Applying for a Grant, Step by Step
These are the essential steps to developing and submitting a grant proposal. Click on a step to see the details.
Step 1: Figure out what you want to do
Everything starts with your idea. Once you know what you want to do, you can identify possible funding sources and start to develop a grant proposal. Continue planning and writing during all of the following steps; each one will help you to flesh out, refine, and improve your proposal.
Step 2: Enlist SRO or CFR
At least two months before the submission deadline, contact the Sponsored Research Office.
The Sponsored Research Office supports proposal development and submission by:
- setting up accounts in electronic grant-submission systems
- explaining sponsor culture and helping faculty interpret guidelines
- brainstorming with faculty during proposal development
- suggesting a timeline to keep proposal development on schedule
- providing a budget template that auto-calculates totals
- advising on and checking project budgets to ensure that they meet sponsor and College requirements
- editing proposals for grantsmanship and alignment with sponsor mission
- supporting the College endorsement (blue sheet) process
- vetting proposals before submission to ensure that they comply with sponsor and College requirements
- ensuring that proposals are complete and submitted on time.
For institutional project approval and assistance, contact the Corporate & Foundations Relations office (Chuck Mason, x5717).
Step 3: Read the guidelines, gather forms and letters, check the deadline
Make sure you have the most up-to-date guidelines and read them carefully. Eligibility requirements and submission limits vary by sponsor, and often by each specific opportunity. Check the funding source’s guidelines to find out whether you are eligible for an award and how many proposals you may submit within a particular timeframe.
Gather the templates and application forms you need. If you need referee letters, letters of support, or letters of recommendation, contact the letter writers as early as possible.
Verify the submission deadline and method. If your proposal is going out in hard copy form, you are responsible for copying, packaging, and shipping it. For a mailing deadline, be sure you know whether it is "postmarked by" or "received by" and plan accordingly.
For electronic deadlines, find out whether you must submit it by midnight or by “close of business” in a particular time zone and plan to submit early to avoid potential technical problems. A deadline that falls on a federal holiday may be moved; be sure you know what the sponsor has planned.
For all deadlines, you must allow enough time for the endorsement (blue sheet) process. You cannot submit your proposal until this process is complete. Try the basic timeline developed by the Sponsored Research Office to help you plan.
Step 4: Seek expert guidance
Make sure that your project is eligible for the program—discuss your proposal with a program officer. Find out whether the sponsor will review draft proposals. Talk with colleagues who have applied to or reviewed for this or similar programs; the Sponsored Research Office can help you identify them. Ask SRO or CFR what we know about the culture of the funding source. If possible, take time to review examples of successful proposals, which SRO can also supply.
Step 5: Create a budget
At least one month before the submission deadline, start developing a budget that will support the project you want to do. Cover as many project costs as you can think of. Always include Facilities and Administration (indirect) costs, unless the sponsor doesn't allow them. Discuss budget details with appropriate grants staff.
Step 6: Finalize the budget & circulate the blue sheet
If the grant will be paid to the College or the project commits College resources (including offering courses), you need a Grant Proposal Endorsement form (blue sheet). The blue sheet should reflect a final budget that will not change after it leaves your hands.
At least two weeks before the submission deadline:
- Fill out the blue sheet (contact SRO with questions).
- Assemble all attachments.
- Start collecting the signatures required before you can submit the blue sheet to SRO.
Depending on what you plan to do, and others' schedules, it may take several days to collect the signatures needed. To save time, email a copy of the draft proposal and budget to each signer so they will be ready to sign the blue sheet when you bring it to them. Email can be used for some of these signatures, as long the email states clearly that the sender understands and approves your project plan.
Deliver the signed blue sheet to SRO no fewer than six business days before the submission deadline to allow Administration adequate time to review it. SRO will review it and deliver it to the appropriate senior academic administrator and the Controller's office for signatures. Each of these offices requires two business days for this review.
Step 7: Polish and assemble the proposal
Allow ample time to polish your proposal. Find colleagues (in and out of your discipline, at Middlebury and elsewhere) to review a draft. Ask SRO for editing assistance and a copy of the booklet, Grant Preparation: Tips and Advice. Read the guidelines one more time. Some agencies will not review proposals that deviate from the guidelines, so follow all formatting requirements such as type size (font/point), page length, limits on appendices, etc.
Make sure that the proposal is properly assembled. Use a checklist (your own or one from the guidelines) to ensure you don’t forget anything. If the sponsor wants the “original” proposal, send at least one copy that has original official signatures; in most cases, copies of the original are acceptable for the rest.
Now is the time to either make arrangements for photocopying or make sure you understand the details of electronic submission. If the proposal must be mailed, make the required number of copies, plus a copy for you, one for SRO, and copies for others who need them. Do not send the blue sheet to the sponsor; it is an internal document only.
Step 8: Submit (or help submit) the proposal
The blue sheet must be fully signed before the proposal can be submitted. The Sponsored Research Office (SRO) will notify you as soon as the Controller’s office has signed the blue sheet and submission is approved.
Depending on sponsor requirements, either the PI/PD or college staff (SRO or the Authorized Organizational Representative) submits the proposal. Electronic submission processes vary widely in terms of who is allowed to submit proposals. Be sure you know who can submit your proposal, and that they will be available when you’re ready. Contact SRO for advice and assistance with electronic submission processes.
If you are submitting the proposal by mail, choose a method that will ensure it is received by (or mailed by) the deadline. Because of delays in processing mail sent to federal sponsors, most of them recommend using a courier service; pick one that you can track. For "postmark deadlines": make sure you get a proof of mailing that is acceptable to the sponsor. Give SRO one complete copy of what you submit.
Step 9: Confirm Receipt
Make sure that your proposal was actually received. Most sponsors send some type of notification (for example, by returning a card that you have filled out and submitted with your proposal). Electronic submission processes vary as to whether the sponsor sends a confirmation by fax or email; some sponsors have online tracking systems. Most mailing services (including the US Postal Service) can track packages. If absolutely necessary, call or email the sponsor to make sure your proposal was received.
Step 10: Wait
Waiting to hear whether your proposal has been funded is a hard step! Most guidelines will tell you when to expect notification; if not, it is appropriate to call and ask the sponsor when you should expect to hear results of the grant competition. We don’t advise calling the sponsor to ask about the status of a proposal unless it is well past the announced notification date. Meantime, start working on the project.
Step 11: Read and absorb reviewer comments
Request copies of reviewer comments if they are available. Whether or not your proposal is successful, these comments can improve your future grant writing and often provide helpful advice for carrying out your project. If this attempt wasn't successful, try again! Most grant programs can't fund all the good proposals received, and your chances are often better when you revise and reapply.