Proposal on a Page

By Dustin Ensign, CHCP, Director, Medical Education and External Sponsored Research Program, GRAIL, Inc.

Grant requests, in particular independent medical education (IME) grant requests, can take weeks to months to design, develop, coordinate and submit to potential supporting organizations, often with great financial and risk burdens. On the supporter side, there are myriad challenges as well. Challenges with internal support, scheduling, budget limitations and other reasons abound; however, sometimes proposals also may fail to convey just the right elements necessary to convince a team to even review in the first place. Review committees are inundated with hundreds or thousands of grant requests every year. Sometimes there may be one person reviewing the proposals, and sometimes there may be a committee of numerous, disparately located individuals all with differing objectives. Educational grant review committees, with a modicum of time, are pressed to give every funding request that is received the proper and appropriate level of review and consideration.

This might be where one potential bottleneck has emerged, and might this be an argument for the automatic inclusion of a well-crafted summary or “proposal on a page” in any future funding requests?

In January 2021, I undertook an abbreviated web search to see just how much information is provided by a subset of pharma and biotech grant supporters. In searching various IME websites, I identified 10 who had some mention of submission requirements indicated on their websites. In general, most listed many of the anticipated components; however, there were some surprises, including: “Prior Experience” (20%) and “Innovation” (30%). Only 50% asked for “Target Audience” or “Agenda/Timeline.” Surprisingly, only 70% indicated the need to include an “Evaluation and Outcomes Plan.”

One of the key limitations to this search was that I did not register with any of the companies in order to peruse what was requested specifically within a company’s grant management system. I was only looking to pull publicly and easily accessible information. Given the disparity in requirement listing, this could be limiting to grant requesters who are trying to learn about how to submit a proposal that meets internal requirements and expectations. It does appear that everyone is looking for something different. 

In March 2021, I undertook a survey of commercial supporters [Industry Alliance for Continuing Education (IACE)] as part of the larger IACE Benchmarking Survey (c/o Baxamusa, Biles and the Alliance). The purpose of this work was to get a better idea of how funding request materials are utilized internally across a swath of supporters and how to help frame this discussion. The metrics collected to date and utilized here are preliminary, and final outcomes will be released sometime in Q2 2021.

The survey included four questions:

  • When you meet with your grant review committee, what elements of a grant request do you typically prepare in advance, as a summary, for them to review?
  • How much time do you typically devote to grant review with a single committee every month?
  • Thinking about committee reviews, what are some of the areas that committee members tend to have the most concern or feedback? (Note: Committee review also could include yourself.)
  • Does your organization request the grant applicant to submit a “grant summary,” in addition to the other grant application documents?

As reported in the preliminary survey results, of particular interest to review committees were:

  • Always reporting (5/5): Title of the Program, Program/Learning Objectives, Budget and Target Audience
  • Very likely reporting (4/5): Educational Design, Area of Interest, Agenda and Innovative Elements.

Areas that were not of particular interest (1/5) were: Organization Overview and Prior Experience. Additionally, “Time with Review Committee,” potentially driven by volume, appeared to be centered between 45 minutes to two hours per month, per committee in 50% of reporting organizations. The majority of reporting organizations currently do request that grant applications include a “Grant Summary.” However, this was not uniform across all organizations.

I am sure that many organizations have extensive training on “Pitching,” so I don’t intend to provide coaching here. For illustrative purposes, I hope these points will resonate in the course of this particular “Proposal on a Page” discussion. As many of you are already aware, the act of pitching is not merely to close a deal but rather to increase the interest or engagement in shared pursuits.

There are five main areas for consideration when building a pitch:

  • Engagement in a relatable way (e.g., the hook)
  • Alignment to what is needed
  • Value add
  • Communicating a proven record of exceeding expectations
  • Demonstration of real passion

A “Proposal on a Page” is an opportunity to incorporate elements of a pitch. For these purposes, I adapted elements I thought supporters might be interested in seeing, including insights from the web search and the preliminary data from the IACE Benchmarking Survey. These would include:

  1. Gaps and Educational Objectives
  2. An Innovative Educational Design
  3. An Outcomes and Insights Plan
  4. Insights From Prior Aligned Education
  5. Sustainability

Sustainability is the term I am using to describe a program’s ability to live on after its initial execution. How will it continue to impact beyond a “one-and-done” program? I believe this would be helpful for me and my stakeholders, but I have to ask this audience: Does this resonate? Would others find this format helpful? “What else would be helpful? Alternatively, is this an opportunity for grant supporters to lean more heavily on a “Concept Review” process, before requesting full proposals?

Until that day comes, by building a strong educational grant summary that precedes a full proposal document, this is an opportunity for getting tailored information quickly into the hands of potential grant supporters. If we consider our grant supporters anything like the clinician populations we are trying to educate, who also are time strapped and looking for applicability (aka alignment), we should do what we do for them: Distill and Simplify. An educational provider who can design good education, bring in complex discussions and provide applicability also should be able to do this for a grant supporter.

A “Proposal on a Page” is an opportunity to take complex information, distill it down and simplify it. This accomplishes two things. The first of which is giving the reader something that is quick and easy to digest, and the second is giving the reader the interest and confidence to learn more.

For more information on this work, please watch the recording of the March 30, 2021 Alliance Experience Learning Labs Ignite Session, “Proposal on a Page.” Check back soon for the recording.

Alliance — National Learning Competencies

  • Area 5: Manage and Administer the CE Program
  • Area 6: Lead the CEhp Program
  • Area 7: Engage in Self-Assessment and Lifelong Learning


Disclosures and Notes: I am currently considered a “commercial supporter of independent medical education” at a diagnostics company. The opinions explained here are my own and not representative of my employer. I have been involved in IME since 2010 and am speaking from experience as a commercial supporter at a large biotech, a global rare disease biopharma and a diagnostics company. The discussions here may not be generalizable to other commercial supporters or their programs.

Recent Stories
Alliance Podcast Episode 18: Spotlight on Leadership

Comparison of In-Person Versus Tele-Ultrasound Point-of-Care Ultrasound Training During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Rockpointe Presents Online CME Course on Treating High-Risk Patients With COVID-19