Tips for On-Line Applications
It’s certainly not news to most of us that more funders are requiring applications or Letters of Inquiry to be submitted on-line. The complexity of these on-line methods ranges from simple e-mail forms with a few checkboxes and a “send” button to the ever-favorite Grants.gov.
Here are a few tips that can help make your transition into the world of on-line grant seeking a little easier.
- Work Off-Line, not “Live.” Compose responses in a word processor and paste them into the web form.
For many reasons, if you are responding to a question with more than a sentence or two, it makes sense to compose your response in a word processor where you can save it, edit it, think it over, count the words, run spell check, and treat it as carefully as you would a traditional print application.
- Print Everything. Print a copy of any form before you submit it.
Before you click “submit,” print off a copy of the form you’ve just filled out. You may not find out until after you’ve submitted that you get no other chance to keep a record of your application. While some sites offer you a printer-friendly version at the end, some don’t. Assume the one you’re working on won’t.
- Use Word Count.
Some web forms may say “Describe Project Objectives,” and then state that you must answer within 250 words, or even scarier, 3200 characters. Before you try to start counting letters on your screen, be assured that word processors provide an automatic word or character counting feature.
But, did you know that there are two ways computers count characters? One counts just letters and numbers, but one includes the spaces between characters in its total. Which method does your funder use? If you make sure your text does not exceed the maximum number of characters by asking your computer to count “characters with spaces,” you won’t have your prose truncated by a computer that counts differently than you do.
Other Tips for Using Word Count:
- using your mouse, select only the text you want counted before clicking “word count,” or it will count all of the text of your entire document
- if you’re handy with techie features, add a “word count” button to your toolbar
- always come in under the maximum word or character limit
- Get the WHOLE Application Before Starting.
Some web sites require you to complete one page before you can even see what questions appear on the next page. You want to find a way to see all of the application questions before you begin filling out the form. You can do this by entering some placeholder text into any required fields so that you can proceed to the next page. Print out the pages or paste them into your word processor so that you have the entire application in one place. At the final page, click “cancel” or “back” to avoid submitting the application.
What you don’t want is to waste your maximum number of words or your time answering a question on Page 2 that you would have answered differently if you had known about the questions on Page 3. Also, if you don’t have all of the questions when you begin writing, you may have to stop in the middle to get additional information before you can proceed.
If the web site provides no way to save a partially-completed application in process, you will have lost all of your work up until that point.
- Don’t Be Afraid of Grants.Gov. If you can follow directions and give yourself enough time, Grants.gov is not as scary as it may sound.
There is a lot we could say about Grants.gov, but here are few highlights. The most complicated and time consuming part is registering with the Central Contractor Registry (CCR). While this is required before you can submit an application, you only have to go through this maze once.
TIP: If your organization is a university or hospital, some or all of the CCR process may have already been completed. Don’t start from scratch unless you determine that you must.
Don’t wait for the registration process to be complete before beginning work on your application. Anyone can access Grants.gov, download applications and compile an application without registering (you do have to download their free software to use their documents). The only thing you cannot do is submit an application via Grants.gov until your organization is properly set up with the CCR. This means that you can be working on the application while the CCR process is taking place.
Grants.gov provides very clear checklists under the “Get Registered” link. Print them off, and follow them carefully, and the registration process will actually proceed pretty smoothly.
Then, submit early. Grants.gov will notify you within 48 hours if it detects technical problems with your application. Leave yourself time to make corrections and re-submit by the deadline so that you’re not disqualified.
- Pay Attention to What Happens After You Submit.
The job isn’t necessarily done after you click “submit.” Does the funder request that you send your 501(c)(3) letter? Do they just say, “application received; don’t call us; we’ll call you”? Does the federal agency require you to fax a form to them?
Even though Grants.gov is supposed make submitting grant proposals to all federal agencies the same, it hasn’t. Read the RFP very carefully to find out what is required by the agency after you receive submission confirmation from Grants.gov. You may not find these instructions anywhere else but in the funding announcement. Different agencies require different post-submittal actions, and failure to complete these makes your application incomplete.
Sometimes e-mail or a web application may tempt us to treat that process as less formal or requiring less attention to detail than a traditional written proposal would. If you can avoid this pitfall, treat your electronic submissions with the same care as your other proposals, and leave yourself time to understand the technology, you will be less frustrated and will experience more success. Go forth and click “submit!”
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