Allow plenty of time for writing federal grant proposals

One question I’m frequently asked during my grant-writing workshops is, "Just how long does it take to write a federal grant proposal?" My response is usually 60 to 90 days, depending on the grant guidance. This response frequently results in shock and surprise from people who have never written a federal proposal before.
Why does it take so long to write one of these grant proposals? Understanding that each grant might adhere to the same basic structure but will also include some differences, and that people work at different speeds, let me share with you some general information that will illustrate why the process is typically longer for federal grants than for most other grant applications.
Narrative. Typically, the narrative page limits for federal grants are in the 15- to 25-page range, often single-spaced. Writing 25 pages is an arduous task, no matter what the topic is! Addressing each section of an RFP in your proposal is critical and might require additional research to find information.

Budgets. Many federal grants cover a three- to five-year time period, and you’ll have to submit budgets for each year with your proposal. It probably will require some research and assistance from your finance department to find out how much the costs in particular line items might change over a three- to five-year time period. For example, if you’re including salaries and benefits of employees or contractors who will contribute to your grant project, you’ll need to work with your finance department and possibly your human resources department to find out if these salaries and benefits will increase each year, and by what percentage.

Resumes. You might be asked to include resumes for all pertinent staff people who will be working on the grant-funded project. Some people keep their resumes up to date, but unfortunately, many do not! It is best to keep resumes in standard formats and keep them relatively brief (one to three pages), and make sure you give people enough notice to prepare their resumes for inclusion with your proposal.

Letters of commitment. If your project involves collaborative partners, you might be asked to include signed letters of commitment (or memorandums of understanding) from those partners. These documents usually specify the responsibilities of the partners and describe their contributions–either programmatic or financial–to the project. Just like resumes, these are items that should be requested early in the proposal process, so partners have enough time to sign them. Remember, also, that some organizations might require approval from their board of directors before participating in a project and signing a letter or memorandum–and if the board meets monthly, they’ll need at least 30 days’ notice to provide this document.

Additional documents. Over the years, I have looked at the guidance for many federal grants–and they have asked for a variety of additional documents to be included with an application. Some examples include maps of areas that the proposed project will cover, district strategic plans, charts of demographic information for all proposed project partners, and organizational charts for proposed projects. In some cases, these additional documents might already exist, so it might be easy to include them with your application. If they don’t already exist, however, this is just one more item to add to your "to do" list when putting together a federal grant application.

My recommendation to all grant writers is to leave as much time as possible to work on a federal grant proposal. If you finish it earlier than expected, you can always submit it well before the deadline–and start working on your next grant!