Diagnosis: Heading Off Online Applications Frustrations

Horror stories of people losing entire online grant applications are real, but avoidable with these tips.

As a young child, I remember other children using the excuse, “The dog ate my homework.” During a recent session at the 2017 Grant Professionals Association (GPA) national conference, I heard horror stories of people losing entire online grant applications. Unfortunately, you can’t use the excuse, “The dog ate my online application” when submitting grants.

These days, all grant professionals deal with the frustration of submitting grants through online applications. Whether it is grants.gov, cybergrants.com, or a state Department of Education online grant system, you need to understand the possible glitches and tricks needed to navigate successfully. For example, many systems don’t like a simple copy and paste right click of the mouse, but insist you use Ctrl + V on the keyboard instead. On top of that, the word count in Microsoft Office or other software may not match the funder’s online system word count. Sometimes, I type directly into the online system first, immediately followed by copying and pasting the narrative into a Word document. However, that often causes more work later when editing your final draft. So, what is a frazzled grant writer to do?

Other online application frustrations include:

  • Not always a way to preview your application before final submission
  • Cannot download a PDF copy of your final grant after hitting the submit button.
  • Not knowing what the grant will look like when a reviewer sees it online or prints it out.
  • Inability to copy and paste bullets, charts, tables, graphs, special characters, or bolded narrative. TIP: Write the narrative in Notepad or another extremely simple text-based word processing software before copying and pasting into an online application. Replace bullets with hyphens or asterisks.
  • Font changing by itself in the online application after copying and pasting from a document.
  • Often can’t advance to another grant page until entire section is completed. TIP: Type in a few characters to make the system think you have completed that section, then remember to return to it later.
  • Information for an organization which remains the same every year sometimes doesn’t save in an online system (EIN, address, phone number, etc.), so you must re-enter it.
  • www.grants.gov Workspace-lack of consistency; glitchy; does not allow for simultaneous work like Google Docs; difficulty finding other people you work with to share docs with them in the system; lack of templates for required resumes, workplans, or other required documents from RFP; no communication between Workspace and payment management system; some applications submitted were never reviewed. TIP: Save entire grant submitted in PDF and take a screenshot of submission process to prove it was submitted.  

Many of the issues above were discussed during the GPA conference session regarding online grant applications, which involved both grant professionals and online application vendors. Participating vendors explained the cause of some of these issues. For instance, the word count issue is based on the online application software infrastructure, and often depends on which browser you use. TIP: Try a different browser. The copy and paste formatting issue is due to coding, markups, and cybersecurity requirements blocking special characters. Vendors also agreed with conference participants that online grant system feedback needs to be collected from grant professionals, funders, and nonprofit organizations.

Besides all the issues mentioned, it is important to remember how the grant submitted in an online system will look to a peer reviewer who reads the narrative online or prints it out. Diane Leonard offers the following tips in a 2016 govgrantshelp.com article:

1. Submit early.

2. Avoid acronyms.

3. Use your thesaurus carefully, including a word wheel if that works for you.

A few more online application tips:

  • Save often (every time you add something).
  • Know the timeout limit in online applications.
  • Use keywords from the RFP or funder mission/application guidelines, so that both the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and the grant reviewer can find what they need easily and quickly to decide that your project matches their requirements.
  • If there are technical glitches, know who to contact for help.
  • If a grant application PDF is available for preview before you hit the submit button, print it out and review it.
  • Have a mock review committee review your application before submission if possible.

How do you want your next online grant submission to end? The cyberdog ate it, or congratulations, your application has been approved? What tips do you have for successfully navigating online applications?



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