Over 25+ years of writing grant proposals, working with nonprofits of all sizes and persuasions, I’ve developed some systems for getting proposals out the door on time. Here’s a peak behind the curtain:

First things first: What is “on time”? With so many foundations and government funders requiring that proposals be submitted via an online portal, I believe that “on time” actually means “at least 48 hours before their deadline.” You want to make sure there are no technical glitches in the online submission portal and, ideally, you want to confirm receipt of your proposal. Even if you are just emailing or mailing a proposal to a prospective funder, give yourself a couple of days breathing room to make sure it is received by the deadline.

I NEVER start writing a proposal without a Production Timeline. I create a Production Timeline at the beginning of each project. It indicates when the client will get me all of the information I need in order to write the proposal, when I will deliver each draft of the narrative, when they will deliver edits to me, and when I will deliver my final draft. I don’t start writing until the client and I agree to all of the deadlines in the Production Timeline. Sometimes I want a client to get something to me on a particular day, but they have another deadline or event they day before, so they tell me that date won’t work for them. I’ll re-order the Production Timeline accordingly, so we can all agree to it. The client knows that if they miss a deadline, I’ll do my best to get them my drafts on time, but there are no guarantees.

I only receive ONE set of proposal edits. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, and I’m a real stickler for this policy. A client might have three or four people reviewing a proposal and providing comments and edits. If that is the case, the client dedicates one person to take all of those edits and consolidate them into one, comprehensive set of edits to send to me. Without this policy, I might have one commenter saying “I love this sentence! Move it to the front of this paragraph,” and another commenter saying “This sentence makes no sense; delete it.” By consolidating edits in advance, the client actually saves time in the long run. If I have to go back and ask them to clarify and correct their edits, it throws off the whole timeline.

Once you create systems like these for producing your grant proposals, you can focus more on content and creativity, instead of stressing about when things (and whether or not things) will get done. When your systems are running smoothly, you can direct your energy towards making the proposal, itself, shine.

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