AccessLex began its grantmaking activities in 2013 as a means to encouraging research on important issues facing legal education. Since that time, we have awarded over $5 million in grants, making us the largest funder of research in this area. And our programs are growing. We currently have five grant programs, with three new ones set for introduction over the next couple years.
Drafting a strong grant proposal can be a daunting task, especially for first-time or otherwise inexperienced grant writers. The process for applying for an AccessLex grant typically begins with the submission of a Letter of Interest (LOI), which is a brief summary of the research for which funding is being sought. A select number of applicants who submit LOIs are invited to submit full proposals. Final funding decisions are made from the pool of full proposals.
The purpose of this post is to provide 5 tips for turning that wonderful research idea into a tangible and compelling grant proposal. These tips are informed by our experiences evaluating grant proposals.
- Start early.
It is important that the ideas and questions underlying the proposal are well-formed. Therefore, prospective applicants should spend sufficient time thinking about the scope, methods and aims of the research. What questions will be pursued; how will they be pursued; and why are they important to pursue? These are questions that must be clearly answered in a grant proposal.
Starting early also provides an opportunity to handle some of the technical aspects of the grant application process, including identifying and contacting potential research partners (collaborations are encouraged); gathering financial, staffing and other information needed in order to draft a research budget; and reaching out to AccessLex staff with any questions about the application process.
AccessLex grants typically follow the same timeline each year. So, applicants can go to our Grants Overview page and roughly estimate LOI due dates and get started on conceptualizing their proposals and gathering materials, even before the due dates are formally announced.
- Ensure that the proposal aligns with the scope of the grant program.
We sometimes receive well-written, even compelling, LOIs that nonetheless fall outside of the scope of the particular grant for which they are being submitted. For some, we advise applicants to apply for a different, more appropriate grant. For those that fall outside of all of our programs, the application process ends at the LOI stage.
The instructions for each grant program describe its scope. Some programs have narrower scopes than others. In any case, pay attention to the scope, other application and award criteria, and the instructions overall when deciding which grant to pursue.
- Provide cogent, concise and complete answers to application prompts.
The LOI and full application forms include prompts designed to give us a clear sense of your proposal. The prompts have reasonable character limits to ensure that responses are not unnecessarily lengthy. The idea is that a well thought out proposal can be explained in cogent and concise fashion.
Before beginning the process of completing the LOI or full application form, prospective applicants should print out (or otherwise note) the prompts and draft their responses. A poorly written proposal does not reflect well on the project. Therefore, responses should go through multiple iterations to ensure that they are as strong as possible. Applicants can then paste their responses into the appropriate application fields.
- Provide a complete budget.
The project budget should align with the proposal, with all requested funds being necessary and reasonable. Budgeting is not a simple task. Therefore, ample time should be dedicated to this process.
In designing your budget, consider analyzing (to the extent possible) the resources needed to complete each activity within the overall project. This will allow you to break your project into smaller pieces that are easier to conceptualize than the entire project at once. Some costs will have to be estimated. Great care should be taken to ensure that these estimates are close to actual, reasonable expenses as possible.
Be mindful of the award limits of the grant when submitting your budget proposal. If the cost of your project or program exceeds the limit, include information about sources of additional funding.
- Plan for institutional/organizational red tape.
Prospective grantees must often first navigate organizational processes prior to submitting an LOI or grant application to AccessLex. This is especially true at colleges and universities. Prospective grantees should apprise themselves of pertinent rules, regulations and processes at their institutions, and build in time for navigating this red tape. We have seen prospective applicants miss application deadlines because they were unable to receive requisite information and approvals from their organizations.