Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fear Freezes Everything, Even Grant Writing

Adults in normal situations are not supposed to be afraid. We are the ones who are supposed to get out of a warm, safe bed and check out those bumps in the night. We’re the ones who are supposed to go into the basement to change the light bulb. We’re the ones who are supposed to accept a new challenge. We’re the ones who are supposed to have learned over a lifetime that there are few things in the world that merit being paralyzed by fear. But sometimes organizations are run by fearful people.

Grant writing is about accessing opportunity. But opportunity and the money that comes with it have a price. It means that A) someone has to step up and take on more responsibility, and B) that something new is going to happen. These two things are scary and keep a lot of organizations from pursuing grant funding. It has always been a morbid fascination of mine to watch an organization operate in fear because it’s so obvious from the outside and so paralyzing from the inside.

I worked recently with an organization that is struggling financially. That fact alone tells me that they should be “all over” grants. They should be like rabid vampire bats seeking the lifeblood of any agency willing to give them some dough. But they aren’t, and when presented with a relatively large opportunity to apply for a grant, they initially agreed and the grant was written, but then they decided not to submit the application. This happened because the leadership was fearful about the amount of work involved and the fact that something new was going to happen. These are the only explanations because the grant fit perfectly within their educational mission statement and would have uniquely added a fresh vitality to their services, broadened their public appeal, and drawn in important partnerships.

They are also frozen by fears about finance when paradoxically applying for the grant could have provided a level of relief. The organization is living off its endowment and the endowment is shrinking faster and faster as their services remain unchanged. You see, there’s no reason for people to visit more than once, and the grant could have provided a new reason for people to visit again. It’s a place frozen in time by the fear of the leadership and I’m afraid that soon enough they will have to close the doors because they will have passed by opportunity after opportunity that could have helped them turn it around.

Just as a small child will freeze in fear beneath his blankets calling for a parent to look under the bed for a monster, this agency feared the work, the change, the fiscal unknown. They even feared it enough not to ask questions but to dismiss the opportunity out of hand. It is unreasonable, but fear is unreasonable about 99% of the time. Still, unreasonable fear is still real fear. Bowing to fear is understandable for small child who has not lived long enough to know better, but it is unjustifiable for an adult who should be able to over-ride their fears with information, reason, logic, and a bigger picture in mind.

The immediate issue in this agency is not the fact that their endowment today is less than it was yesterday. Their problem is that they have no plan to stop the bleeding, which in their short-sightedness would require that they do something new to bring people in to spend money. They do not make a connection between what they are doing with their services and the fact that so few people are taking advantage of their services. Lacking that nexus they could not see why this grant opportunity was important to pursue with all vigor, and I was unsuccessful in convincing them.

I find that people running agencies who are too focused on the day-to-day issues are often reluctant to go after grant funding because their issue-myopia prevents them from seeing the big picture. These people are too busy running around putting out fires to ever stop and plan a way out that requires the “monthly” or “annual” calendar view in Outlook rather than the daily view. Grants are scary monsters to them because all they see is that “today I am busy”, “today I am overwhelmed” and if you throw in the work of this grant, my life will be impossible. I’ve written and managed many grants for programs in the past and these grants have always supported, extended, and enriched what I was already doing. Yes, there’s a bit more paperwork involved and you actually have to demonstrate the effectiveness of what you’re doing but that’s part of the territory of doing things better.

Fear of accountability is another interesting fear factor, that’s whole different post. Fear freezes and things that are frozen don’t move too well. I did my best to thaw my client out; but like the fictional world of Narnia, until spring comes, I’m afraid there simply isn’t going to be anything growing there.

No comments:

About Creative Resources & Research

My photo
Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.