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A Few Quick Tips for Grant-Seekers

Andrew Henshaw, AH Partners

August 17, 2020  |  Telehealth


The world of grants is remarkably vast and can be at times diabolical to the novice fund-seeker. Grants require a confluence of factors to be in alignment, such as effective project management, compelling storytelling, precise budgeting, extreme attention to detail and obsessive rule following – not necessarily in order of importance. But if you succeed in your pursuit of funding, it can open doors that are otherwise locked to your organization.

I’m Andrew Henshaw and after a decade spent writing, reviewing, editing, shedding tears and screaming with joy (mostly when seeing my clients get funding) over grants, I feel I am in a good place to provide some advice to grant seekers and organizations looking for funding. Below you will find three quick tips to succeeding in your pursuit of grant funding:

1. Prioritize your grant search by pre-qualifying your organization/community for the right grant opportunity

As you all may be aware, grant funding is primarily dedicated toward a purpose or use case rather than to an organization. For example, a grant opportunity may focus on a specific region (the Mississippi Delta or Appalachia), a service (telehealth, substance abuse treatment, etc.) or a subset of the population (veteran health, tribes, opioid impacted areas, etc.). These focus areas will often be called out in the title of the grant opportunity or explained within the program purpose.

However, each grant may have additional priority focuses within the opportunity that will give your organization or community an advantage over other applicants. For example, many grants offer additional objective points for projects that are in Opportunity Zones. Or a grant seeking applicant may receive additional objective points for focusing their project in high-poverty areas.

Combining this effort with researching the previous two to three years of awards for the specific program will allow your organization or community to assess the competitiveness of your application in comparison to the competitiveness of the program you’re applying to. If your organization does not qualify for any priority points, and the grant program only funds an average of 8% of the grants submitted, the program may not be a suitable choice for your organization.

2. Follow the rules and let the reviewer know you answered the questions

Grant writing is all about rule-following. While telling a great story can certainly make your grant application more competitive, a majority of points will be delivered for directly answering all of the questions, prompts and focus areas of the grant narrative. Make sure you highlight, bold and/or underline key points that address the questions asked in the grant guidelines.

Example Prompt:

Project Design and Implementation (30 percent)

Describe how the project will address the description listed under the Program-specific Information section. The project must demonstrate relevance, innovation, and timeliness not only to the topics and need to stop school violence, but it (1) must also demonstrate innovative delivery mechanisms and products. The applicant (2) must tie project activities/deliverables to objectives and deliverables in the program design. In addition, the required project timeline should clearly identify each project activity (all required deliverables must be included), expected completion date and the responsible person or organization. Applicants may choose to include other items/deliverables in addition to the ones listed in this announcement and should provide detailed information on those items as well.

Example Response:

  1. This project will demonstrate innovative delivery mechanisms and product in the following ways…
  2. The following table has been created to tie together activities and deliverables to objectives and deliverables listed in the program design
Objectives Activities Outcomes
Objective 1 Activity 1.1

Activity 1.2

Outcome 1.1

Outcome 1.2

Outcome 1.3

Objective 2 Activity 2.1

Activity 2.2

Outcome 2.1

Outcome 2.2

Outcome 2.3

You also need to deliver EVERYTHING that the funding organization asks for in the application guidelines. For example, I have seen some grant opportunities that requests a file be submitted for disclosure of other pending grant applications. If your organization has not applied for grants that duplicate funding of the same project (i.e. funding from two separate programs that will fund the same activities), the application still directs the applicant to submit a PDF document stating, “The applicant does not have any pending applications that request funding to support the same project.” If you don’t submit this form, your application can be rejected.

This “weeding out” process is common in major grant programs and therefore it is critical for the applicant to read the guidelines in full prior to beginning the application process. Approximately 30-40% of applications submitted for any grant typically do not make it to the scoring round of the application process because of small technicalities like the one mentioned above. If you fail to deliver the correct form, in the right format, etc. your grant can be rejected without even being scored, which means:

  1. You are guaranteed not to receive an award
  2. You won’t receive notes or feedback on your grant since it won’t make it to the scoring round

If you have the resources to do so, I would highly recommend a second or third reviewer to independently check all forms, figures, and totals to ensure your grant application is rock solid prior to submittal. This can be especially important for applications to the same program year after year. Program Directors will often make amendments and require additional materials, catching repeat applicants off-guard.

3. Save your writing for future grants and don’t forget to request reviewer’s notes

Time and time again, I’ve witnessed an organization starting a grant application from scratch. The only time this should happen is if it is the applicant’s first grant. The next grant application should be able to utilize verbiage from the previous grant, making each application easier to submit than the last to complete.

While each grant funding opportunity will have its own unique requirements and narrative prompts, there is quite a bit of overlap in requests for a company or community description, description of population served and description of services or activities. Keeping these documents in an archive will help you to avoid duplication of effort and to continually improve your organization’s purpose and narrative over time.

Even if your previous application was rejected, it is very unlikely the “company description” section led to your grant application being denied. You can save yourself some time on the next round by using preexisting verbiage for the “boiler plate” sections and focusing more time and effort on the high-priority areas.

Lastly, a grant reviewer will make notes for both approved and rejected applications. These should be provided with your award or rejection notification or provided upon request. Both versions will help you understand what you are doing correctly or incorrectly and will allow you to strengthen your previous application for a future submission. And if the reviewer’s notes aren’t provided with your award or denial notification, you may file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the organization to request this information. Most files are made available within 30 days.

What Type of Telehealth Grant Funding is Available for my Organization?

This answer will vary based on the person reading this blog post. Mentioned previously, grant programs aim to serve certain populations or are used for a specific use case, and can potentially limit applicant eligibility as well. My best guidance would be to look at the program guidelines and review the Program Purpose, Eligible Use of Funds and the Applicant Eligibility. These three areas will give you an idea of which of your partners, customers or communities may be able to apply for funding. Below I have listed a few relevant federal opportunities, along with some advice to search your state or region for opportunities (such as the upcoming Virginia Health Safety Net Program, due January 15, 2021) and keep up to date on upcoming bill and acts that will be passed:

  • USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine
  • HRSA Telehealth Network Grant Program
  • FCC Connected Care Pilot Program
  • Various State Healthcare Grant Programs
  • Upcoming HEALS/Heroes Act provisions for telehealth and distance learning
  • Proposed ACCESS the Internet Act (potential $400m replenishment to the FCC COVID program)

I hope this is helpful to any first-time funding seekers or for potential applicants looking to solidify their grant-seeking strategy.  If you would like more information or have questions, please feel free to reach us and we’ll contact you as quickly as possible.


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