A Guide to Finding the Right Funding Agency for your Project
So you have a new research idea you want to investigate. You are ready to engage in a project of significance and all you need now is the funding to move forward. So how do you find the right funding agency for your project? There are a number of decisions to make, such as how much funding do you need? Is your project more appealing to a public or private funding agency? And what is the process for submitting an application? Investing time and conducting research to determine the right funders for your project is well worth the effort. Submitting to a funding agency that aligns with your goals will increase your chances of success and also make the proposal writing process easier. Below are some tips to help you find the right funder for your research project.
What is the purpose of your project?
You need to focus on exactly what it is you want to achieve with your research. In fact developing a short concept paper that outlines what you want to research and why it is important can be very helpful at this stage. It not only helps you to articulate the aims and objectives of your project, which will help you find a funder, but it also prepares you for the proposal writing stage of the grant. In addition, the concept paper can often be used to ascertain whether foundations or corporate donors are interested in your proposed work, or to guide your conversation with program officers at both public and private organizations.
Concept papers are generally 2–4 pages and they succinctly describe what it is you are focusing on. They typically include the following elements:
✦ Title for project. Choose something that captures the essence of the project.
✦ Introduction. This is an overview of your aims and research idea, and it is typically only one paragraph in length. You want this to be very clear and concise and stated in a way that a broad audience would understand, so avoid overly technical language.
✦ Rationale. The rationale should state the problem your project will address, and more importantly why your project matters. What will occur as a result of your project that would not otherwise happen? Or, what will the field learn as a result of your project that they don’t already know? Again, this should be concise, but it should also tie into existing research that is being conducted, especially areas that are topical.
✦ Institution information. This can be a few sentences that capture the ability of your institution to support this project.
✦ Project description. The description of the research project should be a brief summary focusing on goals and expected outcomes, as well as timelines for completing the project.
✦ Budget. Unlike the budget in a full grant application, this should be a statement of the amount needed to support the project. You can include a few sentences that broadly describe which categories the funding would support.
✦ Summary. At the end, include a summary statement and a restating of why this project matters. You want to leave the reader with the belief that this project is needed.
What funding agencies are you choosing from?
You first need to know which public and private funding agencies support research grants in your field. Then, you need to determine which of these organizations you are eligible to submit to and from which geographical areas they accept applications. Using your key words generated from the development of your concept paper, you should conduct a strategic search of potential public and private funding agencies. Try to narrow down to at most 5–7 of each.
What is the scope of your project?
Now that you have your shortlist of potential funders you can shorten that list by thinking through the scope of your project. Drawing on your concept paper determine whether your project is more exploratory or a full-scale research project, such as an efficacy study or a clinical trial. The scale of your project, together with the funds needed, should help you determine which of the funders on your shortlist provide you with the greatest chance of a successful application. If you are considering a smaller-scale project, with a smaller budget, you might start by reaching out to the private funders on your list and having conversation with them.
Where support is there to help you choose?
Most institutions have a corporate and foundation relations office. The staff in these offices can offer you support in identifying, communicating with, and developing proposals for appropriate foundations and corporations. For these offices, success is based on how much funding they can help to bring into the institution. So, they are motivated to provide support to you and they are familiar with the granting priorities of many private funders. Similarly, there is often support at institutions to help you identify public funders. These staff might work within your college or department, or they might work at the institution level. Identifying all the supports available to you, and beyond, your institution before, and utilizing these supports throughout the process will help you be more successful.
How do you communicate with program officers?
Now you can reach out and have a conversation with the program officers from the final selection of funding agencies on your list. Many grant proposals are rejected each year based on a lack of fit with the funding agency. So, talking to a program officer is a great way to ensure that you are submitting an application to the right place. Although the priorities for the grant program are articulated in the call for proposals, interpreting these priorities can sometimes be complex. Most program officers welcome these connections and conversations. Talking with researchers is part of the program officers’ role. In addition, by talking through a proposal idea with a researcher, program officers can steer away applications that are not a good fit with the grant programs priorities.
When you contact the program officer always identify the grant program you are seeking out, and the specific grant call if you have one. Email the program officer to request a call and include a few sentences about your research idea in the email. Offer to send them the concept paper. Once a call is set up, think about how best to summarize your concept paper in a phone conversation. Even if you have sent the concept paper ahead of the call, it is important to think through the main points of the paper in order to prepare for the call. Think about this as an elevator pitch. When on the call, there are a number of questions you can ask:
• Is my research project a good fit with your funding priorities?
• Do you expect the average amount traded during last cycle to change much this cycle?
• How competitive is the process? What is the acceptance rate?
• Are there areas I could edit that would improve my chances of successful review?
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