Why Templating Grants Is A Poor Approach To Applying For Funding

It seems a lot of grant writers (both professional and novice) work heavily in templates--creating a lot of “cookbook” grants with little more than names and basic socio-economic data swapped out and maybe the occasional dash of local detail. Some consultants even offer grant templates or “boilerplates” for purchase. Sometimes this is done with the best of intentions: the seller assumes the purchaser will insert local details. Often, though, that doesn’t happen, or an insufficient amount of local detail is inserted. These practices should be avoided, and here’s why: details win grants.

Certainly, there are some blocks of texts or phrases that are reusable between grants. There are even some that almost need to be reused because, for example, a short paragraph is phrased using key funder wording, or the specific paragraph articulates the organization’s mission particularly well. Narrative formats or portions of formats may in some cases be reusable by the same writer between grants. Nonetheless, no two grants should be the same or even mostly the same. Each grant application produced should be jam-packed with applicant- and project-specific details!

My impression is that some writers use templates heavily with minimal changes because they cling to the, “It worked before, better go with what’s worked” view. This is flawed logic, however, for several reasons. Here are just a few of them:

  • Grant programs and funder requirements, priorities, and interests evolve nearly every year.
  • A winning format or approach for one applicant or application is often times NOT the best fit for another applicant or application.
  • Many reviewers can spot generic writing, and a fair amount will take off points if such writing presented alone and isn’t properly supported by applicant- and project- specific details.

Generically written grants with valid but essentially stock wording throughout and few applicant- or project-specific details tend to yield more inconsistent results. While no approach can ever guarantee a win, you’ll find that well-written, RFP-compliant grants with lots of applicant and project-specific details score highly (80s and 90s+ out of 100) most if not all of the time and therefore also win more often. In contrast, generic, templated grants with few local details will certainly win some of the time, but at least as often, they will score in the 70s, 60s, and even 50s. Details will help your application stand out from the crowd and score highly.

Most (physical education) PE grant applicants could fairly say, “The PE team has not had coordinated or regular opportunities for content area-specific professional development in recent years. Training in research and best practices is needed to ensure consistent delivery of curriculum and teaching methods likely to result in standards achievement.”

But don’t make the mistake of JUST saying that and moving on. Instead, use explanatory statements like that to introduce or conclude your presentation of LOCAL evidence of those facts! Perform local assessments and hold discussions with staff, so that you have drill down and present that section with more applicant-specific details--more like this:

“The PE team has not had coordinated or regular opportunities for content area-specific professional development for at least the past 6 years. Training in research and best practices is needed to ensure consistent delivery of curriculum and teaching methods likely to result in standards achievement. Three of our teachers are 20+ year veterans. While their field experience is significant and beneficial in many ways, the field has changed its focus quite a bit since they graduated from their teaching programs, and the lack of content-specific professional development has left them behind in topics like PE assessment technologies and incorporating nutrition education. Classroom observations show several of our newer teachers lack critical classroom management skills. At the elementary level, NONE of our teachers have received any training in how to facilitate achievement of state PE standards. Furthermore, a PE teacher survey conducted earlier this school year showed 50% or more of our teachers needed training in the following key PE topics: fitness assessment, fitness facilitation, nutrition education, and utilizing Adventure techniques.”

The second, more detailed and applicant-specific example provides the reader with a much clearer idea of where specifically the teachers’ learning needs are within this district. In doing so, it also provides insight about some of the areas for which PE is likely failing to meet the needs of all students. This results in a stronger needs case and the opportunity for a stronger project design case. With these details, the reviewers will be able to determine more easily and with increased confidence whether the design presented is responsive to the needs that exist, and therefore, whether the project is likely to effect meaningful change. Imagine the strength and clarity of this grant narrative if each need was discussed with this amount of detail!

Load your grant narratives with local statistics and details about your population; current programs and services; organizational capacity; and partnerships both now (demonstrating your need) and as you envision them with grant funding to ensure your best chance of scoring highly on all of your applications. By creating and submitting detailed grants clearly specific to your organization and projects, you will ultimately maximize the number of grants you win!


By Rosalie J. Mangino-Crandall
Insight Grants Development, LLC