Higher Education Grant Writing 101:

Higher Education Grant Writing Challenges

Table of Contents


Higher Education grant writing plays a key role in the fundraising plans of higher education institutions. Unfortunately, there’s no magic recipe for guaranteed success in grant writing.

Higher Education Grant Writing Challenges

For higher education, the biggest issues are that universities are not set up to design and develop grant-funded programs. These programs often require heavy community and agency interactions: attendance at planning meetings, agency workshops, and other important collaboration events. Faculty members often don’t have time to travel to or attend these types of meetings. They have little ability to nurture the necessary connections needed to design compelling and FUNDABLE programs.

Someone (and probably not your professors) must be able to help connect the activities of your university to the goals of the funding agency. The critical piece of this is program design and development – once programs are designed appropriately and the connections are made, it can be relatively easy to get funding.

Higher Education Grant Writing Challenges for Nonprofit Institutions

The biggest issue for nonprofits has to do with their ability to support their programmatic approach and prove that it is viable. Nonprofits often don’t know how to measure their own success, i.e., how to implement a program evaluation strategy and measure its effectiveness. This is what they are selling to the funding agency, and they must be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of their services, both in the past and going forward, which is NFPs’ Achilles heel.

What NOT to do in Higher Education Grant Writing

After years of firsthand experimentation, service on grant panels, and experience as a program officer, I have developed an understanding of what not to do for higher education grant writing when crafting a grant proposal. Here is a brief list of things to avoid in your grant writing process.

Content Mistakes

Failing to clearly state objectives, goals, and hypotheses because you assume panelists will infer them from your methods
Neglecting to make predictions
Not formulating any experiments to test predictions
Not bothering to discuss what conclusions may result if your experiments or data don’t turn out as expected
Failing to share statistical tests or sample sizes
Making the feasibility of the second and third objectives depend entirely on a single result from the first objective
Falling short of the maximum allotted space and yet not covering seemingly important details

Style and Formatting Mistakes

Avoiding subheadings so you can have pages with nothing but long blocks of text
Placing graphs on different pages from the legends that explain their meanings
Relying on differing colors alone to distinguish one line from another in graphs
Stuffing as many boxes, arrows, panels, drawings, graphs, and illustrations as possible into a proposal
Shrinking labels down into minuscule boxes so that they are virtually unreadable
Assuming that they are self-explanatory and do not require captions
Replacing simple, straightforward words like “use” with “utilize” or just generally hoping that unnecessary polysyllabic words can strengthen a weak argument

Literature Mistakes

Citing as much literature as possible, even when a citation may make statements that are mostly irrelevant to or in conflict with your view on the topic
Or, not citing any literature at all, especially any recent papers that could demonstrate your understanding of the topic

Each year, corporate grants, foundations, and the department of education give out more than $50 billion dollars. There are opportunities for funding with venture philanthropy to help get the funding your institution needs. If your organization isn’t taking the time to apply, or if you’re making several of the common mistakes listed above, you’re missing out on your piece of the pie.

Higher Education Grant Writing & Funding Identification Consulting with The Change Leader

The Change Leader works with higher education institutions and nonprofits to create and implement organization-wide initiatives, build the next generation of leaders, and improve the working culture. We provide A-Z services, including grant writing support and funding identification, to help organizations like yours execute within their niche and remain successful.

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