The short days and long nights of solstice and deep winter, triggers our innate urge to hibernate and allows us to reflect on what has passed and ponder on what’s to come. Given that, I’ve created a list of five things that you can do to improve your grant writing skills that you might consider during your time of reflecting and planning.
#1 Become a Reviewer
With over 20 years in the field, I can tell you that being a grant reviewer has been the single most useful thing that I have done to improve my skills. And, it’s not difficult to find organizations that are seeking reviewers so it’s an easily accessible opportunity for growth. There are four great reasons to review.
First, you get to know what it feels like to be on the other side of the table – all the thoughts, feelings, and frustrations of reading through piles of proposals. This will make you MUCH more sensitive to making reviewers’ lives as easy as possible in the future.
Second, you read other people’s proposals and get a sense of the things that work and what does not work. Creative presentations stand out and give you ideas for your proposals.
Third, you see how your teammates review and appreciate how we each bring our personal strengths to the table. You see how some people are focused on the budget, others on project design, and others on the long-term impact. It makes you realize that you must write for all audiences.
Fourth, you meet other experts in the field and make new friends and colleagues.
If you’re interested in looking into this, I wrote an article about how to become a grant reviewer that you may find useful.
#2 Build a Team - Grant writing is best done as a team sport rather than an individual endurance challenge.
Grant writing is hard, and it’s usually undertaken in isolation. I’ve watched too many good people burn out by taking on too much without adequate support. I believe that grant writing doesn’t have to be stressful to be successful, but you need good structures and habits in place to make that a reality. If you are working in a small non-profit or are in the start-up phase, it’s imperative that you don’t try to go it alone.
To write a proposal, you need to have all of these skillsets; program person, data miner, front person, good writer, budget guru, proofreader, organizer/communicator; community liaison, and evaluator.
Now, in a push, you can embody all of them but the whole process will be a lot more enjoyable if you recruit folks with natural talents for these tasks to work collaboratively with you. Try to ensure that your team is diverse in gender, age, background and ethnicity because then you’ll get multiple viewpoints and be able to speak adeptly to a broader audience. Building a grant support team takes time and thoughtfulness but it’s worth the investment in the long run.
#3 Project Management Software
One of the people that I interviewed for my book was Frank Mandley. He had raised over 500 million dollars – yup, that’s half a billion dollars. So, his advice is worth listening to.
He oversaw a small team for Broward County School District and he told me that their efficiency improved when they employed a performance management system based on the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (formerly the Baldrige National Quality Program). His team used a modified version of Baldrige to look at the operations of the Grants Administration Department. They began to measure, analyze, define their internal and external customers, track their performance and make strategic changes based on what they observed and the data they collected. He credits it with helping them become more strategic in deciding what they worked on and in what manner. I haven’t used such a system myself, but I trust Frank, and if you run a small grants or development team in a large organization it might be worth some consideration this year.
#4 Reach out to a Peer Organization
I once sat next to a local businessman at an AFP luncheon. He had recently sat on our local community foundation’s grant review panel and was astounded by the overlap in the asks. I live in a small town and from his perspective, several small organizations were seeing the same problem and suggesting the same solutions in their proposals. He simply didn’t understand why we didn’t get together and collaborate more. And from his perspective, that is perfectly obvious.
What’s harder for us to achieve is the level of communication and trust needed for us to know what sister organizations are dealing with and to collaborate on generating joint solutions. That can’t be achieved in one fell swoop but is the result of small incremental steps. So, why not consider putting a structure in place where you meet your peers for coffee or lunch or at an AFP type event once a month in 2019?
#5 Plan for the Year
We’re all busy and the non-profit world is generally under-resourced and so it’s easy for us to become reactive and run from fire to fire. I’ve seen boards that stretch staff too thin by being distracted by bright shiny objects and that billionaire who ‘just gave $10 million to an organization like ours’. However, you will be more successful if you focus your time and energy on your best options and let other things fall by the wayside. So, consider setting aside some quiet time in the next month to reflect on what’s important to you and where you want to head.
To support you in doing that, I’m offering a free New Year’s Goal Setting Session on Wednesday January 2nd at 1:00pm EST. I’ll be using an alternative and gentler approach to goal setting that encourages you to expand into your goals rather than chasing after them. I hope to meet you during that session.
Whether all or none of these suggestions resonated with you, I hope that you take some time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate during this dark winter turning point in the year.
About the AuthorMore Content by Jana Jane Hexter