In the intricate and competitive world of grant applications, the margin for error is often narrow. Review committees, study section chairs, lay-reviewers, and programmatic reviewers all act on the fundamental premise that securing grant funding is not merely about the strength of their projects or ideas. It’s equally about content and navigating the complex grant submission process with precision and foresight. This is especially true in the NIH SBIR program and never more valid than with SBIR Contracts. Missteps, even minor ones, in this process can mean your grant is not reviewed or could significantly hinder the chances of securing much-needed funding.

This reality highlights the importance of crafting a strong grant proposal and being acutely aware of the common pitfalls that can derail even the most promising applications. At Grant Engine, we have heard from clients (and at times witnessed ourselves) just how easily avoidable mistakes can result in missed opportunities. Our experience has shown us that awareness and preparation are crucial to navigating these challenges successfully.

In this blog post, we aim to highlight five critical mistakes often made during grant submissions and provide insightful strategies to avoid them. These mistakes, while common, are not inevitable. Whether you are new to grant writing or looking to refine a current approach, the insights shared here will equip you with the knowledge to enhance your grant applications and increase your success in securing funding.

Join us as we delve into these common errors, dissecting each to understand their impact and the best practices to avoid them. Our goal is to transform your approach to grant applications, turning potential pitfalls into stepping stones for success.

The 5 Most Common Grant Submission Mistakes

1. Submitting Right Up To the Deadline or Missing Deadlines

In the realm of grant submissions, deadlines are not mere suggestions; they are immovable pillars. Missing a submission deadline is a critical and often irreversible error. Granting agencies operate with strict timelines, and exceptions for late submissions are virtually nonexistent. This hardline approach is about more than just maintaining order; it reflects the high demand and competitive nature of grant funding. However, what is almost as bad is running right up until the deadline to submit.

Why It’s a Mistake: 

Meeting a deadline ensures that reviewers will not immediately disqualify your proposal, regardless of its quality or the significance of your project. This oversight can undo months of hard work and planning, leaving your project without the necessary funding. Further, our data shows that grants that are submitted early have a much higher chance of winning.

How to Avoid It:

  • Plan Ahead: Start working on your grant proposal well in advance. Develop a timeline that factors in all aspects of the application process, from research and writing to review and submission.
  • Set Internal Deadlines: Establish internal deadlines that are earlier than the actual submission deadline. This approach provides a buffer for any last-minute revisions or unforeseen delays.
  • Use Reminder Systems: Leverage digital calendars, project management tools, and reminder systems to keep track of important dates and milestones. 
  • Regular Check-ins: If you’re working as a team, regular check-ins can ensure everyone is aligned and on track to meet the deadline.

Avoiding the pitfall of missing deadlines requires disciplined planning, time management, and a proactive approach. Respecting these timelines ensures reviewers consider your proposal and demonstrate your organization’s professionalism and reliability.

2. Non-Compliance with Guidelines

You must meticulously follow the specific guidelines and requirements of grant applications. These guidelines often include instructions on formatting, content, length, and submission procedures. Non-compliance, whether intentional or accidental, can lead to immediate disqualification of your application.

Why It’s a Mistake:

Ignoring or misinterpreting the guidelines provided in the grant solicitation is more than just an oversight; it’s a critical error that communicates a lack of attention to detail. Granting agencies use these guidelines to ensure fairness and manage the evaluation process efficiently. Failure to adhere to them can suggest that your organization may not be capable of complying with the grant’s requirements.

How to Avoid It:

  • Thorough Review: Before starting your application, carefully review all the guidelines provided. Make sure you understand every requirement.
  • Create a Checklist: Develop a checklist based on the grant guidelines. Use this as a reference throughout the writing and submission process to ensure compliance.
  • Seek Clarification: If any part of the guidelines is unclear, don’t hesitate to contact the granting agency for clarification. It’s better to ask and be sure than to assume and make a mistake.
  • Peer Review: Have someone else on your team or an external advisor review the application against the guidelines to catch any potential areas of non-compliance.

By diligently adhering to the application guidelines, you can enhance the credibility of your proposal and increase its chances of being reviewed and funded.

3. Incomplete or Inaccurate Information

Accuracy and completeness are paramount in grant applications. Submitting a proposal that needs more crucial information or contains inaccuracies can severely undermine your application’s credibility and your organization’s trustworthiness.

Why It’s a Mistake:

Inaccurate or incomplete proposals raise red flags for grant reviewers. They suggest a lack of thoroughness and can cast doubt on your organization’s ability to manage a grant effectively. In the competitive world of grant funding, even minor errors or omissions can be the difference between approval and rejection.

How to Avoid It:

  • Detail-Oriented Approach: Pay close attention to detail when compiling your proposal. Make sure to complete all required sections and provide all requested information.
  • Fact-Checking: Rigorously verify all the data, statistics, and facts included in your application. Your verification should consist of checking the accuracy of references, citations, and quantitative information. 
  • Consistency Check: Review the proposal to ensure consistency in information across different sections. Inconsistencies can confuse reviewers or lead them to question the proposal’s reliability.
  • Final Review: Conduct a comprehensive review of the entire proposal before submission. Consider involving a fresh set of eyes, such as a colleague or a professional from a different department, for an unbiased review.

An application free from errors and omissions stands a better chance of being funded and reflects positively on your organization’s professionalism and attention to detail.

4. Lack of Clarity and Focus

A grant proposal must be more than just informative; it needs to be clear, focused, and engaging. A common mistake is submitting applications that are poorly organized, overly technical, or too vague, making it challenging for reviewers to grasp the main objectives and significance of the project.

Why It’s a Mistake:

Grant reviewers often sift through numerous applications. A proposal that needs more clarity or focus can quickly lose their attention or fail to effectively communicate the project’s value. If reviewers need help understanding your project’s objectives, methodology, or potential impact, they are less likely to view it favorably.

How to Avoid It: 

  • Clear Objectives: Start with a clear statement of your project’s objectives. Ensure that these objectives are easily identifiable and understandable.
  • Structured Content: Logically organize your proposal. Use headings, subheadings, and bullet points to break up text and guide the reader through your narrative.
  • Avoid Jargon: While technical details are essential, avoid overloading the proposal with jargon or complex terminology. When technical terms are necessary, provide clear explanations.
  • Focus on Impact: Make sure that the proposal clearly articulates the impact and significance of your project. Your articulation should include details on how your project addresses a particular problem or need and its potential benefits.

A well-structured, clear, and focused proposal makes a strong case for your project and demonstrates your organization’s ability to communicate effectively and efficiently.

5. Weak Evaluation and Impact Statements

One of the most crucial aspects of a grant proposal is the evaluation and impact statement. A common mistake is failing to provide a compelling and data-driven case for the potential impact and significance of the project.

Why It’s a Mistake:

Grant reviewers seek to fund projects that promise significant impact and offer measurable results. Weak or vague impact statements can leave reviewers uncertain about the project’s potential benefits and effectiveness. If reviewers do not clearly understand how to evaluate the project and its expected impact, they may question its feasibility and value.

How to Avoid It:

  • Data-Driven Arguments: Use data and evidence to support your claims about the project’s potential impact. Your support can include statistics, research findings, or case studies relevant to your project.
  • Clear Evaluation Methods: Outline specific methods for evaluating the project’s success. Include in your outline the specification of metrics you will use, the methods for data collection, and the process you will follow for analyzing results.
  • Realistic Impact Projection: Provide a realistic projection of the project’s impact. Avoid overpromising and ensure that the projected outcomes are achievable and aligned with the project’s objectives.
  • Demonstrate Understanding: Show that you understand the problem your project addresses and how your proposed solution can make a difference. Doing so involves articulating the need for the project and detailing its expected benefits to the target audience or the broader community.

A robust evaluation and impact statement is crucial to a successful grant proposal. It shows that your project is well-planned and likely to succeed and has the potential to make a meaningful difference.

Actionable Tips for Avoiding Common Grant Submission Mistakes

Now that we’ve identified the five common grant submission mistakes, let’s focus on practical strategies to avoid them. Use these tips to enhance your grant application process and increase your chances of success.

Provide Templates and Checklists

  • Use of Templates: Implement templates for different sections of the grant proposal to ensure consistency and completeness. Templates can guide the structure and content, making it easier to meet the requirements. 
  • Checklists for Compliance: Develop comprehensive checklists based on the grant guidelines and use them as a final review tool to ensure you meet all requirements and overlook nothing.

Share Examples and Case Studies

  • Learning from Others: Review real-world examples where applicants made common mistakes and how they successfully rectified them.
  • Success Stories: Showcase case studies of successful grant applications. Highlight the strategies used to overcome potential pitfalls.

Emphasize Collaboration and Feedback

  • Team Reviews: Encourage collaborative reviews of the proposal within your team. Peer reviews can catch errors and offer different perspectives on the content. 
  • External Feedback: Seek feedback from mentors, colleagues in the field, or even previous grant reviewers. External inputs can provide critical insights and improvements.

Promote Additional Resources

  • Workshops and Webinars: Encourage attendance at workshops and webinars. These sessions can offer deeper insights into the grant writing process and common mistakes to avoid.
  • Utilizing Educational Materials: Encourage the use of publicly available educational materials such as online guides, tutorials, and articles on grant writing. These resources can provide additional insights and tips for crafting a successful grant proposal.


Successfully navigating the grant submission process requires more than just a groundbreaking idea or project; it demands meticulous attention to detail, adherence to guidelines, clear communication, and a deep understanding of what funding agencies are looking for. The common mistakes we’ve outlined – missing deadlines, non-compliance with guidelines, providing incomplete or inaccurate information, lack of clarity and focus, and weak evaluation and impact statements – are pitfalls that can quickly derail an otherwise strong application.

By taking a proactive approach to your grant application – planning, utilizing resources like templates and checklists, engaging in peer and external reviews, and staying informed through educational materials and community engagement – you can significantly increase your chances of success. Remember, each grant proposal is not just a request for funding; it’s a reflection of your organization’s commitment, expertise, and vision. Avoiding these common mistakes is crucial in presenting your project in the best possible light.

As you prepare your next grant application, keep these tips in mind. Approach the process with diligence and care, and remember that each application is a learning experience. With the right strategies and a keen eye for detail, you can turn potential pitfalls into opportunities for success, bringing your valuable projects to life through secured funding.

As always, if this topic or others are of interest to you, we can help. Please call (650) 937-9164, or contact us here.