Three Mistakes That Make Grant Applications Easy to Dismiss

Members of the Council on Foundations, a nonprofit association of more than 1,700 grant-making foundations and corporations, were asked: What common mistakes do you see on grant applications? Their answers and observations provide valuable insight into not only what applicants should avoid but also what grant makers desire in a partnership.

Mistake No. 1: Not Talking with Grant Maker Before Applying

Potential applicants should telephone the funding organization to discuss the grantor’s interests and goals. This introductory conversation can help applicants target their applications more precisely and build rapport. “It’s amazing that, even though we encourage organizations to pick up the phone and call us, they will write the whole grant proposal without really ever having taken advantage of the opportunity of finding out what it is that we are really interested in,” said Louis Caldera, vice president of programs for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation at the time of the interview.

Sarah Wilson, director of, has seen similar mistakes in grant proposals submitted for public safety agency funding. “A lot of agencies are very hesitant to reach out to the grant makers directly,” Wilson said. “It’s as if they are afraid that their lack of knowledge about a grant program will somehow impact their ability to get funded when, in fact, it will help because they are, number one, getting the right information about a grant, number two, confirming their project’s eligibility and, number three, developing a relationship with the grant maker themselves.”

Mistake No. 2: Failure to Align Common Interests

Applicants should ensure their project fits within the grant maker’s funding area and that the interests of both parties align. “Probably a full 50 percent of applications we receive are not quite in line with what we are looking for,” said Kevin Webb, director of Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation. “They are easy to say no to.”

When interests don’t align, applicants have not only wasted time and effort working on an irrelevant proposal but also missed more suitable opportunities. To avoid this common mistake, Wilson recommends that applicants carefully read the Request for Proposal, which contains the instructions for the grant program, and if further clarification is needed, call the grant maker’s contact or administering agent.

Mistake No. 3: Overpromising Results or Exaggerating Abilities

Applicants should never oversell their capabilities or intended results. Claims should always be backed up with data. “Making statements such as, ‘We are the only organization that is doing this,’ and not backing it up with any data or proof—especially when the grant funder knows of other organizations that are doing it—becomes problematic for the application,” Webb said.

In fact, accurate statistical data and record keeping are critical to the entire grant process, from the writing of the proposal through the spending of the award. Grants are legally binding contracts with terms and conditions to which grantees must adhere. “A lot of departments don’t understand that it isn’t just about getting the money but also using the money for how it was intended—what you said you were going to do with it—and reporting back and saying, ‘This is what we did with it,’” Wilson said. “Once the department has accepted those funds, they are agreeing to all those terms and conditions.”

Don’t Make Your Application Easy to Dismiss

While the grant application process takes time and dedication, grants can be a viable way to bring your agency’s forensic mapping capabilities into the 21st century. Being aware of common mistakes can help you avoid the same pitfalls and find the path to success.

RELATED: Three Ways to Fund Your Agency’s Laser Scanning Technology 

Contact us today to explore solutions to your agency’s documentation and mapping needs.

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