation Grants July 2013
  • 4. 4For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 Agencies with consistently large budgets and general independence from Congress, such as NIH and NSF, typically publish due dates for multiple years or set recurring dates for all programs. Agencies that are more likely to receive mandates from Congress, such as the Department of Education, Labor, or Defense, tend to announce programs on relatively short notice and set deadlines 30 to 60 days from the program announcement. When it comes to awards, standing programs tend to take longer (for example, NIH and NSF take 6 months), whereas mandatory programs must generally be awarded no later than September 30th, no matter when proposals were submitted. Foundation Funding Key understandings and best practices related to foundations and foundation funding were shared to provide background information to participants. A key first step to understanding foundations and their funding is to explore the reasons why foundations exist and fund projects and initiatives. It is critical to recognize that each foundation exists to advance its own social mission according to its own philanthropic philosophy or theory of change. While some foundations will focus on partnering with fewer organizations over the long term, perhaps offering unrestricted support for the organization as a whole, other foundations are looking to invest in the piloting of an innovative project, or to plant seeds that will be sustained without additional support. While it can be great to take advantage of an opportunity when a funder is able to offer general operating support or multi-year support, you may find that most foundations you approach will be seeking to invest in short-term projects or provide a short-term infusion of funds – often for one or two years – for existing programs. Geographic scale also plays a role in the type of projects that are funded by foundations. To fund a program that may not be particularly innovative or cutting-edge, but meets a critical need in your community, recommended funders are local foundations or a local branch of a corporate giving arm that shares your mission to support the local community. On the other hand, if you are looking to adapt a national best practice to your particular community, a regional or state level foundation may be a viable partner. If you have a great idea and the capacity to truly innovate and evaluate solutions that will be of interest at the national scale, then a national foundation may be eager to invest in that potential. As you can see, determining the types of funders that you should approach depends on several factors, including the type of support that you are seeking as well as the type of project. A best strategy highlighted in the presentation is for grantseekers to think strategically about a foundation’s agenda in relation to your needs, to find those prospective funders that most closely meet your needs, and then to consider how you might frame your activities to maximize alignment. In general, the staff and board of a foundation are looking for:  Alignment with eligibility criteria and funding priorities  A reputable organization with a history of carefully stewarding funds and reporting on outcomes in a timely fashion  A clear, compelling, and realistic project plan  The ability to have an impact with a relatively small investment Additionally, some foundations are looking for a recognition opportunity through the project. Webinar Briefing: Winning Proposals: Understanding the Basics of Federal and Foundation Grants July 2013
  • 5. 5For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 It is important to view grantseeking as a component of a diversified fundraising strategy, rather than a quick solution for funding needs. As in general you can expect to hear an award decision about 6 to 12 months from initial contact with a foundation, a grantseeking strategy that includes foundations grants requires proactive, rather than reactive, planning and relationship building. Key similarities to note between federal and foundation funding include the importance of grantseeking aligning with additional organizational efforts and the importance of research to select appropriate funding opportunities to pursue. Key differences include the level of buy in of the funder for individual projects. BEST PRACTICE STRATEGIES TO GET TO KNOW FUNDERS Upon understanding trends and processes of federal and foundation funders, the presentation explored strategies for getting to know and reaching out to federal and foundation funders. Federal Funding One of the most important aspects of getting to know federal funders is finding and understanding agency funding opportunities. Two resources to use to look for federal opportunities are and agency websites.3 is a comprehensive, searchable database of current and past funding opportunities. You can use this site to search for opportunities by agency, keyword, due date, or several other identifiers. However, if you know generally which agency is likely to fund your program, the agency website may be a better resource to use. Once you find an opportunity, the next step is to review and understand the request for proposals. Also known as an RFP, an RFA, an FOA, or one of several other acronyms, this document describes the agency’s goal for the opportunity and the requirements for people submitting requests for funding. Specifically, it provides essential details on eligibility, submission deadlines, award characteristics, and proposal requirements. Use this information to determine whether you and your organization are eligible, whether your research or program matches the agency’s funding goals, and whether the timing and size of the awards can meet your needs. In addition to the opportunity-specific guidelines included in an RFP, each agency maintains separate guidelines for writing and submitting proposals under any opportunity. The RFP typically includes a link to these guidelines, and you should review them carefully for guidance on document formatting and for limitations and recommendations for supplemental documents such as letters of support or appendices. Each RFP also includes contact information for one or more program officer. These individuals are responsible for responding to all correspondence regarding the program, and at many agencies they oversee the proposal review and/or funding decision processes. For these reasons, you should establish a relationship with the program officer for your funding opportunity as soon as you are prepared to share an elevator pitch or brief written overview of your project idea. We recommend contacting program officers by email or phone to request a call to discuss the idea. Some program officers will request additional details by email, possibly including a one to three page concept paper, so they can be prepared to discuss the idea and its relevance to the funding opportunity. We recommend that you contact program officers early in the process, and maintain contact throughout proposal development when you have questions that cannot be answered by the agency’s guidance documents. 3. For more information, see Webinar Briefing: Winning Proposals: Understanding the Basics of Federal and Foundation Grants July 2013
  • 6. 6For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 Foundation Funding In getting to know foundations, the importance of research cannot be overstated. The process of getting to know foundations begins with prospecting research. In searching for prospective foundations, it is important to ensure that your organization and project lines up with the eligibility criteria, geographic range, priorities, and giving history of a funder. There are several resources to use to obtain this information. A database resource such as Foundation Center’s directory generates basic profiles for foundations.4 In addition to studying a profile, you will want to carefully review guidelines and funding history on the foundation’s website, if available, and cross-check with guidelines and funding history on IRS Form 990s. Upon identifying a funder as a viable prospect, we recommend that you contact the program officer to verify guidelines and garner insight into the funding opportunity. When reaching out to program officers, planning and research are again beneficial strategies. For example, preparing your key questions for the program officer in advance will demonstrate to the program officer that you are a prepared and organized grantseeker as well as best position you to receive answers to questions. An additional strategy is to prepare a one to three page concept paper, to be shared if a program officer is receptive to reviewing and offering suggestions that will help you make your project and its presentation more competitive. In addition to these proposal planning strategies, best practices were discussed related to actions following the submission of a proposal and following the announcement of a funding decision. Following the submission of a proposal, it is generally fine to call to confirm receipt and verify the review process. Additionally, if your organization experiences a significant event, such as additional funding for the project in the proposal, we suggest that you update the foundation with this information. If your organization is awarded funding, the following best practice strategies to steward the partnership should be considered:  Be sure to thank the foundation if a grant is awarded  Meet all progress reports  Invite foundation staff or board members to major events  Anticipate renewal opportunity It is important to remember that even if you are not awarded funding, there are still proactive steps that you can take. Consider contacting the funder to ask for feedback and next steps. As most foundations fund only five to ten percent of the proposals that it receives, and most foundations are open to reviewing a resubmission in the future, it is important to continue to build the relationship. Similar best practices in getting to know federal and foundation funders include the importance of research on determining the proposal and project guidelines, stated priorities, funding history, and underlying priorities of the funder. Additionally, if allowed, communication with program officers is also very important. THE IMPORTANCE OF PROJECT PLANNING Further reinforcing the importance of research and planning, the presentation shared strategies for project planning for both federal and foundation proposals. 4. For more information, see the Foundation Center Webinar Briefing: Winning Proposals: Understanding the Basics of Federal and Foundation Grants July 2013
  • 7. 7For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 Federal Funding A key to being a successful grantseeker is to strategically seek opportunities that fit research or programs that are already in the works rather than chasing new funding opportunities. To be truly competitive or to successfully implement an award if you receive it, your organization must gain the necessary institutional buy-in or stakeholder involvement to implement a project. This process is often more successful for organizations that identify what they want or need to fund and then seek funding opportunities that are appropriate rather than designing prospective programs just to meet the proposal criteria. When planning a research project, it is important to:  Scale your work to fit within the budgetary limitations of the funding opportunity  Align your significance statements and other justification with the agency’s mission  Make a strong case for your work based on preliminary data, other evidence, and the impact on the field of research and/or society When you are planning a programmatic proposal, such as a project to improve student retention, you should:  Have sufficient descriptive data to demonstrate the need for the project  Engage stakeholders in the planning and proposed implementation  Obtain concrete evidence of institutional support and staff buy-in in the form of financial commitments, letters of support, and participation in program management or advisory boards  Use resources and networking to identify best practices related to your project, and tailor these practices to address your needs in the context of your institution as well as the scope and mission of the funding agency  Build your objective and activities based on SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals  Use the planning phase to determine important details such as the length and content of a workshop, the identity and expertise of the presenters, the number and characteristics of attendees, and expected outcomes, for example  Develop a program management plan that identifies the people responsible for implementing the project  Develop plans for ongoing stakeholder involvement, internal review of progress, and ongoing evaluation  In accordance with the guidelines for the funding opportunity, engage an internal or external evaluator to assist in planning your program evaluation  Develop a budget and timeline that are appropriate to the proposed activities and the available resources Foundation Funding As so much of grant success originates in the project planning stage, it is important to engage in the planning process with funders in mind. This will help you to build a more robust project that will have a greater likelihood of impact. The following are selected components that you should consider during the planning process stage:  To provide context, be able to clarify the mission and track record of your organization and why are you best suited to implement this project  To demonstrate need, articulate why your project matters and who will it serve. Using data to support demonstrated need is extremely beneficial.  To explain the design of the project, consider questions such as: o What will you do to meet the demonstrated need? o How will the project be structured and implemented? o How will it be staffed? Webinar Briefing: Winning Proposals: Understanding the Basics of Federal and Foundation Grants July 2013
  • 8. 8For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 o Have stakeholders been involved in planning the design? o With whom will you collaborate? Do you have partners in the community? Will they offer concrete support (funds or in kind resources)?  To demonstrate impact, be able to state: o What your project will accomplish o SMART goals outcomes o Diversified evaluation strategy including both formative and summative assessments and qualitative and quantitative measurements A useful strategy to determine the answers to some of these questions is to first develop a budget that includes all the expenses you may have such as staff time, marketing, materials, and costs associated with evaluation and reporting as well as all possible options for cost saving, cost sharing, and in-kind support. These key categories can serve as a starting point or outline for a concept paper or one pager that you may consider using as part of your planning and outreach. POLLING RESULTS Several live polls during our webinar provided invaluable information on the grantseeking activities at the institutions of our webinar participants. The majority (65 percent) of participants who responded indicated that federal proposals are the type of grant proposals that are the most difficult to understand. Of the strategies mentioned to utilize to better understand funders, 84.6 percent of respondents reported using Grants websites such as, 71.4 percent reported Clues deduced from an RFP, 69.2 percent reported Researched funder giving history, and 67.0 percent reported Communicating with program officers. When asked to identify the elements of project planning with which respondents need more support, Demonstrating impact (57.3 percent), Strategic grantseeking (53.9 percent), and Using data to demonstrate need (47.1 percent) received the highest responses. BIOGRAPHIES Amy Moynihan (Host) Amy Moynihan is the Content Manager - Webinar Specialist at Hanover Research. Amy is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at The University of Virginia, Curry School of Education. She also holds a M.Ed. in Social Foundations from The University of Virginia, Curry School of Education and a B.A. from Columbia University. Chad Ross (Moderator) Managing Content Director, Hanover Research Chad Ross is a Managing Content Director at Hanover Research, focusing on strategy and grant proposal development for partners. Bryan DeBusk, Ph.D., GPC Grants Consultant, Hanover Research Bryan DeBusk, PhD, GPC, draws from his experience in academia and the laboratory to assist partners in pursuing federal and private funding. He works with higher education and healthcare partners to develop evidence-based programs and refine innovative research ideas that are both competitive in peer review and manageable in practice. Webinar Briefing: Winning Proposals: Understanding the Basics of Federal and Foundation Grants July 2013
  • 9. 9For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 Kristina Weaver, Ph.D. Grants Consultant, Hanover Research Kristina Weaver, PhD, brings a multidisciplinary and cross-sector background to her work with nonprofits. Aware that foundations and government agencies are looking to invest in solutions that will advance their own social missions, Kristina works with partners to craft compelling, competitive stories that align worthy programs with funders’ priorities. “Getting to know the federal funders through program officers is the best way to truly understand whether or not your funding need matches a funding opportunity.” - Dr. Bryan DeBusk “It is helpful to think of foundations as social investors that are not just interested in meeting an important social need, but are looking to invest in innovation. They are looking for a return on investment in terms of a realized social vision that will also align with your progress towards meeting your mission and realizing your vision. Often a foundation wants to see that there is potential for model replication so it can be helpful to ask yourself through the planning process how this can be demonstrated. What needs to be in place to build the foundation’s confidence in the potential that this model will be successful and replicable? If you can consistently place yourself in the funder’s shoes and think in terms of a mutually beneficial partnership that advances their goals in tandem with yours, you will not only experience more success in grantseeking, but you will ultimately build programs that are inherently more competitive and effective.” - Dr. Kristina Weaver Webinar Briefing: Winning Proposals: Understanding the Basics of Federal and Foundation Grants July 2013
  • 10. LEARN MORE Headquartered in Washington, DC, Hanover Research is a global research and grant development firm providing solutions to higher education, K-12, healthcare organizations, hospitals, municipalities, and other non-profit organizations. We work with executives and their teams across a cost-effective partnership to help them better understand and pursue external funding in the face of increased competition for funding with government and private entities. To view the recorded webinar, open the following link For more information on Hanover Research’s grant services, check out our capabilities at District Administration Practice Research Without Limits ™ Grant Development Center ©2013 Hanover Research