Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Online Applications Vs. Paper

Today I was working on an LOI for a client to the David B. Gold Foundation, who have initiated a very nice online submission system. Several foundations have gone this route lately so I thought I'd take a moment to discuss online grant applications.

Drawbacks: I do tend to be a bit of a control freak. When I am preparing a proposal, I like to make sure everything is perfect, from the choice of fonts to the quality of the paper. Yes, the words I put down are the most important thing, but the presentation of those words is also critical.

With the online systems I loose a bit of that control. Any bolding or italics I might have used are lost into a mass of plain text. This means re-thinking how I do headings and how I draw emphasis to certain points.

Benefits: In addition to control, I love immediacy. That I can click the "submit" button and have a confirmation email moments later thrills me. I hate waiting and wondering if my proposal is being mangled or lost in the Post Office. I also like saving on paper.

There is also a benefit to a more level playing field. True, I lost some of my layout control, but so did everybody else. We are all being presented to the foundation in the same font, in the same format, and with all the same information required.

Online forms also don't allow anybody to cheat by playing with the margins or font size; if the form has a limit of 300 words per answer, that's it - anything else is chopped off. This benefits those who plan ahead (as I do).

Tips: Never, and I mean Never! type directly into an online form. Copy the form and all guidelines into a Word document, and compose your proposal there. Online submission does not release you from all the other rules of good proposal writing. Use your spell-check, print it out and have others proofread it, and make sure you adhere to any word count or space limits.

Also, when you save that Word document, choose the "save as plain text" option. This will remind you to keep the formatting simple (no bolds, italics, or underlines). Additionally, Word automatically does "smart quotes" (or "curly" quotation marks) and other special characters that don't translate well into web forms. Saving your document as plain text ensure that what you see is what the foundation will see.

Finally, once you and everybody else has approved the proposal, you can go back to the foundation's web site and copy your proposal into their form, question by question. Read it once more on their site before clicking submit to make sure it's all there and in the right spaces. Only then can you click the "submit" button.

Then, it's just wait for that funding notice...

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