Are small grants doing well in review?

In contrast to the trend of decreasing numbers of preliminary proposals, we have seen a rapid increase in the category of Small Grant preliminary proposals (these are also included in the total counts in our previous post).

DEB Small Grants 2012 2013 2014 2015
Submitted N/A 83 95 126
Invited N/A 20 25 29
Invite Rate N/A 24% 26% 23%


We attribute this to a growing awareness of this option to submit preliminary proposals with total budgets under $150K. Small grants came about in the second year of the preliminary proposal system in response to a long-standing desire, expressed by numerous voices in our communities, for some sort of “small” category. DEB realized it was particularly appropriate in the case of the preliminary proposal system in order that reviewers be able to adjust their expectations for the scope of a project relative to the expense without requiring the extensive preparations of a full budget. We added the category to our solicitation for the 2013 preliminary proposal deadline.

We’ve had lots of positive feedback on this option, but also recognize that awareness still needs to be improved among both applicants and reviewers. This year, 8% of all preliminary proposals were identified as small grants.

Small Grants are found in all four clusters and are generally on the increase, but we also think feedback, such as this post, is necessary to successfully integrate this idea into our communities and maintain enthusiasm for this option. We would not be surprised to see these numbers grow to the point where SGs make up as large a part (or larger) of the preliminary proposal pool as Predominantly Undergraduate Institutions or Beginning Investigators.

Since 2013, we’ve funded 22 awards based on invited full small grants (9 of 18 in 2013, 12 of 24 in 2014, and 1 of 1 in 2015 thus far[1]), for a 51% success rate at the full proposal stage. This is roughly twice the success rate of full proposals without the SG designation.


[1] Not everyone who received an invitation eventually submitted a full proposal (individual reasons vary). Also, we have an award already based on a 2015 preliminary proposal because instead of inviting a full proposal, DEB determined this project was appropriate for the EAGER mechanism and invited the team to submit an EAGER proposal allowing for quick turnaround of an award.

2 thoughts on “Are small grants doing well in review?

  1. I appreciate this post but wandering if there could be more clarification. Are small grants pre-proposals the same as large ones? Are they due at the same time? Same period of review? Same length? The only difference is the budget?

    • Yes to all. The one and only difference between a “small grant” and other DEB preliminary proposals is the label “SG” in the title. There is no actual budget (total or detailed) for any preliminary proposal, but we hold anyone invited as a small grant to that $150K or less commitment for a full proposal budget.
      We have always received some proportion of grants with small budgets, and reviewers generally seemed to account for the “bang for the buck” factor in their assessments. But, we were concerned that those proposals might not fare as well as preliminary proposals when compared to much larger projects without some signal that allowed reviewers to calibrate expectations for scope against size.

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