Effective Grant Seeking - Getting to Know Program Officers

November 14, 2023

Building relationships with grant funders is an important part of strategic grant seeking. Unfortunately, many grant applicants with great research ideas have their proposals declined because they do not align with the funding agency’s priorities. For applicants seeking federal funding, communicating with Program officers (POs) is an important part of the application process that can improve the chances of funding. For both NIH and NSF, building a relationship with a PO is a strategic way for researchers to align their scientific interests with the specific goals of an NIH Institute or an NSF Directorate.

Why you should contact a program officer
Program officers typically provide technical and administrative assistance to applicants who are preparing grants, and often serve as the liaison between an applicant and the grant review committee. As Robert Porter outlined in the article Can We Talk? Contacting Grant Program Officers, engaging in dialogue with a PO can: 1) determine whether the researcher’s concept is a good fit for the program’s objectives; 2) provide advice about project design and appropriate funding mechanisms; 3) ascertain trends in preferred research methodologies; and 4) identify possible limits in project duration and budget.

Finding and contacting a program officer
Applicants can identify POs by looking for contact information on a specific Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), or searching agency websites. NSF recommends searching the NSF funding website using keywords or research areas to explore funding opportunities. NIH has a tool called Matchmaker where applicants can enter abstracts or other scientific text to find potential POs and ICs for their research. Always email a PO first (no cold calls!) and do it early in the grant development process. Don’t wait until right before your grant deadline to reach out – POs are busy people. Be prepared to share a project overview or specific aims draft, and don’t overwhelm the PO with papers and materials.

Program officers are a key resource in grant seeking, and ultimately your research career. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a PO and begin building this important relationship. Do you have any great grant-related resources to share? We’d love to hear about them. Contact the UMMS Research Development team at msgrants@umich.edu to share your suggestions and resources.