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SAMHSA’s Award-Winning Newsletter
September/October 2009, Volume 17, Number 5 

Image of woman writing steps to a successful grant application

How To Write a Winning Grant Proposal

Stanley Kusnetz, M.S.Ed., has reviewed hundreds of grant applications in his long career as a senior review administrator in SAMHSA’s Office of Program Services. A few stand out. Take the application from a would-be grantee that didn’t bother to mention the substance abuse problem the organization was hoping to tackle.

“Rather than actually describe the substance abuse problem in the South Bronx, the organization just kept describing itself as Fort Apache—a reference to a movie that was about substance abuse in the South Bronx,” said Mr. Kusnetz. “But as far as the review committee was concerned, the South Bronx didn’t have a substance abuse problem, because the organization didn’t describe it.”

Making assumptions is just one of the common mistakes Mr. Kusnetz and other reviewers see. They have plenty of advice for those seeking funding from SAMHSA.

Grant Writing Tips

Use the following tips to boost your chances of crafting a winning grant proposal.

  • Plan ahead. “Applicants are often scurrying at the last minute,” said Cathy J. Friedman, M.A., a public health analyst in SAMHSA’s Office of Policy, Planning, and Budget and a former staffer in SAMHSA’s review office. Allow yourself enough time to give a grant application the time it deserves.

    Make things easier for yourself by doing as much as you can ahead of time. “Certain parts of a Request for Applications (RFA) are standard, so try to prepare those parts in advance,” recommended Ms. Friedman. Once you’ve put together that information, she said, you can re-use it in every SAMHSA application. If you’ve never applied for a SAMHSA grant before, you can review SAMHSA’s past grant announcements.

  • Look for a good match. Don’t apply for grants willy-nilly. Instead, said Ms. Friedman, look for a good match between what the grant program requires and what you can offer. Start by reviewing the Executive Summary on the first page of every RFA, which gives a thumbnail sketch of the award information, program’s purpose, application due date, and other details. Also check to make sure you’re eligible to apply. For some programs, for example, only states are eligible.

    And don’t over-promise, warned Mr. Kusnetz. Before you apply, consider whether you actually have the capacity to do what you propose, including collecting data on outcomes.

  • Follow directions. No matter how good your proposal is, it will be screened out if you miss the deadline, exceed the page limit, fail to follow formatting requirements, or make similar errors.

    Pay special attention to the project narrative section, where you have a chance to explain your proposal in depth. “Write in plain English what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, and how you’re going to evaluate it,” recommended Ms. Friedman. “Sometimes people are so convinced that their project is terrific, they just send in something about their program without really responding to the requirements of the grant announcement.”

    Be very specific, added Mr. Kusnetz. “A very common mistake is for applicants to give you a list of what they’re going to do without saying how they’re going to do it,” he said. “Lots of ‘whats’ without ‘hows’ don’t work.”

  • Don’t make assumptions. Don’t leave things out of your application because you assume the reviewers already know them. “You leave something out at your peril,” warned Mr. Kusnetz, explaining that the experts who review grant applications use a structured checklist of criteria to score applications.

    Cultural competency is one area that applicants often overlook. “We might get an application from an Indian tribe that doesn’t discuss the cultural competency elements of working with the tribe because they figure, ‘Hey, we’re a tribe, so of course we know these things,’ ” said Mr. Kusnetz. “But the reviewers are instructed not to assume anything. If it’s not written in the application, it doesn’t exist.”

  • Have someone else read your application. Simply running a spell check isn’t enough. “For some reviewers, it’s hard to get past the technical errors to see the quality of a program,” said Ms. Friedman, citing punctuation problems, run-on sentences, and inaccuracies in the table of contents or appendices as just a few examples.

    Having at least one person who hasn’t been involved in writing the application read it over can save you from more than embarrassing typos: A proofreader can also catch inconsistencies. “So many times we get answers that are contradictory,” said Ms. Friedman. “Sometimes organizations have different people write different parts of the application. They need someone to read the finished product and make sure it all hangs together.”

Resources


  Cover Story & Related Articles  
Recovery: A Philosophy of Hope and Resilience

Recovery: A Philosophy of Hope and Resilience




  Treatment Updates  
Treating Alcohol Disorders with Medication

Treating Alcohol Disorders with Medication

A set of guidelines for use of effective medications, such as naltrexone.

Guidance for Change

Guidance for Change

Substance abuse treatment programs: Here’s a way to integrate evidence-based practices into their services.

Treating Opioid Addiction

Treating Opioid Addiction

Three new educational brochures for patients on medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction are available.


  Suicide Awareness  
Dealing with Suicide Loss

Dealing with Suicide Loss

To help support survivors of suicide loss, a new guide for funeral directors.

National Study on Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors

National Study on Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors

Nearly 8.3 million adults had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year.


  Grants  
Recent Awards

Recent Awards

Millions of dollars in SAMHSA funding is heading to state and community programs.

Tips on Writing a Winning Proposal

Tips on Writing a Winning Proposal

Boost your chances of crafting a winning grant proposal by following an expert’s advice.


  Communications  
Highlights of Recent Conference

Highlights of Recent Conference

New ways to engage partners and the public in improving health through an ongoing dialogue.

Strategic Communications Framework

Public health practice aligns with evidence-based communications to help establish “a common language.”


  Recovery Month  
Recovery Month Launched

Recovery Month Launched

20th anniversary events across the country marked this year’s celebrations, which included a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Photo Gallery

SAMHSA’s Dr. Westley Clark, Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, joined other VIPs to celebrate.


  New Survey Data  
National Survey Shows Overall Drug Use Steady at 8 Percent

National Survey Shows Overall Drug Use Steady at 8 Percent

Among 12- to 17-year-olds, a significant decline was reported in past-month illicit drug use.


  Prevention Update  
FASD Awareness Day

FASD Awareness Day

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day emphasized the message, “If you’re pregnant, don’t drink alcohol.”


  Special Populations  

Hispanics

An annual average of 2.6 million Hispanics age 12 or older needed alcohol use treatment in the past year.

American Indians

A recent report examines the 335 identified facilities serving the American Indian and Alaska Native population in 2007.

Race and Ethnicity

New data focus on the need for treatment for substance use and depression among adults age 18 or older by race/ethnicity.


  Also in this Issue  
Statistics on Mental Health Groups

Statistics on Mental Health Groups

Of the 28.8 million adults who received mental health treatment in the past year, about 5.5 percent also received support from a self-help group.

Science and Service Awards

Science and Service Awards

Categories for this year’s awards to 27 organizations included substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery support services, and more.

GlassBook Project

GlassBook Project

Trauma awareness through art was the topic of a recent presentation as part of SAMHSA’s Consumer Affairs Seminar Series.



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