Being an Incumbent still means Submitting a Great Grant Proposal

Being the incumbent on a government grant puts you in a great position to re-bid successfully to continue your project through a new grant.  However, often incumbents do not receive new grants despite their good work on the previous grant.

According to Chuck Keller of Keller Proposal Development and Training, there are several important tactical steps you can take to ensure that you win the next government grant as an incumbent.  Some of these steps are process-oriented while others involve the development of a certain mindset.  Although his advice applies to companies, it can be modified to apply to nonprofit organizations:

  • The best proposal strategy as an incumbent is to perform really well on the grant.  Your unique win theme will be:  we understand this work superbly, we already are doing it well, and we will do even better on the new grant.  And do not forget the proof!
  • Treat the new grant guidelines as a must-win proposal.  This means the following:
    • Use your best proposal team.
    • Acquire the resources you need to submit a first-class proposal.
    • Develop a detailed schedule with milestones and deliverables.
    • Do not use boilerplate from the past winning proposal unless you can adapt it for the new proposal.
    • Allocate enough time to perform the necessary reviews.
    • Allocate enough time for proposal production and delivery.
  • Do not underestimate your competition’s abilities or do not overestimate your own abilities.  Complacency often results in new grantees.
  • If you win again, request a debriefing.  Besides being informative, a debriefing will demonstrate to your agency that you are still interested in learning and improving your performance.

As Keller points out, the biggest danger for an incumbent is complacency when re-bidding.  You cannot assume that you will be awarded another grant simply because you are doing good work.  In your proposal, you must still answer the all-important “So what?” question.

Use the advantages you have accrued as the incumbent to submit a better proposal than the competition.  If you have done good work, the grant is yours to lose.

Do not let it slip from your grasp!  Treat the grant as a must-win proposal and behave accordingly.


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