Monday, October 25, 2010

Stay within the Lines but Think outside the Box

I had mentor one time long ago when I was training to be an administrator. He had a way with with sayings and one of his favorites was, “Get your lovin' at home.” By this he meant that you should do your job without expectation that people are going to like you - or love you - for the decisions you make. He was big on telling the truth, being straightforward, playing by the rules, staying within the lines, and making sure that everybody else did the same.

The request for proposals that you will be working from on almost any grant you ever write is a set of rules, restrictions, guidelines, advice, and legal direction for making an application. Following this RFP document is critical to development of a successful grant application. But sometimes clients don't get it. They want to manipulate the grant to fit their fiscal needs and sometimes as a grant writer you need to help them see the bigger picture.

Case in point, I have worked with a nonprofit organization that has very narrow community support. They have strong community support within one demographic and they do not attempt to engage with groups beyond that narrow band. This has led to them into a fiscal crisis. So it became clear to some of the board members that they needed to do something new to bring in a broader audience. And so a grant proposal came along offering them the opportunity to do that. In a brave move, the board approved a contract to write the grant.

There was not unanimous support for this idea within the board because it is new and it is a different funding source, it is an effort to broaden the audience of the nonprofit beyond demographic band that they are accustomed to working with. There is also a deep level of mistrust of the funding source for the grant because it's the federal government. So as the grant proposal is being developed, it's making people nervous. Some board members are deeply concerned that they will lose control of the nonprofit by submitting this grant proposal. The reality of this fear isn't the point, the fear is real because there is fear, not because there's any substance to the fear.

So I am busy reminding myself this morning that I need to get my loving at home and that my bigger job in this grant development process is to help the client see that broadening their audience is mission critical if they are to keep the doors open. It is my job now to remind them gently that the Board needs to be open to engaging with the community at level beyond inviting them in and asking them for their money; that they need to be willing to listen; to implement new ways of doing things; that they need to be willing to make adjustments that are appealing to new audiences; and that they need to be willing to reinterpret what it means to be inclusive.

The issue I have in developing my current grant proposal is that I have to follow the RFP yet some of the guidelines are being challenged by a few vocal and increasingly nervous board members. It seems that these board members want to build in controls, restrictions, and barriers that may render the application unfundable within the guidelines of the RFP. My job this morning is to reinforce with their leadership what the grant requires and what the funding source expects. If this conversation does not sway them to creating an application that is fundable; I have a very difficult task of writing a narrative and submitting an application that may be dead on arrival.

Sometimes I need reminding that my role as a grant writer is advocating for the very project I'm hired to write, as silly as that may sound. Sometimes change just scares the hell out of people and they need to be comforted and have their hands held and their back patted along the way. Sometimes I am a grant counselor, sometimes I am a grant strategic planner, sometimes I am just a grant writer, but all of the time I need to keep the big picture in mind that I am writing for someone and must accommodate their wishes. Today I need to help my clients think outside the box while staying within the lines.

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About Creative Resources & Research

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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.