Avoid Four Common Mistakes in your Grant Executive Summaries

Executive Summaries are very important in government grant proposals because they introduce your narrative and provide a roadmap for reviewers.  If your Executive Summary is not compelling and persuasive, reviewers may not pay much attention to the rest of your proposal.

Ms. Olessia Smotova-Taylor, the president of OSI Global Solutions, Inc., has identified four common mistakes that proposal professionals should avoid in Executive Summaries.  Although she discusses business proposals, her advice equally applies to grant proposals.  I have modified her advice slightly to fit grant applications.

Mistake #1:  Not paying enough attention to your Executive Summary.

These Executive Summaries invariably begin with the sentence “We are pleased to submit this proposal to xxx and look forward to your review.”  They are very general; contain far too much marketing hype about “best-in-class” and other clichés; and focus on your organization, not the customer.  These kinds of Executive Summaries are guaranteed to put reviewers to sleep and convince them that they should not read your proposal carefully.

Mistake #2:  Doing your Executive Summary at the last minute.

If you write your Executive Summary at the last minute, you will not have enough time to review and revise it.  I do not recommend that you do your Executive Summary at the beginning of the proposal cycle, but your Red Team reviewers should have an opportunity to analyze the Executive Summary.  As in any good proposal, you need time to think, polish, and refine.  This cannot be done at 2 A.M. the morning the proposal is due.

Mistake #3:  Not addressing your customer’s needs.

While it is important to discuss your organization and its capabilities in your Executive Summary, you should remember that government agencies are also very interested in how you plan to carry out the grant.  You need to answer two important questions:  Why am I bidding?  What am I offering the customer?

Mistake #4:  Not being focused and structured.

Bad Executive Summaries are not only dry and boring, but often they are unfocused and unstructured.  Unfortunately, this may be a prelude to the rest of the narrative.  Your Executive Summary is a short sales pitch.  Your challenge is to demonstrate in just a page that you have something special to offer a government agency.

Structure your Executive Summary by following the order of the evaluation criteria in the grant guidelines and be very logical and straightforward.  This is a good place for bulleted and numbered lists, call-out boxes, and great visuals.  Tell the reviewers what your organization has to offer and explain why you have the best solution to the problem that has been identified in the guidelines.

As Ms. Smotova-Taylor points out, the Executive Summary is too important a part of your proposal narrative to treat lightly.  Use it to hook your readers and engage them in the rest of your grant proposal with a compelling story.

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