Using Winning Proposals as Models
Writing a proposal “cold” – that is, without knowing what a winning proposal looks like – is a shot in the dark. You will get better results by modeling yours on ones that have already won money. Here are some ways of getting your hands on winners (best last):
Consult grant workbooks
Many grant writing guides contain samples of successful proposals. It doesn’t hurt to take a look at those, but be aware of their limitations:
Make a FOIA request
- With thousands of funding opportunities, the one you plan to apply for probably isn’t represented.
- The samples are likely to be outdated.
- Not only are the RFPs different, but organizational cultures are vastly different – the unwritten “between-the-lines” action
You have the right to request copies of funded proposals; they are public record. Some federal agencies will provide copies on request (especially if you go in person – more on that later). Most, however, require that you make a formal written request, known as a Freedom of Information Act request. The agency can take a month or more to respond. It may charge you a fee, and may redact (black out) portions that it finds contain protected proprietary information. To get the most value for your request, peruse online abstracts of winning proposals and request proposals that seem most closely aligned with your planned project. And, of course, leave ample time; a sample received after your deadline won’t help much.
Talk to past winners directly
Now why would another applicant want to help you? The answer: why not? After all, they already have their grant; you’re not a competitor. And they will probably feel honored by your request. You can find out who they are by going through abstracts. While talking to them, don’t just ask them to send their proposal (usually as an email attachment). Interview them about how they achieved their success.