Grant Writing Advice and Tips: The Grant Helpers Blog

5 Overlooked Grant Basics Part II: Use Numbers to Get More Grants

Posted by Roland Garton on Thu, Nov 2, 2017 @ 12:11 PM

This blog is the second in a series of five blogs that address the basic aspects of successful proposals grant seekers often overlook. Last time, I wrote about the importance of planning to increase grant awards. Click here to read that post.

The message of this blog is the title. It’s worth repeating:

  Use Numbers to Get More Grants  

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Use Numbers to Substantiate Need

Almost all requests for funding address some need. Almost all of them also promise some results or impact if the funding is received. Words can help describe the need and impact. But words, as I mentioned in Part I, have their limitations. If you want to support your case for funding, you need some statistics to prove the truth and extent of your statements.

Here is are two examples that express a concerning need. The numbers are fictitious, but you get the idea:

  • Weak: Many families in our region don’t get enough food to eat.
  • Stronger: Our county has an average income of $48,564/year, well below the 2014 national average of $52,939. At the same time, 43% of our population consists of families with school-age children. Many of these children come to school hungry, and hunger has been shown to lower academic scores (Vedantam, 2017). The 16 schools in our district average 55% of students receiving free and reduced lunch. The weekend backpack program sends home 350 backpacks to the neediest children and turns down requests for another 125. A statistically-sampled survey conducted by our county health department last year revealed 35% of families who indicate that their families sometimes leave the house with inadequate meals.

I’d like to point out some crucial aspects of the stronger example:

Simple language is fine. The writing has complete sentences, no grammatical errors, and some variety of sentence structure. But it’s not elaborate or especially florid. The writing style is not what makes the second example strong; it’s the power of the numbers that document a community in need.

Do the legwork. It takes time gather the kind of information reflected in the strong example. The type of data shown here could easily take an hour or more to research and document. When planning to write a proposal, set aside sufficient time to find numbers that support your case.

Cite authoritative sources. Any time you can cite sources with credibility, you enhance your own credibility. The strong example above includes a reference to published research. Other authoritative documents might be published magazine articles, reports from units of government, or statements from nationally recognized organizations.

Use Number to Demonstrate Impact

As with need, using numbers to demonstrate impact will strengthen the odds you’ll receive funding. Funders like to know and measure the results of their investments. You can help them by providing clear measurements that prove results.

  • Weak: We will get more people to use rain barrels, which will result in greater water conservation.
  • Stronger: Currently, only 0.5% of the population in our city (100,000) have rain barrels. The proposed awareness program will reach 30,000 people with the fliers, social media, public service announcements, and community presentations described in the Work Plan. We have tested the program with 100 people, and 12 of them took advantage of subsidies for rain barrels. We expect the percentage of adopters in a larger population to drop. If it drops to half of the test group percentage, 6%, the program will still bring an additional 1,800 barrels to peoples’ homes, increasing the total to 2,000, which is 2% of the population.  The resulting annual savings, at an estimated $120 per barrel per year, would be $240,000.

Strong metrics reflect strong planning that will move your proposal up in the reviewer’s evaluation. They will also make things easier when you write your project reports. Furthermore, after the project has shown measurable progress, you will have a strong case for additional funding from this agency, as well as others.  The more your numbers can prove that you’re meeting the funder’s goals, the more likely they are to smile upon your next request.

Using numbers to show results is not only good grantsmanship to help receive funding, but it’s also good stewardship. Good stewardship is an inherent responsibility that accompanies the support you receive from others. But, more than that, good stewardship builds goodwill, which in turn increases your prospects for future funding. Stewardship is the main focus of the next blog in this series.

Topics: overlooked grant basics, numbers, numbers to get grants, Grant Writing Tips, grant application tips, statistics to get grants, show need in grant applications, Grant Writing and Planning, Grant writing objectives, How to Grant Write, best practices in grant writing, Write a Better Grant Series, grant writing help, grant writing examples, grant writing

The Common Errors of Grant Writing

Posted by Alisyn Franzen on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 @ 22:11 PM

It may sound like we’re stating the obvious, but one thing grant writers need to be diligent about is the proper use of grammar and punctuation in their writing. Obvious errors are one of the common complaints from grant reviewers we talk to. Such errors could immediately put you at a loss or disadvantage with a grant reviewer – and it’s not hard to remedy before you submit, but hard to recover from afterwards.

In this blog, we discuss a few of the most common grammar and punctuation errors. Perhaps showcasing these basic rules will make you more aware of how you use them and freshen your minds on how to use them properly. And remember, if you want an expert set of eyes to proofread your grant application, we are here to help you. Just contact a grant helper to get started.

 

Common Grant Writing Errors:

1)      Spelling – Even with spell check on nearly every word processing program, people still make spelling errors. Maybe in celebration of finishing a document, we forget to use spell check, but more often, spelling errors aren’t caught by a spell checker because the misspelled word is not “misspelled,” but rather, it’s the wrong word for the context. Autocorrect options make such errors even harder to detect.

  Incorrect example: The Grant Helpers is here to help you in all steppes of the grant writing process.

Grammar Writing ProofreadingSteppes is a word meaning prairies or grasslands, but here the word we are looking for is steps. This is an example of something a spell checker would not catch. The lesson here is to remember to use the spell check feature, but also remember to read your document closely to look for misused words, and to have a fresh set of eyes look it over as well.

 

2)      Commas (,) vs. Semicolons (;) – Use commas when connecting two independent clauses (sets of words that can be their own sentence) with a connecting word, or conjunction (and, but, or). Semicolons also connect two independent clauses but do not use connecting words.

  Correct examples:

  • I will be going to the store, but I am not stopping at the post office.

  • I will be going to the store; I will also stop at the post office.

 

Commas can also be used in a list.

  Correct example: His favorite colors were red, blue, green, and yellow.

 

Semicolons are also used in lists, but this usually happens when the lists themselves contain commas.

  Correct example:

  • Choose from fries, salad, or soup.

  • Choose from fries, baked potato, or mashed potato; garden salad, Cesar salad, or soup; and juice, milk, or a soft drink.

 

3)      Colons (:) – Use a colon to extend a sentence, set off a list, or to introduce a bulleted list. A colon should be used when the idea before it and after it are related.

  Correct Example:

  • There were two choices: watch a movie or go bowling. (extends sentence and is a list)

  • (See the colon after “For Example” above for an example of introducing a bulleted list.)

 

4)      It’s and ItsIt’s means it is or it has. However, its is the possessive form of it.

  Correct example: Where is its chew toy? It’s under the couch!

 

When finished writing your grant, it is highly recommended to have another set of eyes review your work to ensure your work is error-free. You will lose credibility if you turn in an error-laden piece of writing that is requesting funding, especially if those errors may seem minor. The Grant Helpers can offer expert assistance throughout all aspects of the grant writing process, and we have expert grammarians and English majors who can help with proofreading your grant materials. Contact us or respond to this blog to ask a question for free. You can also contact us for a free quote on a specific project.

 

Image Credit: the Italian voice

Topics: grant services, best practices in grant writing, Grant writing objectives, grant writing submission, grant editing, grant writing examples, How to Grant Write, grant strategy, Grant Writing Tips, Write a Better Grant Series

Grant Writing Tip #10: What To Do If Your Grant is Rejected

Posted by Katie Adams on Wed, Jan 5, 2011 @ 12:01 PM

Professional Grant Writers in Illinois

(Image Credit)

Unfortunately, rejection is a normal part of the grant writing process. Since there will always be a limited amount of monies for grants, funding cycles will also be competitive. Instead of becoming discouraged, the best grant writers know how to leverage the rejection to increase their chances of success for the next funding cycle. 

1. Request the Reviewers' Comments

As they evaluate grant applications, reviewers make comments - and you are entitled to receive those comments. You will usually receive reviewer comments automatically, but if not, obtain them and read them over. They should give you insight into where your proposal fell short of expectations. 

Look for "fixable" problems such as missing data in a particular section. Also look for encouraging or discouraging wording in general. Weak scores in a NEEDS or SIGNIFICANCE section, for example, often indicate a mismatch between your goals and those of the funding agency, which you might not be able to address. But wording such as "important problem, but missing xyz..." tells you that a revision would be considered favorably if it addresses the concerns.  

2. Review the Winning Applications

read through winning grant applications

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Some agencies will provide you with copies of the winning grant aplications if you simply ask. Others will require you to apply to see them under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which takes time, but is not overly burdensome. Frequently, the funding agency posts abstracts of winners online, which can be highly informative.

When you review a number of winning applications, patterns begin to emerge. Learn from the winners and incorporate those lessons into your next application. We frequently do this for clients, and it's led to a higher success rate. 

3. Revise and Re-Apply

professional grant writers in Illinois

(Image Credit) 

If you can address the reviewers' concerns, revise your application and re-apply. Unless you're applying for a one-time grant opportunity, most funding opportunities come around once every 1-2 years. If you're rejected one year, apply for the next round for which you are eligible (assuming it still makes sense for your organization, of course). Grant writing involves a bit of trial and error, and you shouldn't necessarily become discouraged by rejection. Plus, reviewer panels may change each cycle, so their impressions can too. 

Assuming you had a strong proposal to begin with and you addressed the reviewers' concerns, you can use your past proposal as a foundation for the next round's application.

Also, continue to look for additional funding agencies that might be interested in your work with a re-focus on that agency's priorities. You can leverage your time investment in a single proposal by modifying it for multiple submissions. 

TheGrantHelpers.com offers a free article on how to make your grant application stronger. Download Making the Case for Funding by clicking on the button below. 

make your grant application stronger

Topics: best practices in grant writing, Grant Writing Tips, Write a Better Grant Series

Grant Writing Tip #9: Submitting Your Grant Application

Posted by Katie Adams on Fri, Dec 31, 2010 @ 16:12 PM

Submit well ahead of time. It's extremely important to submit your grant proposal before the deadline. You know how it goes - if anything can go wrong, it will and there is a lot that can go wrong with the submission process. One of our proposal writers once suffered a power outage during a proposal submission when a squirrel chewed into the transformer of the power pole outside his office - talk about bad luck!

I have never worked with a grant-making agency that accepts late submissions, and it would be a shame to invest your time and energy writing a grant, only to lose out due to forces beyond your control. 

If submitting by mail...

professional grant writers always submit grant proposals early to avoid rejection

(Image Credit) 

Most federal agencies have switched to a paperless grant system and will no longer accept paper copies without prior approval. (Ironically, the Environmental Protection Agency still accepts only hard-copy proposals). If you're working with a grant-making agency that does accept proposal submissions through mail, double-check the postage and get it in the mailbox early. Some agencies will accept grants that are postmarked by the deadline date, others require it to be in their hands by the deadline, no exceptions. Read through the grant guidelines to see the agency's policy, and if you can't find the answer, ask them. Also, double check the address. Some agencies have different addresses for U.S. mail than for other couriers.

If submitting by bit (electronic submission)...

professional grant writers know that online submission is the norm(Image Credit)

Electronic grant submission is more the norm now, and it's worth your time to explore the grant-making agency's grant submission website several weeks before the deadline date. The day the grant is due is not the day to figure out how the website works, no matter your technological hubris. Some proposals require registration at multiple sites, each of which can take a week or so to make happen.

Submit well ahead of time (it's worth saying again). As a company policy, we upload our grant proposals onto the submission website at least a few days before the deadline. We then check every uploaded file to ensure it's the right file, in the right place. We also have at least two pairs of eyes check the vital details of the grant's cover page before submitting - is the DUNS number correct? Is the EIN number correct? The contact's email address? This way, if we find mistakes, we have time to fix them. 

professional grant writer: not thwarted by squirrel mischief!

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Our power-outaged grant writer was able to submit successfully when the power came back up since it was before the deadline, and he lived on to submit many more. Not so lucky was the squirrel - that transformer was the last dispenser of publicly available resources it ever dealt with. 

Interested in more grant writing advice? Take advantage of The Grant Helper's free grant writing consultation. 

grant writing advice

Topics: grant writing submission, Grant Writing Tips, Write a Better Grant Series

Grant Writing Tip #8: Review Your Grant Before Final Submission

Posted by Katie Adams on Mon, Dec 20, 2010 @ 11:12 AM

grant editing and grant evaluationThis may seem like an obvious tip, but a lot of grant writers don't budget the time to look over their work before submission. A good review occurs at two levels: 1.) Content and 2.) Proofing.

1.) Review your grant for compliance 

 A good, thorough review should focus on compliance with the grant's guidelines and the proposal's content. Have a pair of new eyes read through the grant's guidelines, and then read through the completed grant proposal. With the guidelines and grant requirements fresh in your editor's mind, he or she will be able to judge whether your grant proposal provides everything the RFP requests. Some proposal efforts establish a "red team" or a "tiger team" for this level of review. 

A good, thorough review should focus on compliance with the grant's guidelines and the proposal's content. Have a pair of new eyes read through the grant's guidelines, and then read through the completed grant proposal. With the guidelines and grant requirements fresh in your editor's mind, he or she will be able to judge whether your grant proposal provides everything the RFP requests. Some proposal efforts establish a "red team" or a "tiger team" for this level of review. 

Ask your editor to comment on your proposal's clarity and flow of logic - is it easy to follow? Is there any jargon that needs to be defined? Are there any gaps in explanations or logical flaws? When you are close to a project, it is easy to omit details and assume your readers will still understand you. A fresh reader who is further removed from the project can help prevent these "comprehension gaps" in your grant proposal.

As part of this step, ask your editor(s) to write down the proposal's strengths and weaknesses while going through the document, ideally focusing on the weaknesses. You can then use this document to guide your editing, prior to submission.

2. Review your grant for spelling, grammar, and other obvious errors.

This step, as obvious as it is, also calls for a fresh set of eyes. Anyone familiar with the document may easily overlook errors and every mistake runs the risk of making your proposal look unprofessional, less worthy of funding, and even inadmissible. We know of one community college whose grant proposal, after months of efforts, was rejected because two digits were transposed in an ID number - don't let that happen to you!

The reviewing process can take some time, so it is important to budget time for both levels of review. Reviewing and proofing at the last minute can defeat the purpose of a careful, thoughtful inspection where you can fix any problems that arise. Careful editing often makes the difference between funding and rejection - do not shortchange this critical step. (Image Credit)

The Grant Helpers provides review, editing, and submission services for all types of grant proposals. Visit our grant services page, or sign up to talk with a Grant Helper

talk to a grant writing expert

Topics: grant services, grant editing, Write a Better Grant Series

Grant Writing Tip #7: Link Your Budget to Project Goals

Posted by Roland Garton on Tue, Dec 7, 2010 @ 13:12 PM

fakebud240Though we tend to think of the budget and justification as a dry, numerical exercise, it is nonetheless another opportunity to build your case for funding in your grant proposal.  You are communicating to reviewers your organization’s ability to plan and execute a successful project in accordance with the funding agency’s wishes.

The obvious guidance regarding a budget is to make sure it obeys the grant guidelines. If tuition is not allowed, for example, don’t try to request tuition. Don’t try to hide it in indirect costs.  (Surprisingly, we’ve dealt with more than one university that has trouble with this concept.) If indirect costs are limited to 8%, don’t request more than that, even if you have a federally negotiated rate that’s higher. Don’t include a subcontractor from Canada if the guidelines stipulate all work to be done in the United States. These are all real-life examples we’ve encountered - we are not making them up.

The next most obvious guidance is to provide a detailed budget justification that explains your expenses adequately. The REMS grant reviewers especially expect a lot of detail, and will not be satisfied with high-level estimates. How did you arrive at your travel expenses—how many trips, how many people, what rates for rental car, per diem, lodging? What specific supplies will you purchase with the requested funds, and how much does each on cost? If you hire subcontractors, what specific tasks will they perform, how many hours will each take, and at what rate?  If the proposal guidelines ask for a description of duties and roles, provide it, even if you have already provided the same information in the proposal text.

Third, and this is perhaps not quite so obvious, link your budget items to project goals.  In your budget justification, remind grant reviewers how the expense will fulfill the goals of the project and the mission of the agency.  Don’t say simply, “We’ll travel to Washington, DC.”  Instead, say why: “We will meet with the national consortium in Washington, DC, in order to determine dissemination strategies.  Their assistance and collaboration is vital to making our successes known across the nation and to replicating the success of our program on a national scale.”

Need assistance with your grant proposal's budget? The Grant Helpers can assist. Talk to an Grant Helper for free

Topics: Budgets, grant writing examples, Write a Better Grant Series

Grant Writing Tip #6: Talk to the Funding Office

Posted by Katie Adams on Wed, Dec 1, 2010 @ 12:12 PM

The people in the funding office are often one of your best resources as a grant writer. Don't be reluctant to contact them with your questions - in most cases, you'll find the office to be approachable and helpful. You'll usually find their contact information in the proposal guidelines. 

Grant officials cannot help you write the grant, and they will steer clear of any comments that may be interpreted as promises of funding, but that doesn't inhibit their aid. When we're working on a proposal for an RFP that we haven't applied to before, we always contact the office to see if we're on the right track.

Prior to calling the grant office, we'll read through the guidelines and prepare an informal, 1-page abstract regarding our program. We may never actually send the grant abstract, but the exercise helps us organize our thoughts and makes describing the project a lot easier over the phone. Sometimes we'll prepare more than one abstract, each with a different main emphasis. 

Once that document is prepared, we'll call the funding office and run the program idea by them to see if we're on the same page. How do you do this? 

professional grant writers in IL know they can contact the funding office by phone(Image Credit)

Calling the Grant Program Office

  • Have the grant or RFP number ready, and explain that you have a question regarding the program.
  • Briefly describe what you would like to accomplish with a grant award. (This is where your abstract comes in handy!)
  • Ask them for feedback - the key is in the phrasing:

Bad: Will you fund this program?

Good: Is our approach within the scope of your program?

Good: Is this the type of project the funding is designed for?

Good: We were considering Focus A and Focus B. Which would be more closely aligned with the aims of the funding program?

Good: Would another agency or office be a better fit for this program?

When they give you feedback, take note and use it. 

You can also inquire abut common pitfalls and problems they come across in grant proposals. Ask: Is there anything of which you should be particularly aware of when you write your proposal? We often ask this of grant program officers, even though we know the most common grant writing pitfalls. Their response may provide valuable insight into the priorities and goals of the agency.

Lastly, although this may seem obvious. contact the grant program office as early as possible when they are not bogged down with requests from last-minute would-be applicants. 

Topics: grant writing examples, Grant Writing Tips, Write a Better Grant Series

Grant Writing Tip #5: Tips for a Strong Grant Evaluation Plan

Posted by Katie Adams on Sun, Nov 28, 2010 @ 09:11 AM

professional grant writers always make a strong evaluation plan
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Much as been written on the subject of grant evaluation metrics - it cannot be done justice in one short blog post. Consider this article an introduction on the topic, and contact us if you have any questions

An evaluation plan is a key element to consider when grant writing. It shows how you will measure two key aspects of the project described in your grant application: 

1. The Process Evaluation demonstrates that you are performing the tasks according to the project plan. That is, you're doing what you said you'll be doing. 

2. The Outcome Evaluation demonstrates that you have achieved the goals and impact you were funded to achieve. That is, you're getting the right results. 

If your objectives are detailed and stated clearly, the outcome evaluation plan should follow naturally. 

A strong evaluation plan will provide details on the methods, metrics, and benchmarks for success that will be used. Explain how progress and outcomes will be measured as well as how often the evaluator will be reviewing the progress outcomes. As with objectives, be as quantitative and specific as possible when stating the intended results. 

For example, for a recent REMS application (an educational grant) we prepared for a client, the evaluation plan included:

  • An outside evaluator, hired with grant funding
  • Planned, periodic meetings with the Program Coordinator and other vital staff throughout the funding cycle to provide informal, formative feedback
  • Stated measures for success, both qualitative and quantitative. The plan included the number of staff and student training sessions (quantitative), the number of community-based informational sessions and training opportunities (quantitative) and pre/post test surveys to measure the change-in-knowledge of parents and school staff members (qualitative), as well as other measurable components with demonstrable results 
  • Periodic progress reports prepared by the evaluator for program staff 

You'll notice that this evaluation plan had elements embedded in it throughout the project and the funding cycle - it should not be an afterthought. Evaluators must be included at the beginning to set up the data collection and evaluation practices along the way. Whether you hire an external evaluator or assign in-house staff to perform the evaluation themselves, make sure to state clearly who will be performing the evaluation when you write your grant. 

In addition to giving your grant proposal a more competitive edge, a strong evaluation plan (especially the process evaluation) will help assure that the resulting project is well-managed once you get your funding. 

We offer more tips on how to improve your grant evaluation plan in our free article, Making Your Case for Funding. You can download it for free by clicking on the button below.

making your case for funding

Topics: Grant Writing Tips, Write a Better Grant Series, tips on grant evaluations

Grant Writing Tip #4: Clear, Measurable Objectives

Posted by Katie Adams on Tue, Oct 26, 2010 @ 14:10 PM

What are grant objectives? Put simply, they’re specific statements of what you will accomplish in order to meet your goals. (Goals are more general). 

In every grant proposal, you must establish concrete objectives and express them clearly. Keep in mind that the funding agency is making an investment with each grant award, and they want to make sure that their investment will be put to good use. When you are determining what your objectives will be, focus on measurable goals and explain them clearly in your proposal. For instance:

Weak Objective: With a Readiness and Emergency Management (REMS) grant award, we will improve the emergency response protocol of Apple Orchards School District and improve emergency response training for all staff members, ensuring a safer environment for the district's students. 

This statement might be acceptable a general goals section of the proposal, but not for a specific objective.

Weak Objective: We will improve training.

Why would this objective fail to inspire a grant award? It's too vague. You could show one school janitor a Sesame Street rerun on “stop, drop, and roll” and meet this objective.

Better Objective: The total number of staff with NIMS training will increase as shown below:

grant writing objectives 

Better Objective:  By the end of year 1 we will develop a 4-hour staff orientation program explaining the revised school safety plan; by the end of year 2, all existing staff will receive this training; also by the end of year 2, the District’s staff orientation protocol will require that all new staff receive the 4-hour safety training.

professional grant writers in Illinois

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The improved objectives showcase clear and measurable goals - you leave nothing to the imagination of the grant reviewer. Good objectives also show you've done your industry research, which inspires confidence in the project. A grant reviewer is always pleased to know that you have reviewed state and federal guidelines, and that your project aims to meet and/or exceed them. 

Good objectives will also serve you well later on, as they are the first step to having a solid evaluation plan. After all, if you state exactly what you aim to prove, you’ve already set the stage for demonstrating when you've reached the goal. 

The Grant Helpers offers a free article on how to make your grant proposal stronger - Making Your Case for Funding. Download it for free: Making Your Case for Funding

Need more help? Talk to a grant writing expert

Topics: Grant writing objectives, grant writing examples, Write a Better Grant Series

Write a Better Grant: Tip #3 Make the Case

Posted by Katie Adams on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 @ 16:09 PM

It’s funding season, and we’re running a series of approaches on how to help ensure your grant ends up in the “Funded” pile. Our first two tips on how to write a better grant were Following Grant Proposal Directions and Be a Good Fit for the Grant Funder. 

#3: Make the Case

professional grant writers in Illinois

(Image Credit) 

Every RFP is a competition, and you have to explain without question why your project deserves funding more than the other applicants.  After all, grants aren’t “free money” given for good will.  They are investments by the funding agency to achieve particular goals.

Making the case is important enough that we offer a separate paper describing the five pillars of a sound argument in grant writing: need, uniqueness, impact, matched goals, and feasibility. While we cover the basics here, the paper goes more in-depth. Click on the link to download the free guide. 

Often in preparing a proposal, we will generate a separate case statement.  That statement does not get included in the proposal per se, but it guides the research and planning that are the core of proposal generation.  Consider the following questions when generating your case statement:

  • What are the known, demonstrable deficiencies that you are proposing to remedy?  What particular opportunities will you take advantage of?
  • How is your proposal better than current approaches and potential approaches from others?
  • What specific end results will you accomplish?  How can you quantify the results and the impact so they can be measured and prove that the funding agency is getting its money’s worth?
  • How does your proposal specifically meet the goals of the funding program and the mission of the funding agency? 
  • How can you convince the funding agency that your plan will work and that you are qualified to execute the plan?
  • How can you substantiate and quantify each of these points with hard data? Consider demographics, state-of-the-art practices, and expert opinions.

Make sure your basic argument for funding is sound and well supported with facts, figures, and convincing logic.  Where there are gaps, gather supporting information.  Where plans are vague, generate clear, well-organized tasks and approaches.  Once you have done all this, the writing will flow naturally along the lines of the argument and you'll be one step closer to having a winning proposal.

make the case for funding

Topics: How to Grant Write, Grant Writing Tips, Write a Better Grant Series