10 Tips Learned From Being a Federal Grant Reviewer

**Note from Diane: We are so pleased to have Dr. Judy Riffle back as a guest blogger again this week. Judy is the owner of Santa Cruz Grants & Consulting, LLC.

No Weaknesses Noted: The Benefits of Serving

Since 2012, I have served on six federal grant review committees. Every time, I learn something different; it is one of the best forms of professional development available for grant writers. Reviewers practice valuable leadership and teamwork skills along with seeing samples of good, bad, and downright ugly proposals. Grant writing is not easy, and reviewing often gives one a confidence boost; not everyone should write grants. Reviewers also learn about other geographic areas, subjects, needs, and the nonprofit community. Your fellow reviewers will come from many different walks of life, and will help you stay up to date with current trends in your field.

Serving on a grant review panel also offers a fresh perspective for writers, and provides valuable formatting ideas as well. Although you cannot keep the grant proposals you review, no one will stop you from taking a few notes about graphics, effective budgets, lessons learned, resources, research, or great project ideas that may also work in your community. Other benefits include networking, practicing constructive criticism, and developing empathy for grant reviewers. Once you have been in a reviewer’s shoes, you will gain respect for them and your entire grant writing outlook will change for the better.

Serving as a peer reviewer not only benefits you and looks good on a resume, but it also serves your community. While most federal reviews provide a modest honorarium, you are also helping to decide where some of that government money is going. In addition, you are helping organizations make their proposals better the next time. Some research has shown that you can increase your funding chances by 30% when you rotate off a review panel and submit the same grant during the next funding cycle!

As a federal reviewer, I still remember one grant proposal that resonated like a symphony. All the parts melded so well together that a vivid picture was painted. The need, project design, and budget were so compelling that I was ready to defend it to the end during our panel discussion. Luckily, we all gave it a perfect score-no weaknesses noted. How did that writer learn from failure to make the proposal answer every question seamlessly? Here are 10 tips I’ve learned to make a grant reviewer sing with joy upon reading a grant proposal.

10 Tips Learned From Being a Federal Grant Reviewer

  1. Tell the reviewer: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
  2. Have someone outside the field or grant world read your proposal before you submit it. If they don’t understand it, neither will the reviewer. Reviewers sometimes have never written a grant. As Danny Blitch, GPC says: “Sometimes reviewers do not know a grant from a hole in the ground.”
  3. Explain acronyms the first time they are used and again later in the narrative. Be nice to exhausted reviewers, and make their job a little easier. Don’t put reviewers in a bowl of Cold Acronym Soup!
  4. Use the most recent research possible in your narrative (no older than 3 years).
  5. In the needs section, don’t include any needs that are not addressed in the project design.
  6. Use correct grammar and spelling.
  7. Use charts, graphics, or other methods allowed by the funder to break up the narrative, make complex ideas easier to understand, and provide a rest for weary reviewer eyes.
  8. Don’t include any item in the budget that is not explained in the narrative. Reviewers often place the budget next to the narrative, and make sure everything matches. Don’t give them any surprises or leave unanswered questions—the budget is so important in a grant proposal!
  9. Complete the grant budget first, then the narrative.
  10. Be concise and compelling, but answer the funder’s questions thoroughly.


Have you served as a federal grant reviewer before? Or a state grant reviewer?

What other tips would you add to Dr. Judy’s list of ten tips? Share them with us in the comments on the website, via email or via social media!




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