You’ll sometimes encounter government grant applications or proposals that need to be very detailed, with a long list of requirements from the funders that you, as an applicant must fulfill. This can be especially true for government grants because of the government’s penchant for bureaucracy. Before I go on, though, I just want to point out that the long, involved grant applications or proposal are usually the exceptions, or the most extreme case that you’ll encounter. In many cases, the applications or requests for proposals are simple and straightforward, and fairly painless to complete.

So why are the longer applications and proposals required sometimes? There can be a couple of possible reasons. When you’re applying for a government grant, one scenario may be that the funding you’re applying for spans more than one government department or agency, and you must fulfill the information and reporting requirements for both (or all). Or if it’s a foundation grant, they may have their own requirements too. Foundations have to comply with a set of regulations to retain their non-profit or charitable status. Also, with government grants especially, it’s important to be able to show that there has been no unfair bias in the way the funding has been allocated, so the application process includes provisions for this, which can increase the amount of information required.

But there may be a different reason as well. When there’s some latitude to decide how complicated a grant application or proposal should be, a funder may choose deliberately not to make it too easy to apply. Their thinking is, if they create some barriers and make funding applicants jump through some hoops, then that will weed out the applicants who may be a bit lazy, who are not serious about getting funding, or who don’t follow directions well. As you may already know, I am always saying to follow the instructions on grant applications and requests for proposals (RFPs) exactly and carefully. The fact is that this can sometimes be a little test for you to see if you can follow instructions.

You might think this seems like unfair strictness or unnecessary power-tripping. But just put yourself in their place for a moment. They’re giving away money, so that means that they’re going to get lots of people and organizations applying. Some of these are those who are just want the funding but are not necessarily trustworthy about having the discipline and responsibility to use it wisely. There are also those who “shotgun” the grant application process, who just apply anywhere and everywhere to see what will happen.

Unfortunately for the funder, they have to give every proposal time and due consideration, including these time-wasters. If it’s not so easy to apply, it won’t be worth it for these types, and they’ll just wander away. This actually works out better for them, for the funder, and for you as a serious applicant, whose government grant application will be considered that much sooner. (I tell my students to apply for as many grants as they qualify for, and help them find them; I never advocate being one of the shotgunning time-wasters, so I that’s how I know already that you’re a serious applicant.) The same technique is sometime used by potential employers and the admissions departments of competitive universities.

The bottom line is that you should target your government grant applications and proposals carefully, follow the instructions meticulously, and know that there’s sometimes a good reason that you have to do a fair amount of work. With this foundation of knowledge, you’ll enjoy an increased level of success with your government grants and applications.