Grants Are Business

Those of you who follow my blog have probably noticed a lack of blogging of late–I am finishing my MBA, and there is quite a bit to do in these last weeks of the program. My first graduate degree was in biology, and the final weeks were actually much more relaxing than the months of research and writing that had preceded them. I am currently in a scramble to get things done, and to get done. So I will be brief.

In the MBA theme, I will share the key thesis of my grantsmanship strategy: A grant proposal is a business proposal. Boom. Pretty simple. But I am always amazed by how academicians want to resist the concept that they are, fundamentally, selling an idea and their team’s labor. There is some feeling among academics that the grant proposal is somehow more intellectual, more precious, than a business proposal. I’m here to tell you it is not. Rant, yell, cry, go through the five stages of grief, but at some point arrive to the realization that you are asking for money for your idea and a plan to create the end product . . . which is a business proposal.

Once you come to grips with the realization that a grant proposal is nothing more than a business proposal, you will be liberated and more efficient. At the highest level, if you are a strategic, efficient person, you will research the needs and perspective of the funder and have a much better understanding of the direction your proposal should take. That is, if you are strategic, you will do your research into what the funder is looking for and give it to them. This effect will ripple through all aspects of the development of your project and proposal, and you will produce a more competitive, fundable proposal. Boom.

Biographical Sketches Brief

Although called different things by different agencies and foundations, a biographical sketch by any other name is still a biographical sketch, and it is an important part of your grant application. One very important purpose of the biographical sketch is to indicate to the funding entity that the assembled project team has the expertise to perform the proposed project from start to finish. I have seen solid grant proposals rejected by reviewers because it was unclear that the project team had the expertise required to complete the project. In some cases, the teams did have the expertise, but their biographical sketches did not reflect it.

The good news is that the solution is straightforward: simply allot some time during the proposal development process to carefully comb through the proposal and identify the tasks required by the project and who is responsible for each task. Then, assemble the team’s biographical sketches and compare them to this list of responsibilities. The biographical sketches should clearly indicate that the appropriate team members have the experience and expertise necessary to successfully complete the tasks at hand.

If you complete this exercise early enough in the development process, you will have enough time to address any gaps. In some cases, a biographical sketch may simply be incomplete, but in others you may need to acquire the requisite training or add a collaborator with the training and expertise to your team. In the end, time spent reviewing your team’s biographical sketches is time very well spent in this time of declining funding, low success rates, and increased competition.