D. Pre-Application Contacts
In a study of over ten thousand applications for grants made to Federal Agencies, the ONE factor which clearly separated successful from unsuccessful proposals was whether the applicants had consulted with the funding agency before submitting their application. Most foundations and private sources also welcome pre-application contacts. Some discourage contact other than requests for general information but others require it, so be sure you know the foundation's preferences before making such contact. Pre-application contacts are not intended to influence the funding agency to make a favorable decision, but to allow you to best "tailor" your application to meet their requirements. Frankly, information is not always written down in the guidelines and application instructions so some direct contact with the agency is the only way to become knowledgeable of these important details. Finally, being known to the agency usually helps.
In addition to determining whether your proposal fits within the agency's current guidelines and funding priorities, it is important to find out how much "new" money an agency has available (as opposed to money that is restricted to funding continuation projects). This can be important in helping you decide whether or not it is worthwhile to submit a proposal to a particular agency. Most agencies are also prepared to make suggestions about alternate sources of funding should your ideas not be appropriate for them. Don't hesitate to ask for this information.
When dealing with public agencies you should be able to request a list of previous grantees. Many private foundations will also supply this information. Not only will you be better able to judge the nature and size of previous awards, but you will also have a list of institutions and people who you can contact. Most PIs are willing to discuss their projects; some will be willing to share copies of proposals and other types of experiences relevant to the grant writing process.
In addition to a list of previous awardees, you may be able to obtain copies of proposals that were funded. Some agencies provide "model" proposals, others provide copies of actual proposals. Any proposal funded with public funds becomes part of the public domain and you have a right to see it. However you should be prepared to pay copying charges or to visit the agency to examine these yourself.
Another excellent source of information that can improve your chances of being funded is to find out something about the reviewers - how they are chosen, what qualifications does the agency look for? You may be able to get a list of recent reviewers. If so you can contact these people to learn what it is they are told to look for as well as what mistakes they commonly see that lead to proposals being declined.
Pre-application contacts are usually made by telephone, by email, by letter or by personal visit. Telephone or email contact is certainly the quickest and is often the best way to confirm whether your project falls within the funding priorities of a particular agency. Telephone calls are also appropriate as follow-ups from written communications or personal visits. Don't expect a telephone call to substitute for these latter forms of contact. Don't try to read your proposal over the phone or expect a detailed review back.
WRITTEN COMMUNICATIONS can take several forms:
- a short preliminary proposal (required by some programs) giving the program title, the name of the submitting organization, a needs statement, objectives, methodology, resources, personnel and budget
- a letter of intent (also required by some programs) containing a description of the proposed project, an estimated budget and some information about the applicant
- an abstract of the proposed project together with a carefully composed letter of transmittal containing information about the applicant, the institution and budgetary requirements
These forms of written communication are merely the commonest. Details will probably need to be modified to meet the specific requirements of different funding agencies.
PERSONAL VISTS should always be preceded by either a telephone call and/or written communications. Always make an appointment and always come prepared with an agenda: specific questions or a planned presentation. Few government or foundation officials have the time to just sit and chat about your ideas; however personal visits can be productive for the funding agency as well as yourself. Agencies need to know what investigators are doing and thinking as this helps them stay on the "cutting edge."