5 Tips I Learned from Being Part of a State Grant Review

I recently served on my first state grant review panel. It was for large, multi-year operating support to arts organizations (orgs). The orgs varied in annual revenue of $200,000 to over $50 mil. The experience was inspiring and exhausting. I found joy in reading about arts orgs doing amazing creative work. I faced fatigue as I read long narratives, multiple financial sheets, audit reports, Cultural Data Project (CDP) reports, artistic reviews, resumes, ADA reviews, programs and evaluation forms for 19 organizations.

As a grant writer, the grant reviewing process always lends valuable insights, and my state grant review assignment did that. It was beneficial to meet project managers that I work with on grant proposals. I was truly impressed with the organization and communication skills of our state arts board staff. Writing grants is hard, and so is the reviewing process. Here are 5 tips I learned while state grant reviewing.

1- Prepare to sacrifice personal and work time.

The arts board gave me a full timeline of events, but I didn’t fully realize the amount of time I would commit to the process. I gave three weekdays of time, and I spent a lot of evening and weekend hours reading online applications.

2- Prepare to be objective.

As a panelist representing state monies, my entire process was transparent from my bio to the audio-recorded panel discussions. Judging, I found, is a learned skill. It first took learning multiple review criteria and applying them to the application components. Then it took objective presentation. All the panelists presented new information from in-person interviews at their two primary orgs to the whole group. Panelists needed to present yet not represent.

3- Mine links and resources.

When reading so many narratives from a great array of orgs, many resources came to my attention. My favorite, as a reviewer for the arts, was the CDP form. Although the CDP is a bear to complete for the NPO or grant writer, it provides a picture of organizational management vital to scoring administrative capacity. Some art orgs’ narrative language leaned toward the marvelous, and one set of financial statements was in an upside down format—a first for me—so the CDP form served to funnel all the orgs’ info into an identical and measured format.  I also gleaned references to great nonprofit strategy consultants in my state and new evaluation tools.

4-Write the evaluations or last questions first.

As a grant writer, I advise occasionally answering the last narrative question first. In my review assignments, the last question was about evaluation. The orgs were either short on evaluations or exhausted when they reached the last question (or both) because this tended to be the weakest area of the narratives.

5- Write detailed narratives.

As grant writers, if we state what an org did or will do, we need to give an example or a metric that coincides. If a narrative is vague, there is no further opportunity for clarification with the panel, and that doesn’t benefit an orgs’ review score.

Grant reviewing is a civic service that is challenging and rewarding. State grant review made my local panel reviewing seem so much easier. I’ll continue to do 1-2 reviews annually to deepen my professional skills and build relationships.

What are some of the lessons and tips that *you* have learned from serving as a reviewer whether from a state grant review, local foundation, or federal agency? We would love to hear! Please share them in the comments portion of the website, via email, or on social media.

Did you miss last month’s post from Dr. Judy Riffle about her 10 Tips Learned From Being a Federal Grant Reviewer? Read it here.

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