Conducting a grant-writing debriefing for future application success
Following a grant application submission, hold a formal debrief on the process to consider how your team can improve future efforts
By Jerry Brant
I constantly preach planning as the most important part of the grant-writing process, but what happens after your grant is submitted? Have you ever thought about conducting a grant debriefing?
Post-grant submission actions
Hopefully, we are all debriefing after critical calls and emergency situations – also known as conducting after-action reviews (AARs). We do this to learn what went right and what went wrong, how we can make improvements, and even to see the various perspectives on the same incident.
But how many times has your agency debriefed after submitting a grant application?
Usually, the grant-writing comes to an end, be it successful or otherwise, and the grant committee does what? It probably goes off to celebrate the submission of the application.
The “what next” is generally determined by the outcome of the application – but of course, you won’t know that for months. So the immediate “what next” can be any number of things, but it likely rarely includes reflection on the just-completed application.
But why is post-submission debriefing important? If the grant was submitted on time, what is there to learn? We achieved our mission so let’s move on to the next grant and continue the streak, right? Wrong.
Grant debriefing: From informal to formal
At some point after your grant has been submitted, you probably conducted a debrief and don’t even realize it. How many times after submitting do you say to your committee, “We are never going to submit our application at the last minute again”?
What did you just do? You started the process of debriefing, so why not make it a formal process?
A successful grant application certainly starts with planning. So our postmortem should begin by looking at our planning process.
Ask your team these questions:
- Did we begin our planning process early enough?
- Did we have all the demographic data we needed?
- Did we have the department records we needed for the application?
- Were we able to secure a competitive cost estimate?
- Was our Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number information correct and up to date?
- Was there any information that we needed and didn’t have?
These questions are a great way to get the group talking to determine best practices for the following application process.
Tackle grant application problems now
One of the things that drive me crazy is when I talk with a department at the opening of a new grant application period and they tell me something like, “We had problems last year submitting because of some problem with our DUNS number.”
My response: “You’ve had six months to investigate the problem so it’s fixed now, right?”
Sadly, the answer is typically either no or I don’t know.
I know it is extremely frustrating to spend all the time getting prepared to write a grant application, only to find out that it can’t be submitted. The key is this: Don’t give up at that point and forget about it because it isn’t going to fix itself. Follow up and fix the problem – now, while it’s still fresh in your mind! Don’t wait until the next application period opens because, depending on the problem, it may take too long to fix, and you may be unable to apply again.
Review your grant team
One of the toughest parts of your debriefing may be redefining your grant team. If your team has been together for a while and been successful, this shouldn’t be a concern. However, if your team is new or there has been constant controversy, then maybe it’s time to shake up your team. If you have a member who is constantly late with their share of the work or their work always needs to be redone, again, then maybe it’s time to replace them.
Remember, most grant applications are computer-based. Please don’t appoint members to your team who can’t use a computer and then wonder why the process isn’t moving efficiently.
Debrief for the future
Grant debriefs are important, especially if it turns out that your application didn’t get funded. Reflecting on missteps isn’t fun, nor will it change the circumstances of this year’s application, but it will put your grant team in a better position to avoid future problems and will help the process move more effectively on the next try.
Identify the root causes that led to setbacks and learn from those mistakes. Even when you’ve successfully completed a project, there will always be some sort of takeaway. Integrating that information into your next planning session can accelerate learning and help ensure actions that lead to a grant award.
About the author
Jerry Brant is a senior grant consultant and grant writer with FireGrantsHelp and EMSGrantsHelp. He has 46 years of experience as a volunteer firefighter in west-central Pennsylvania. He is a life member of the Hope Fire Company of Northern Cambria, where he served as chief for 15 years. He is an active member of Patton Fire Company 1 and serves as a safety officer. Brant graduated from Saint Francis University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. In 2003, he was awarded a James A Johnson Fellowship by the FannieMae Foundation for his accomplishments in community development, and in 2019, he was honored as with the Leroy C Focht Sr. Memorial Award from the Central District Volunteer Fireman's Association. He has successfully written more than $70 million in grant applications. Brant can be reached via email.