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Group Projects - The Bane of My Existence

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For those of you who know me this may come as a shock, but I hate group projects. I mean, I seriously loathe them. You remember high school and college when the professor would randomly assign you to a group of 4-5 students and then expect you to wow the class with a report of some kind? My frustration did not come from a place of hating collaboration, but rather my overachieving-self wanting a perfect grade. That usually meant picking up the slack for fellow committee members who were perfectly comfortable with a “B”. (Have I mentioned I was a little uptight when it came to my grade point average?)

You can imagine my elation upon graduation when I believed group projects were a thing of my past. Nothing like a few days in the real world to realize that adulting is nothing but a series of never-ending group projects, especially when you choose a career in grant writing and management. I was recently reminded of the joys (she says sarcastically) of group work when I put together the group to perform “I am a Professional” at the 2019 Grant Professional Association (GPA) Annual Conference in November. This experience so closely aligned with the highs and lows of putting together a grant proposal.

IT ALL STARTS WITH A GRAND IDEA. In 2018 I saw the musical “Hamilton” twice and the soundtrack played on repeat in my car so much so that if I had a singing voice, I could be the understudy for every member of that cast. And one day it hit me: the opening number was the perfect song to rewrite and perform during the next GPA conference. And grant proposals are like that. We work with our clientele, understand their needs, and then come up with the most perfect solution that will make life better for those we serve.

IT TAKES INVESTMENT. Then we must convince our co-workers, board of directors, and community partners the idea has merit. Sometimes that is easier said than done, as you have to navigate the naysayers and those who want to put their own spin on the idea. Ultimately, you need a team who is fully invested in order to create and execute the project. For the “I am a Professional” performance, I asked a variety of individuals to join me up on stage. The response I most often got was, “Um, I'll cheer you on. I'll even videotape it, but I am not getting up on that stage.” So I kept asking, until I had the right mix of talent (and bravery to act a fool in front of 870 of your peers) to pull off the performance I had in mind.

IT TAKES PLANNING AND PRACTICE. A grant application does not come together overnight, nor does a group sing-along. As a grant professional you must collect data, stories, insights, budgets, and so much more. The collected information must fit the right sections of the application based on space limitations and the questions asked by the funder. A proposal's first draft is just that, a first draft. Grant writers require editors, particularly those who are willing to shoot it you straight. When I rewrote the lyrics to the song, “Alexander Hamilton” and then doled out the sections to individuals who volunteered to perform, I asked them to practice and play with the lyrics. If the phrasing didn't work for them, I told them to rewrite it. Eventually, grant narrative and song lyrics will finally fall into place.

AT SOME POINT YOU HAVE TO HIT SUBMIT. After all the brainstorming, collaborating, writing, and editing is over, it is time to send your grant proposal to the funder. Chances are, after you hit submit you will think of a dozen ways you could have improved the narrative, because that is how most of us operate. We are always working to improve, always wanting to make everything better. But if we are forever fine-tuning, we will never get to the doing, so don't miss a deadline. Same for our “I am a Professional” performance. We would have loved more in person time to practice, but Thursday morning and the conference kickoff arrived and it was time to just do it.

While group projects will never be my favorite, because there will always be obstacles to overcome, I have learned that grant applications are not a solo sport. Without the input, advice, knowledge, and experience of accountants, project directors, bosses, boards, and community partners, I will never know everything there is to know about a particular community or its needs. Together, we make a pretty darn good grant team. And I'd say the same for Bill Smith, Johna Rodgers, Jo Miller, Sylvia Redic, Sue Jetter, Nathan Medina, and Mike Chamberlain. Thanks so each and every one of you for gamely going along with my wild idea (some more enthusiastically than others) and getting up on that stage. Because really, we are all professionals with the ability to wow the socks off those who read or hear our final product.

If you missed the opening performance at the GPA Conference or you just want to watch it again, you can check us all out here: The words are below.

Written by Amanda Day

How does a newbie, young-in, nonprofit one and a
Writer, dropped in the midst of a strategic
Plan in which the Board of Directors want funding,
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

The grant admin, mission funder, researcher, writer
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter
By being a self-starter
By year one, they placed you in charge of fundraising galas

And everyday while grants were being written and managed
Through, candid and other websites
Applications, character counts, budgets, and page limits
The grant pro was ready to write, type, create, and submit

Then a thunderstorm came, and power went away
Grant pros saw proposals not delivered on this day
But a deadline doesn't wait, ran home where power's restored
And got it in on time, let out a giant roar

Well the word got around, they said, “This kid is insane, man”
Took up a collection just to send him to GPA
Get your education, don't forget from whence you came, and
Funders gonna know your game plan, who are you man?
The world's gonna know your name. What's your name, man?”

I am a professional
I said that I am a professional
There's a million grants I haven't won
But just you wait, just you wait

When she was ten she thought that she, would be a, teacher
Two years later, maybe a doctor or a lawyer
Going to school all day a learning

But we knew better, gonna be a grant pro

Moved off to college, majored in who knows what
Journalism, Math, History, or

A voice saying

Kid, you gotta make a difference
Started applying and writing resumes and references

There was only one thing left to do
Checks ads on indeed
Wants to work so others can succeed
Nonprofits where she wants to be
Started workin', writing' for a small local food bank
Typing 50 words, characters limits, grants are so much fun

(ALL) Beggin'

(AMANDA) for every training she can get to

(ALL) Plannin'

(AMANDA) for the future see her now as she writes to

(ALL BUT AMANDA) ooohhhh

(AMANDA) The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
In this world you can be a grant pro

(ALL)In this world you can be a grant pro

(SYLVIA) Just you wait

(ALL) In this world you can be a grant pro

(SYLVIA) Just you wait

(ALL) In this world you can be a grant pro

(WOMEN) In this world, (MEN) this world

(SYLVIA) Just you wait!!

(Ladies) I am a professional (Men) I am a professional

(Ladies) We are writing all the grants for you (Men) writing all the grants for you

(ALL) You could never quit now
You always wrote to meet the needs!

(Ladies) Oh, I am a professional (Men) I am a professional

(ALL) When nonprofits yearn for you
Will they know you worked overtime?
Will they know you weren't paid a dime?
This org will never be the same, ooohhhh

The grant is on the ED's desk
Waiting for signature

Can't wait long

Another big deadline
Comin' round the corner

Just you wait

Coworkers don't understand
Boards they done forgot him

We wrote with him

We? edited for him

Me? I budgeted with her

We? Admired him

And me? I'm the smart guy who hired her

There's a million grants I haven't won
But just you wait!

What's your title?

I'm a grant professional!

Amanda Day, GPC, is a grant professional with 19 years of experience in federal and state grant research, writing, and management. She is a national grant trainer and consultant. She is a cohost of Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Amanda is the President of the Grant Professionals Association. You can follow her and her podcast on Twitter (@wholewheatgirl and @fundinghayday) and 

This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.

About the Author

Amanda Day, GPC, is a Grant Writing USA trainer and former municipal grants administrator turned consultant with 17 years’ experience. She’s the Fundraising HayDay Podcast co-host and Board Member of the Grant Professionals Association. Amanda is a total book nerd, grant geek, and music lover. Follow her and her podcast on Twitter: @wholewheatgirl & @fundinghayday.

Profile Photo of Amanda Day