Planning grants are used when there is too much uncertainty or too many unknowns to produce a strong project plan in a proposal. A planning grant should pursue specific questions and unknowns, perhaps be guided by a decision tree, and even lead to a go/no-go decisions on specific elements. If you are exploring a risky idea, the planning phase might result in your decision not to pursue the idea. If your project just needs a start-up phase for planning but you know your aims and partners, you might just include that start-up phase within your project proposal. The planning proposal should define the critical questions and unknowns and then show how the proposed activities close those gaps.
We fund planning grants that have some concept and description of the end result AND if that end product is within our strategy and our financial means. There should be strong hypotheses about the end product and its cost. For example, we would not fund a planning effort to design a $10,000,000 regional project since we couldn’t fund that expensive implementation phase.
Finally, we encourage all our planning efforts to develop a mindset that the final product is first a project plan and only then a grant proposal. Most planning grants are first presented with too much time and effort in convening and workshops and not enough time and money spent on planning. A grant proposal is a way to sell a project plan to JRS, but the strength of that proposal will be rooted in the strength of the underlying project plan.