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Can We Talk? Contacting Your Program Officer

“A sound concept, but it does not fit our current funding priorities.”

Have you ever received this feedback? 
Talking with a program officer can have a powerful impact on a researcher's thinking. From re-sharing the research design to reconsidering where the proposal should be submitted, or if it even should be submitted at all. 

Preproposal communication with program officers can help avoid a distressing outcome, and perhaps protect your most precious resource – your time.

Talking with researchers is one of the most important responsibilities assigned to program officers, so you should help them do their jobs!

Where to start?  Here is a simple strategy:

  • Identify the agency. Which funding body best matches the core themes of your idea?
  • Create a pre-abstract. Write a brief summary of your proposed project.
  • Introduce yourself. Send an email and attach your pre-abstract. Tell the program officer why you think the project will achieve the program’s objectives.
  • Make the call. Once you’ve exchanged emails, you have an opening to start a conversation.
  • Build a rapport. To glean between-the-lines information, see answers to the following questions:

1.  Does my project align with your current priorities? (If “no,” can you recommend an appropriate           funding track?)
2.  What would you recommend to improve my chances for a favorable review?
3.  Does your program have a preferred research methodology?
4.  What is the anticipated proposal success ratio?
5.  Do you expect last year’s average award amount or duration to change this year?
6.  What are some of the common reasons for proposal rejection?

  • Follow up. Send a short “thank you” note. It is more than good manners—it is a way to keep the line of communication open and fresh for both parties, especially if you summarize the key points you heard in the conversation.
  • Leverage professional meetings. Program officers often attend professional conferences which provide opportunities for conversation.

Practice, practice, practice!

It is normal to feel apprehensive about contacting program officers. However, preparation will reduce anxiety and present your idea in the most organized and credible manner.  Practice with a colleague, mentor, or the knowledgeable staff in the Research Development Office, then make the call.  It’s an important investment of time and will undoubtedly improve your grantsmanship skills.

The above is a summary of Porter, R. (2009). Can we talk? Contacting grant program officers. Research Management Review17(1), 10-17. (FULL ARTICLE)

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Last Updated: 4/13/21