Resources Writing Skills Grants 101

Why You Need to Talk to a Program Officer

Oct 14, 2021

Hello, colleagues:

Welcome back to the second installment of this newsletter on grant writing. Today’s topic: talk to your program officer.

In grant writing, one of the most important things you can do to move the needle on your success is talk to a program officer. 

If you’re new to grant writing, program officers are people who manage programs at funders. A program is a portfolio of research or scholarship. Programs are usually guided by goals or missions. 

You need to speak to your program officer because program officers understand these goals and missions. In addition, program officers know the program’s current and past portfolio. This is valuable information. Tapping into this knowledge will help you figure out how your work does (or does not) fit the program. That’s a key to being competitive in grant writing. Funders want to fund work that furthers their mission. 

Scholars often worry that they’ll bother program officers if they reach out. The opposite is usually true. Most program officers want to hear from you. They are invested in mentoring. Besides being fulfilling, mentoring ensures that the program receives top level ideas from outstanding scholars like you. And, having a conversation before submission can help everyone make sure you are targeting the right grant mechanism. That’s a win for you and for the funder. 

A few tips:

  • How to find your program officer. Their name and contact information should be in your grant application instructions. Funders want you to be able to find program officers. It’s in everyone’s best interest for you to submit ideas that are a great fit for the funder. Program officers don’t always talk to applicants. Talk to a mentor to find out if this is customary for your program.
  • Best time to reach out. After you have a one pager for an idea (e.g., the Specific Aims page if you’re writing a National Institutes of Health grant). It’s easier for you to have a productive conversation with a program officer if you have thought about what you want to do with a grant.
  • How to reach out. Send an email (attach your one pager) to ask if they might be willing to discuss your one pager and the fit of your work with the program. Keep your email short. I recommend one paragraph max.

You are building relationships with program officers. Program officers will hopefully have a great influence on your career for years to come. Don’t forget to reach out again after you submit your grant and after the reviews come back for your grant.

Happy grant writing! 




P.S. If you found today’s installment helpful, would you mind sharing it with a friend? I’m trying to make sure everyone has access to grant writing training so we can hear and fund society’s best ideas.

P.P.S. I hope you get a chance to spend time this month on things you love. One of my great joys right now is baking. Here’s a pineapple upside down cake I made, with walnuts. I highly recommend adding walnuts if you aren’t allergic to them.