October 13, 2015
By Sandra Toro, Ph.D., IMLS Senior Program Officer
and Sarah Fuller, IMLS Program Officer
The National Leadership Grants (NLG) in Libraries program supports projects that address challenges faced by the library and archive fields and that have the potential to advance practices in those fields. Successful proposals generate results such as new tools, research findings, models, services, practices, or alliances that can be widely used, adapted, scaled, or replicated to extend the benefits of federal investment. While the Office of Library Services (OLS) staff look toward an exciting new year of grantmaking for NLG, we have also been reflecting on our first successful year trying out a new application and review process. We want to share what we have learned about the process along with some sample pre-proposals and full narratives in order to help future applicants submit competitive and successful applications for funding.
As recently documented, OLS instituted a new two-stage process that includes a two-page pre-proposal that briefly describes the basic idea of a project and gives reviewers high level information about goals, activities, outcomes, the project team, and management. Applicants whose pre-proposals rank most highly are invited to submit traditional full proposals that include all of the details of what a project will entail as well as letters of support, an evaluation plan, a budget justification, and other information.
What we discovered during our first year of this two-stage process was that two-page pre-proposals are helpful for both applicants and reviewers. Applicants can more easily write a short narrative than pull together a full-fledged proposal that takes many months to review. Reviewers can more quickly evaluate brief narratives while looking for strong ideas that have the potential for broad, national impact. And, OLS program staff can get feedback to applicants within a much briefer timeframe than the previous six to nine months it typically took to let applicants know whether or not a proposal was successful.
We’ve also learned that strong pre-proposals reference information discussed during our Focus convenings and in our Focus reports; feature practical, collaborative responses that are well-situated in available research and practice; clearly identify project team members, partners, and advisors along with their respective roles and applicable expertise; concisely outline a proposed work plan; demonstrate the potential for impact; identify projected outcomes; and provide an estimated budget that is appropriate for the proposed work. And, while it’s important to include key references or citations, applicants shouldn’t take up too much space in their narrative to cite sources. Either include one or two references or link to a list of references or annotated bibliography that reviewers can check, if they choose to do so.
Besides reviewing the pre-proposals and narratives of these successful projects, OLS staff encourage potential applicants to read the new Notices of Funding Opportunity closely and get in touch with us if you have any questions. Please be on the lookout for future blog posts, including one with sample Learning in Library preproposals, narratives, and other information.