For those of you who know me personally or through years of reading these newsletters, you know that I’m not a big fan of ‘the five secret tips that you should know’ razzmatazz.
But I do know that there is one thing that you can do that will forever change the way that you write grant proposals…..serve as a reviewer.
It makes a huge difference. It’s not particularly fun and there is little financial reward but I can guarantee you that you will learn a lot and it will change the way that you write.
I have always found it to be incredibly valuable to see the review process from the inside – especially for state and federal proposals. These are a few of the benefits
- You get know what it feels like to be on the other side of the table – all the thoughts, feelings, and frustrations of reading through piles of proposals. This will make you MUCH more sensitive to making reviewers’ lives as easy as possible in the future.
- You read other people’s proposals and get a sense of the things that work and what definitely does not work. Creative presentations stand out and give you ideas for your proposals.
- You see how your teammates review and appreciate how we each bring our personal strengths to the table. You see how some people are focus on the budget, others on project design, and others on the long-term impact. It makes you realize that you must write for all audiences.
- You meet other experts in the field and make new friends and colleagues.
How review panels work
Review panels have different structures. Typically, proposals are reviewed by a team of 3-8 experts from the field and they collaborate in the following ways.
- Local and in-person: Often Community Foundations and United Ways ask local experts to serve on the review panel with donors (or on behalf of deceased donors) to allocate funding and meet over a weekend or evening.
- State/National and in-person:
- Some agencies send proposals to reviewers in advance and then pull the panel together to meet to discuss their views.
- Some agencies convene a group of reviewers in a hotel and allocate the proposals for review that are then returned at the end of the process to ensure confidentiality.
3. State/National and Virtual: Some agencies send you the proposals to review and then your team has conference calls to review the applications and come to a consensus on the score.
4. Independently: Sometimes, proposals are read and scored individually and then returned to the agency without any consultation.
5. Internal: Some agencies review their proposals using internal staff.
Time: Typically, you can expect to spend several full days working as a reviewer. That can be concentrated or spread out over a few weeks. Don’t expect to slide it in easily around your existing work. It is intensive and requires focus to do well so make sure that you know you can devote the time needed. It’ll be worth it in the long run.
Payment: Some agencies give an honorarium for serving on a review panel and pay travel costs if necessary. The honorarium is usually a few hundred dollars. Money is certainly not the incentive here.
How to become a reviewer?
It’s pretty simple.
If you are interested in reviewing foundation proposals you can call your local United Way, Community Foundation, or other local funding groups (Friends of the Library etc) and ask if they need volunteers to review proposals. You’ll want to tell them about your expertise why you would be a thoughtful and helpful reviewer.
If you are professional in your field (teacher, social worker, law enforcement official, scholar) look at the web sites for your relevant state and federal agencies. They often have a tab on the home page or grants page about how to be a reviewer. Usually, they accept resumes and then contact you when they need reviewers. Since competitions have so many applications they often need hundreds of reviewers at a time so you have a good chance of being chosen.
If they don’t have anything on the site, find the competitions that you know you would be a good reviewer for and contact the program officer directly. (BTW, HUD always reviews their programs internally so it’s not worth contacting them.)
I have served on review panels even though I am not an expert in field because I have grants expertise and have successfully written proposals in previous competitions. They usually pair me up with someone with practical experience such as a classroom teacher or drug counselor. Together we spot different strengths and weaknesses in the proposals and it makes for a strong review panel.
Concerns you may have…
I don’t know enough about grants…don’t worry. If you know your field, you are a valuable reviewer. They need peers to review proposals and as an expert in your field you will be able to spot good and bad program design from a mile away. They give you clear instructions about what to look for and how to score the proposal so don’t think you need to know that going in.
I don’t have time…that may well be true but the time that you invest in reviewing will save you quadruple the time in the future when you write proposals. You will be much clearer about what reviewers are looking for and what not to do and to do to win.
They wouldn’t want my perspective…that’s probably not true and you won’t know ‘til you ask.
Edge dancing . . .
Don't stand at the edge of your life thinking, "I can't go there." The edge is the next place you are being called to fly. The edge is the unknown that your heart cries for.
It is the mystery and the magic. It is where the world bends to peek up at you as it says, "I'm waiting."
The edge is the beginning. Do not just step. Spill the joy, waggle your wings. Open your arms wide and fall!
Your own soul awaits you. Your own heart shall catch you. And the adventure of your life will ride the tossing of your own precious dreams.