Grant Writing: 3 Tips for Discussing Impact in Federal Grant Applications

Applying for federal funding is intricate and must be done with the utmost care. This blog offers three tips for grant writers to highlight the impact of their project. This case uses the example of a federal grant to support a wildlife restoration project.

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This blog post was first posted on May 8, 2019, by Grants.gov.

Let’s say that your organization is applying for a federal grant that will support a wildlife reserve restoration project.

You craft a need statement that (1) aligns with the grant-making agency’s funding opportunity announcement; (2) communicates your organization’s experience with restoration projects; and (3) includes several concise—but compelling—anecdotes illustrating the need for restoration.

Now, you and your writing team need to outline the impact that your proposed project will have on the wildlife reserve. Once again, you’ll want to make sure the impact your team projects aligns with agency goals. You will also need to balance specificity with realism.

Below, we continue our grant-writing series with tips for defining and projecting the impact of a proposed project. The following tips have been adapted from the US Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources & Services Administration’s grant-writing guide, titled “Tips for Writing and Submitting Good Grant Proposals.”

Tip 1: Think like a reviewer when you are discussing the impact of your proposed project.

When discussing the impact of your proposed project, it’s highly recommended that you keep these reviewers in mind and reference the mission of the grant-making agency.

For example, in this award-winning proposal’s “Broad Impact” section, the authors reference an agency-wide goal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS): “This project will address IMLS Agency-Level Goal 1: Learning, with a focus on the performance goals of training and developing museum and library professionals, and developing and providing inclusive and accessible learning opportunities.”

Here, the writers are thinking like a reviewer. Proposals will be reviewed, in part, for their fit within the grant-making agency’s larger institutional goals. If your discussion of impact does not align with agency-level goals, it begs the following question: why would a government agency fund a project whose impact will not advance the goals of said agency?

Tip 2: Make your discussion of impact and outcomes as concrete as possible.

Sometimes using concrete language will mean getting specific about the number of beneficiaries that the project will be designed to reach—say, 150 young people in a disadvantaged community or 23 rural hospitals. Sometimes grant writers will need to provide a target statistic—for example, “a pollutant will be decreased by 10 to 15 parts per million.”

In the award-winning proposal cited above, the authors discuss two target populations that will be impacted positively by the project—the students who will contribute to the study and the library institutions that will benefit from the data collected.

“This project will engage 100 teens in conducting original research and identify best practices for connecting youth to the research process, which has the potential to impact informal learning nationally,” reads the proposal. “Diverse youth will have the opportunity to see themselves as researchers with important perspectives to contribute and to develop their complex literacy skills…”

The authors continue: “This project promotes research as an activity and career path and will develop and assess a camp curriculum for youth coresearch in libraries, connecting practice and research with a community orientation. Library staff at [four] national partner sites will receive extensive training and support, and their experiences will inform the creation and dissemination of a publicly available model and accompanying workshops for LIS practitioners.”

Of course, every federal grant application is going to look different, depending on the requirements laid out by the grant-making agency. For example, science-related projects will have different outcomes than community-related projects.

Expanding on the use of specificity and concreteness when discussing impact, the Appalachian Regional Commission’s (ARC) excellent grant-writing resource notes the differences between outputs and outcomes: “Outputs are measures of a program’s activities; outcomes are changes that result from the activities. Outputs matter because they lead to outcomes. An output might be an increase in the size of a stream-side vegetative buffer. An outcome might be the resulting increase in the oyster harvest that occurs because the buffer stops pollutants from reaching the river.”

Tip 3: Be realistic when discussing impact.

This advice appears again and again in federal agency guidance to grant writers. There will surely be a temptation to present best-case scenarios that read like works of fiction. Remember, though, that the agencies that are funding these projects have been around for a long time; they know the track records of prior projects, and they will sense when a project’s impact is being over-sold.

ARC’s resource gives this excellent example: “Your projected outcomes must be realistic. Some pollution will always exist within the river. Reducing the pollutants to an acceptable level in one year or even five years might be impossible. Consult with experts—local ones are fine—and determine what is realistic for your situation.”

The guidance continues: “If the river clean-up will take 10 years, say so. Failing to meet goals will make getting additional funding in the future more difficult. It is far better to promise less and exceed your goals than to overpromise and underdeliver.”

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