Grant applications are considerably more labyrinthine than they used to be. As much as the Internet has done to streamline grant proposals, it’s also created extra levels of bureaucracy that can become confusing and frustrating if you don’t have a map to show you the way.
There’s grant money out there to be gained, especially through new and continuing grants that are part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. SAMHSA’s grant applications are managed via the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Applicants head to Grants.gov, register, download an application package, complete it, submit it and watch its progress. As SAMHSA notes on its site, this unified federal grant website offers perks: a standardized way to locate and learn more about grants, secure applications, reduced paperwork a unified interface that makes it easier for the government agencies offering the grants to post and advertise them. Ideally, everyone wins, including the mental health patients who can benefit from the better coordinated care software and mental health EHR initiatives that extra funding can pioneer.
But grant candidates need to do more than just apply, they need to write winning grant proposals. Any mental health professionals looking to better their communities with the help of a grant should consider brushing up on a few writing tips.
Talking with professionals
Stanley Kusnetz’s long career as a senior review administrator in the SAMHSA Office of Program Services secures his position as the go-to man for grant writing tips. He’s reviewed numerous grant applications in his time with the company, but most of them fade out about as quickly as he can read them.
Sometimes they get something so wrong they throw out their chances of scoring the grant entirely. Kusnetz pointed to one particular case when an organization in the South Bronx of New York City kept describing itself as a bastion of hope but never actually got into specifics about what the substance abuse problem they were targeting actually was.
As Kusnetz observed, these kinds of assumptions can be all too common, and they can ruin an application for an otherwise deserving cause that SAMHSA would be proud to fund.
With that in mind, SAMHSA and Kusnetz offered grantees the following tips when it comes time to write proposals.
Plan ahead – Don’t send out a flurry of last-minute grant applications. For instance, when applying for grants with standardized information that needs to be filled out, organizations can tackle those beforehand and recycle them for other SAMHSA applications
Be discerning – It’s always good to look and choose carefully, especially since that’s what SAMHSA readers will be doing. Don’t simply send out as many applications to as many grants as you possibly can. Cathy Friedman, a public health analyst in SAMHSA’s Office of Policy, Planning and Budget, previously worked in the review office reading proposals. Her advice is to find a good fit by reviewing each grant’s request for applications, commonly called an RFA. The first page of each should contain an Executive Summary that offers basic info on award information, the grant program’s purpose, eligibility rules and the due date for applications In fact, Friedman reminded, eligibility can be tricky. For some programs, only states can apply.
Follow the directions – This harkens back to the RFA. Scrutinize it, because if you miss any requirements or fail to follow directions you risk having your grant thrown out and all your hard work being for naught. Don’t miss deadlines, go over page limits, ignore formatting requirements or let any other silly errors trip you up. Friedman also drew attention to the project narrative section of each grant. This usually allows applicants the most space to express their goals and intentions. It’s also a hotspot for trouble. Friedman said to write in plain English, be clear and concise and complete. And this part of the application should always be about the project itself, not just a blurb for the organization. Kusnetz added that for every “What” there should be a “How.” For instance, applicants shouldn’t illustrate their intentions for developing a new case management system in their mental health community without explaining how they intend to establish it or how it would work.
Edit, revise, review – Just as you would with a job cover letter or college application, you want your proposal to be clear of grammatical hiccups, spelling errors and typos. Generally, having outside eyes read your application is a good idea. Someone else can spot things you may have missed. Proofreaders may even offer suggestions in tone, flow and logic.
For those who want even more advice on their federal grant applications, SAMHSA offers an entire manual that instructs grantees on the best methods for putting together a competitive grant application specifically for SAMHSA. Prospective applicants can download it for free from the website or place an order for a physical copy.