Impress Funders with Your Grant Proposal: Target Your Outcomes

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    Back in the early days of my career – when high tech meant you had a fax machine – one of my grant proposals to the National Endowment for the Humanities for an elementary school enrichment project was rejected, and we wanted to find out if it made sense to reapply.

    I traveled from New York to Washington to meet with our program officer. He said we lost it on the evaluation, noting that our pre-test/post-test model required too much testing. So I asked him what he considered a good evaluation design.

    His response was that if the children looked like they were having a good time; it would be considered a good program. We rewrote it following that advice, and it was funded and renewed several times.

    That would never happen today. Funders have become consumed with the notion of outcomes assessment. Proposals must be clear about what will be accomplished with the money granted by the funder. They must clearly distinguish between goals and objectives. Goals are a general statement of intent. In the example I gave, providing an enrichment experience to a group of fourth graders would be a goal. But the outcomes need to be much more targeted.

    They must detail the exact result the program will achieve for a specified number of participants, within a limited period of time. The objectives also need to presage the mechanism through which the program will be evaluated.

    So the objective in our example might be “As a result of this program, 50 fourth-grade students will increase their understanding of local history by being able to attain a grade of 80% on the XYZ Standardized test of historical understanding.” That’s a long way from our program officer’s response. By the way, that’s how we wrote the proposal the first time, but it was more than 30 years ago.

    Success in getting funded depends very much on knowing exactly what the grant project will accomplish. That should be one of the first questions one asks oneself. “What will be different as a result of this program?”

    Funders not only want their grants to make a difference; they want to know exactly what that difference will be.

    Have a comment or a question about starting or expanding your grants program? Email me at