3 tips to stand out in the sea of online applications

Grant writers can use these tips to make sure their applications are read and fully understood


By Diane H. Leonard, GPC
GovGrantsHelp.com

I recently asked a group of grant seeking professionals what percent of their applications in one year are via online systems. The answer was that more than 75 percent said over 50 percent of their grant work is submitted via an online application system. That is a huge shift from when I started my career in grant making back in 2002 as a program officer for the Michigan Women’s Foundation. Online application systems were just being designed and discussed among private foundations. Now, submitting an application to a government entity via anything but an online application feels like an oddity.

Whether in an online grant application process that has strict formatting requirements like cybergrants.com, in a custom state specific online application portal, or grants.gov there are different challenges to be considered about standing out in the sea of online applications each grant maker receives. Instead of knowing that you controlled the final hard copy product that a grant maker would see and hold in their hand, as grant professionals we now only know what the submission looks like in the fields of the form, or if we are lucky as the whole pdf packet. We still do not control the quality of the printer that is used by the reviewer or if they choose to print out the entire application as we submitted it versus only a few key pages.

With these challenges facing us as grant professionals and grant seeking organizations, how do we then stand out and become more than one more faceless application via an online grant application system?

1. Submit Early!
It might sound like common sense to try and submit a grant application prior to the deadline. It takes some of the stress off the grant professional and the rest of the grant team to not be scrambling to make it to the post office on time or to click submit in the last few minutes before the deadline. There are numerous other reasons to submit earlier within online applications including it demonstrates to the grant maker, without you ever saying verbally, or having any additional interaction that your organization has the capacity to plan in advance and to meet target dates in advance. It also provides grant makers with the opportunity to provide feedback on your proposal and allow for revision prior to their deadline.

2. Ditch the Acronyms
When in online applications in particular, you should ditch the acronyms in your proposals unless you are desperate for additional character/word space for a response or because you are submitting a pdf packet/document that you know will be read in the formatting/order intended.

It is important to ditch the acronyms in online grant applications because you are never certain what the final application will look like when exported from the online portal for the grant review committee/board members. I have had to be a reviewer for a number of online application systems where the committee pdf preview or printout itself wasn’t what an applicant might have expected by looking at the online form and therefore the acronym defined at the beginning part of an application wasn’t placed as expected in the copy that the reviewer received. A deal breaker? No. An annoyance for the reviewer that makes them stop and have to search in your proposal? Yes.

3. Use Your Thesaurus Carefully
Are you carefully selecting the most impactful word for each sentence? While you don’t want to right click and open the thesaurus for each word in the sentence, are you sure that your word choice is the strongest possible? In particular in character and word counted online application situations, it is critical to be think through your word choice. Having a word wheel at your desk or as an image on the computer can help spur different ideas than simply looking at the thesaurus.

The next time you start to edit one of your pieces, look at your word choice. Overly basic? Too simple? Instead of a large difference, is it significant? Instead of small is it minor?

Do you have other tips that you have tried to help your organization stand out in the sea of online grant applications? Share them with us in the comments section on the website or via social media!

About the author
Diane H. Leonard, GPC is an experienced and highly respected grant professional who has provided grant development counsel to nonprofit organizations of varying size and scope for more than a decade. Diane founded DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC based in Clayton, NY in 2006. Diane began her career in philanthropy as a Program Officer for the Michigan Women's Foundation, a statewide public foundation. Diane is an active member of the Grant Professionals Association and is proud to have earned her Grant Professional Certification, a credentialed certification conferred by the Grant Professional Credential Institute. 

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