Don't Plow Into Stalled Cars, & Other Tips for Grant Writers

After 25 years of working as an employee of and consultant to nonprofit organizations, I have seen it all when it comes to grant-writing. Some of the more drama-filled situations I have witnessed are a consequence of submitting applications at the last minute. At one place where I worked, the Executive Director (ED) drove at breakneck speed on the shoulder of an expressway in order to hand-deliver her proposal before the 5:00 deadline. Until she plowed into a stalled car. (Fortunately, no one was hurt! And fortunately for the ED, our job descriptions included the phrase, "other duties as assigned," which came to mean "driving the ED around the greater Chicago area whenever necessary" for those of us with cars.) 

If you are one of those people who insist, "But I work better under pressure," read on. I have more gory details that should persuade you of the error of your ways. If after reading these, you still insist on the last-minute approach to submitting grant requests, then keep reading: To you, I offer a few tips about how to avoid last-minute landmines.

Three reasons not to submit your proposal at the last minute:

Reason 1) 
4:50 p.m.: You're at the computer, frantically finishing a proposal that has to get to the prospective funder by 5.  

4:51 p.m.: Whoo! You're ready to press Send!

4:52 p.m.: Your computer crashes. Yes, there's another computer in the office. But you don't have the password...and the person who does is on vacation, backpacking through northern Alaska.
                                                                 ~ ~ ~
Reason 2) 
4:50 p.m.: You're at the computer, frantically finishing a propopsal that has to get to the prospective funder by 5 .

4:51 p.m.: Whoo! All that's left to do is to copy and paste your narrative onto the funder's website and press Send. 

4:52 p.m.: You log onto the funder's website.

4:53 p.m.: The website won't accept your password. But it will send you an email with a link to reset your password within the hour. 
                                        ~ ~ ~
Reason 3)  
4:50 p.m.: You're at the computer, frantically typing...  

4:51 p.m.: Done! All that's left to do is find the email address for the foundation, and send! Except that the foundation does not accept proposals by email. And the foundation is located three states away.
                                        ~ ~ ~

And two reasons not to wait until the last day to send your proposal: 

Reason 1)
You're almost ready to submit your public safety funding request, due tomorrow. All that's left to do is get police crime data to attach to the proposal, as required by the funder. Only problem is that the police department's computer system is down.* They don't know when it will be back up.**

Reason 2)
The proposal's due tomorrow - three states away. No problem. According to the post office website, you can send mail overnight as long as you get to the post office by 4 p.m. And you get there at 3. Problem is, the website lied. The person behind the counter says the last pick-up for overnight mail was at 2:00. You're out of luck. 

No problem. You can go to UPS. They'll overnight it. But not to a PO box address...which is the only address you have.

How to avoid timing-related funding misadventures:

Strategy 1)
Collect required attachments - statistics and other data, resumes of key staff - early in the application-writing process.

Strategy 2)
Save your work early and often: on a hard copy, on a disc, in an email to yourself, with a memory card, in Google Docs, ...

Strategy 3)
Perhaps you have made for yourself a reference a chart of funding opportunities to pursue. Each row of the chart corresponds to a particular foundation; the first column corresponds to the funder's application deadlines, the second to contact information, and so on. If you don't have it already, add a column to your chart titled "mode of application." It is answers to questions like, Does the funder require you to apply online, on its website? (And if so, how does that process work?) Via email? Snail Mail? And if snail mail, will you be sending the application to an office or a PO box? 

If you don't already have a chart, or something like it, make one.  

Strategy 4)
Don't drive 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. And watch out for stalled cars.

* I swear I am not making this up. 
** It was several days.