The University of Iowa

ECA Grants Writing Tips

The following information was prepared by David Levin,  Senior Program Manager in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), US Department of State, and presented to participants in workshop conducted by the Bureau on September 26, 2002 in Washington, D.C.


The points I will be making are tailored to the Bureau's institutional grant opportunities.  But much of what I will tell you is generic, relating to institutional grant programs funded by both the public and private sectors and may help you when applying for individual scholarships and fellowships as well.  While some of my comments and suggestions may seem basic, it is often the basic rules that are not followed, with predictable results.

  1. Understand the mission of the Bureau and the purposes of the program to which you are applying.   What are the Bureau and program objectives?  Why is the grant program important to your organization?   Do your interests and needs mesh with the Bureau's and program's stated missions, purposes and objectives?   Are you clearly eligible?
  2. Confer with the program officer administering the program before you begin the writing process.   This can be done by email, by telephone or in person.  Share your ideas regarding what you would like funded.  Clarify program objectives and requirements.  Ask to talk with grantees that have competed successfully in the program and seek their advice and counsel.          
  3. Before applying, consider submitting your proposal in partnership with other organizations.   This may be particularly valuable if your organization is small, is less experienced in grant writing, or if you see programmatic advantages through collaboration.  Generally, consortia proposals are well-received in Washington, giving "more bang for the buck."   
  4. Read the RFGP (request for grant proposals)/application instructions thoroughly before writing the proposal, and make sure you understand what you have read.  If you have any questions, contact the program office. 
  5. Follow the instructions exactly as you go through the proposal writing process.
  6. REVIEW, FULLY UNDERSTAND AND BE SURE THAT YOUR PROPOSAL RESPONDS TO ALL THE CRITERIA AGAINST WHICH PROPOSALS WILL BE EVALUATED!!!   These are spelled out for you.  Remember that reviewers are instructed to assess proposals against each and every criterion, and all review criteria are equally weighted.  Grant proposals submitted to ECA need to respond to from four to twelve or more review criteria, depending on the complexity and purpose(s) of the grant program.  Five review criteria often inadequately addressed include the following:
  • Diversity --- Does your proposal demonstrate your organization's commitment to promoting the awareness and understanding of diversity? 
    "Diversity" includes participants representing different ethnicities, races, genders, religions and geographic locations as well as people of different socio-economic status and people with disabilities.  But diversity is more than that. 

    Does your program topic relate to diversity?  Are your employees a diverse group?  What about program volunteers?  Does your grantee orientation program discuss diversity matters?  Do your host program sites, whether in the United States or abroad, represent geographic, cultural and ethnic diversity?  Think broadly and creatively.  Note that this particular review criterion is in every Bureau RFGP (Request for Grant Proposals)   

  •  Value to U.S.