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"What Would Betsy Say?"

The 12-12-12 Scenario: A Simple Framework for Getting into the Mind of Your Real-Life Grant Reviewer

Here’s a simple three-part framework to help you get squarely inside the mind of the reviewers who are reading, rating, and making decisions about your grant proposal. It’s called the 12-12-12 Scenario. And when you really get it, not only will it transform the way you think about the grant review process – it will also answer almost all your questions about what your final proposal should look like and how it should read – to make sure you get the best results.

It’s all about shifting perspective.

You see, as grant seekers, our perspective about our proposals is about as subjective as a loving parent’s is about a beloved child. Do you recognize yourself? Because we’ve lavished so much care and attention on our proposal, without even thinking about it we somehow imagine that the reviewer on the other side will lavish an equal amount of care and attention on our proposal in the review process.

Betsy ReviewerWe probably imagine that the reviewers are coming to our proposal really excited about reading it. Or at least looking forward to reading it. Or at least very rested and receptive. They are (we imagine) fully mentally alert and awake. They have absolutely no other demands on their time or their attention. They’re right here, fully present and ready to engage 100%. And this is how we imagine they’re going to proceed:

They’ll take a look at your very first lovingly crafted sentence. They’ll read that sentence through to the end. Then they’ll move to the next sentence … and the next after that. They’ll let you take them by the hand and walk them all the way through, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, section by section, one lovingly crafted step at a time. You’ve been so very careful, so thoughtful about how you’ve selected every single word. And they will follow you, one word, sentence and paragraph at a time, all the way along the garden path through to the very end … when they will reach the inevitable conclusion that they will – they must – say a quick and unequivocal yes to this proposal.

Guys, it doesn’t work that way. That’s imagining that reviewers are reading our proposal under the best of all possible circumstances.

Let’s flip that over, and see what happens when we imagine the opposite: That, instead, they’re reviewing our proposals under the worst of all possible circumstances. That’s what the 12-12-12 Scenario is all about.

Our “12s”:
It’s 12 midnight and our reviewer (let’s call her Betsy) is just now sitting down to tackle the stack of proposals she has to read before her review team meeting tomorrow morning at 8. Is this realistic? Would that really happen? Do reviewers procrastinate? Of course, they do. All. The. Time. Do we procrastinate? Yes, we do. Are reviewers just like us? Yes, of course, they are.

So here it is, 12 midnight, and Betsy’s just sitting down to do this work. She’s not coming from a leisurely day at the spa or a long, long nap, either. In fact, she already has … wait for it … a 12-hour work day behind her.

Let’s pause here, and imagine the level of mental energy Betsy’s bringing to this task. She’s committed to doing a great job in this review process, but look at what’s working against her here. It’s late; she’s put in a long work day. How easy is it going to be for her to focus? How much attention will she need to pay to simply pay attention? We can all put ourselves in Betsy’s place, can’t we?

And guess what: We have one more “12’ to go. There’s a stack of proposals Betsy needs to read, and yours is not the first one in the pile. It’s not the second one. It’s not the third one. Where do you imagine your proposal will be in the stack? That’s right. It’s number 12. There are 11 other proposals that Betsy needs to get through … given that it’s 12 midnight … given that she’s already put in a 12-hour workdaybefore she ever comes to yours.

If you can get the 12-12-12 Scenario firmly in your mind, you’ll have exquisitely powerful guidance when you’re making decisions about your proposal. Examples: When you’re thinking about what to say, how to say it, what word choices to make, how to put your sentences together, how to organize your information, what type size to use, how to lay it all out, whether or not to use headings or bullets or lists or any such formatting choices. Just ask, at every decision point:
“What choice would help my 12-12-12 reviewer Betsy not only not fall asleep with her head crashing down on her desk before she reaches the end of page two in my proposal – but actually help her get so fired up about the opportunity that we’re offering her, that she cannot wait to get to that review team meeting tomorrow morning at 8 am and be your champion?’”

Believe me, this is not a far-fetched scenario. In fact, quite the opposite: Some degree of 12-12- 12 Scenario is the reality of every single grant review process … ever. I created it out of my own experience as a long-time grant reviewer, and the experience shared by many, many, many other real, live, breathing, hard-working people engaged in the review process.

So as grant seekers, let’s do ourselves a favor. Think of Betsy as your virtual over-your-shoulder 12-12-12 Scenario grant proposal advisor. When we’re putting our proposals together, let’s take time to step outside our own “doting-parent” perspective. And let’s just ask Betsy: “Hey, Betsy … how does this play for you? What would work best for you? What choice would make it easy for you to fall in love with our proposal?”
My bet is that you’ll know the answer – every time.

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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

Over her 25+ year career in the nonprofit world, Maryn has been an on-staff program developer and grant writer; an independent grants consultant; a grants project manager; a grants trainer; a grants reviewer, author, speaker, mentor and coach; and – yes – for the past 16 years, even a grantmaker. Grants Magic U, launched in fall 2015, is the “virtual academy” she created to make her extensive portfolio of practical and inspiring trainings on successful grantsmanship available (and affordable!) for anyone, anytime, anywhere.

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