What do you mean my $5 million grant application was only awarded $244,000?

It’s always gratifying to learn you have landed a grant. Last week was no exception– I learned we landed a grant jointly sponsored by NIH and IRS that was submitted last July. Basically the FOA offered grant money or tax credit to companies that are producing new therapies or attempting to reduce health care costs. Our client was a medical device company with fewer than 250 employees, so they qualified for up to $5 million.

I got the email that we were funded—for $244,479.24. Excuse me? Not that I’m ungrateful, but what about the $5mil? I had written the narrative myself de novo and I knew it was “beast”, as my 16-year old stepdaughter would say. So what went wrong?

Well, nothing. At least, not with the grantwriting. After inquiring I learned that no grantee received more than that dollar amount. The FOA was funded by a set-aside; Faced with a finite pot of money and far more excellent qualifying projects than they could fund, the sponsors opted to reduce the size of the awards in order to fund more projects.

If you have gotten a federal grant funded over the past few years without a budget reduction, consider yourself lucky. Over and over, I have seen R- and K-series grants come back with reductions in the dollar amount and time period. It is common these days to see a five-year, $1.5 million R01 funded for three or four years, $1M, with (at least) one of the Specific Aims removed.

How can you fold this information into your approach to grantwriting? Write each Specific Aim so that it stands alone. Don’t let any one Aim rely upon another. If your grant hovers around the funding line, make it easy for the funding agency to slice off one of your Aims, drop your dollar amount and timeframe, and fund you (and others) near the funding line. If you don’t, your grant may be passed over for one that scored worse, but for which they can easily eliminate an Aim!

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