Must Do Math Before Writing a Grant

Meredith Noble grant writing unicorn
by Meredith Noble
April 28, 2019
Must do Math for Grants is similar to playing poker

We were never particularly gifted at math, but basic math comes in handy as a grant writer! For every single grant we seriously consider, we insist on knowing the applicant success rate.

Applicant Success Rate for Grants

What’s that you ask? That is how many applicants were awarded funding out of the total number of applicants.

Why? Now you may say this isn’t a good indication of success since your proposal will be above average. That hopefully is true, but when you get into grants that award less than 10% of applicants, it doesn’t matter how good your application is – the odds are just working against you!

How to Calculate Applicant Success Rate

How do you calculate it? Divide the number of successful applicants by the total number of applicants. For example, if 80 grants were awarded and 400 applied, that equates to a 20% success rate (80/400=20%).

What if that info isn’t published? Ask the funding agency. This is a non-negotiable detail to have before deciding to write a grant. Some programs are so competitive less than 5% of applicants are awarded (or even worse!). You must know this so you don’t waste time writing a grant with impossible chances of success.

P.S. If you want to review other suggested questions to ask funding agencies, read this blog post on 3 Tests to Decide If a Grant is Worth Pursuing.

What do we do with this information?

Our rule of thumb is to not apply for grants with less than a 20% chance of success.

We will tolerate down to a 12-15% range if we think we have an exceptionally well developed project and team, but it’s rare. As mentioned earlier, we do this so we are spending our time on grants that present good odds of success.

Why this matters?

When you are dealing with bad odds of success, it doesn’t matter if you have a perfect grant application. Someone else will have a perfect application too! For that reason, it is critical to focus on the handful of grants that you are reasonably confident will be successful. To do this, you need a Funding Strategy.

A Funding Strategyis our secret sauce. I developed this methodology to filter hundreds of grants and pick out the top 2-5 worth pursuing. You can learn a bit more about it here. We go way deep on this topic in Module 2 of Grant Writing: From Start to Funded.

The point is, your resources are limited. Leverage your exceptional talents and energy for grant pursuits that are worth it. Plus, we want you to have a high win rate with your grants!

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