The Development Source

Be Careful about Using Boilerplate in Grants

I have an embarrassing confession to make.  I sometimes use boilerplate prose in my grant proposals.   This is old, recycled prose from previous proposals.  Whew!  Now I feel a little better.

You probably will make the same confession.  Actually, neither of us should feel embarrassed.  Everybody uses boilerplate grant prose.  It is inevitable, efficient, and effective… and it could either help or hurt your proposal.

Olessia  Smotova-Taylor, the founder and CEO of OST Global Solutions, points out that there are serious issues for you to consider when considering boilerplate in proposals.  I will divide these issues into a pro and con list.


Standardized prose for standardized responses

There are proposal sections such as resumes, past performance references, and capability statements that are very useful in multiple submissions.  The key is to keep them very current.

 Standardized prose for standardized products and services

Your organization may be bidding on services that do not change very much in their descriptions.  Standardized prose will be very useful in multiple submissions. 

 Boilerplate prose for beginning a customized response

No one likes to begin a proposal section by staring at a blank computer screen.  It always is easier to develop prose when you can work off an existing document.  Boilerplate may be both very usable and capable of modification.


Boilerplate prose may be bad prose

This is my biggest objection to using boilerplate mindlessly.  Do you have any evidence that it is current, accurate, and persuasive?  If it received a low evaluation in your last effort, you may want to be very cautious about using it again.

Boilerplate prose may encourage too much cutting and pasting

Much boilerplate is basically cutting and paste previous proposal sections into a new proposal, whether it belongs there or not or whether it needs to be substantially modified or not.  In many grant proposals, boilerplate is quickly recognizable by reviewers.  If it is not carefully tailored to a particular proposal, you run the risk of alienating savvy reviewers who can smell boilerplate a mile away.

 Boilerplate prose may discourage hard work

When busy people insert boilerplate into new proposals, they may think their work is completed.  This is a big mistake.  If boilerplate prose is not tailored to a particular set of grant guidelines, it will hurt rather than help you.  Sometimes taking short cuts is a bad idea.

Build a library of good, reusable content that you can easily access.  At the same time, you should always operate on the assumption that your boilerplate is just the beginning.  It is a spur to developing a good grant proposal, not a substitute for it.  Used intelligently, it can save you time and provide a foundation for highly competitive proposals.

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