Your worst nightmare: Double-crossed by not double spacing!

If you write grant proposals, your worst nightmare just might be a headline like this making national news...  

NJ college loses $1.25 million... for not double spacing grant application

Hold on to this article if you need to prove to any coworkers that yes, the details really do matter when it comes to grant applications. 

The following instructions (which New Jersey Institute of Technology, along with dozens of other rejected applicants to the Upward Bound program, seems to have overlooked) may sound very familiar to you if you have worked on applications to various U.S. Department of Education grant programs: 

"Titles, headings, footnotes, quotations, references, and captions may be singled spaced. But all text in the application narrative, including charts, tables, figures, and graphs need to be double spaced, with a specific requirement of no more than three lines per vertical inch." 

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, another Upward Bound applicant, the University of Maine at Presque Isle, had its application rejected because infographics inserted into the proposal narrative were spaced at one-and-half-line spacing, rather than double-spaced

But funders have a good reason to be so persnickety. 

Your grant application is a preview of how you would actually carry out the project if funded.

Consider this maxim: "How you do one thing is how you do everything."  

If your organization doesn't follow the directions within a grant proposal, this casts doubts on your ability to successfully manage a grant -- when the stakes are even higher. 

Here's what the funder might be thinking...

If you don't comply with proposal formatting requirements, will you comply with financial reporting requirements?

If you can't cite statistics about need for the project in the proposal, will you be able to find other funders to sustain the project after the requested grant ends? 

Avoid your own version of New Jersey Institute of Technology's nightmare... just follow the directions!

In response to the applications being rejected on technicalities, Members of Congress (representing districts and states of the rejected applicants) and Upward Bound advocacy groups began to complain to the U.S. Department of Education.

Interestingly, a few days after the outcry over rejected proposals began, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos "issued an order forbidding department officials from mandating any page or formatting rules in grant applications."

Now, per this April 2017 order, U.S. Department of Education program officers may only suggest page limitations and formatting rules, but they can't use an applicant's failure to comply with these suggestions as basis for deciding not to fund a proposal. 

But despite this current reversal in policy for one federal agency, the principle that you should follow the rules of the RFP stands. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an excellent letter from Michael Popejoy, who serves as a grant reviewer for two large federal grant programs

When he scores federal grant applications, he operates with the belief that, "if grant [proposal] submitters cannot get the proposal in alignment with the RFP, then we have low confidence that the grant money will be expended appropriately. If grant [proposal] submitters cannot follow the rules and comply with the RFP instructions, then funders are correct in withholding the grant funds." 

What do you think? Are RFP rules reasonable? Do they make your job as a proposal writer harder or easier? Add a comment to this post to share your thoughts! (And don't worry, there are no rules about how to write a comment on this blog!)