5 Sources of Bias in Your Grant Application Review Process


We carry our biases with us wherever we go.

We can’t help it.

They come from how we’re raised, what we learn in various social settings, and our experiences in work and society broadly. The danger for bias in the grant application process is that certain grantees’ applications might be judged unfairly. A biased application process could result in certain communities not getting the resources they need from these organizations.

But what we can do is call out these biases ahead of time and build grant application processes that address them. That’s what we hope to do with this infographic: Offer up some challenging biases that are inherent to almost every grant review process (in other words, you are not alone) and pitch some solutions your way.

From issues around the size of funding requests and reviewer conflicts to gender and race bias, savvy grantmakers can better understand how these behaviors will affect their review processes and make the necessary adjustments to minimize their impact.

Sources of Bias in Your Grant Application Review Process

If you’re not careful with how you structure your grant review process, you could inadvertently skew the results.

Build against bias, or else.

Digging in a bit deeper, some of the examples of bias in review processes are quite telling.

In 2017, Google and Tsinghua University ran a study that showed single- and double-blind reviewers bidding to review papers from top companies and schools at higher rates. This demonstrated a clear biased towards more well-recognized institutions, but not necessarily better grant applications.

Other studies in Switzerland and Canada showed reviewers favoring applicants with whom they have some sort of connection. In the Swiss study, reviewers were four times more likely to give candidates a higher score when they had been nominated by the applicant to serve as a reviewer.

A 2010 study from Georgia State University demonstrated bias against new science investigators applying for grants instead favoring applicants that had resubmitted their proposals. This study showed evidence of a thirty-year evolution in which the grant review process became arbitrarily weighted against newer applicants.

Another study out of Canada’s Institutes of Health Research showed that women had a 30% lower chance of getting their project grant funded when gender was considered as part of the grant application. Gender bias is still very real and needs to be accounted for in every grant review process.

Putting these strategies into practice, grantmakers can begin to develop virtually a bias-free review process that ensures fairness for all applicants. With a grant application review tool like Submittable, building a review process without the bias is made simple.

Paul Perry
Paul Perry

Paul Perry is a writer and former educator with significant experience in nonprofit management. He has a soft spot for grant-seekers striving to make the world a better, more just place.