Saturday, December 11, 2010

Think Positively and Make It Happen

I’ve found that there are basically two kinds of people working in the world. There are those with the desire to make “it” happen, and those who enjoy the comfort and stability of the status quo. The “it” is what makes life interesting as a freelance grant writer. The whole risk-reward equation is invigorating, motivating, and adrenaline-inducing.

Whether I have worked inside an agency or outside of one, I’ve been the type of person who wants to make it happen. It didn’t matter if I was making it happen for other people, for the agency I worked for, or for myself, I enjoy the ongoing challenge of promoting a worthwhile person, idea, or project.

Grants offer me the chance to make a difference. I can help someone obtain funding they need to promote an idea, program, or project. That’s a pretty cool position to be in and it’s what I have always been best at doing. I’m good at getting people to the table and facilitating the discussion. I’m good at negotiating compromise and seeking ways around, over, and under barriers. I love it, probably in part because it’s all about using language effectively.

The grant writing process is the process of using both verbal and written language effectively to write successful proposals that promote change. When I held leadership positions, I used to say that change is so hard for people that you can’t change a light build without dissent. Grant projects are like that on a grander scale in which lots of light bulbs usually need to be changed. Grant projects can move big ideas forward but grants almost always mean change will happen. The work of that change often falls on staff outside of those employed by the grant.

Negotiating agreement with people impacted by a grant program is a big deal if the grant is going to be successfully implemented. I’ve seen many grants written through the years that did not involve meaningful input from the “stakeholders” (ugh, we need a new word for that, sounds like a waiter at Ruth’s Chris). These grants got bogged down from Day One as people woke up to the reality of all this new work! “Holy guacamole!” they’d say, “I never agreed to do that!?”

I observed helplessly as these grants failed to gain the momentum needed for change and failed to meet their objectives. Lots of money got spent, but resistance to change prevented anything meaningful from happening. More negotiation was needed before applications were made.

The results of a badly negotiated grant program are terrible. A few of the consequences I’ve seen are the loss of good staff; often these are the same people who brought the idea to the table in the first place. These highly motivated, creative and dedicated people who lose heart and move on to more adaptable environments. The staff hired to replace them are often less committed and more willing to “water-down” the activities and objectives to accommodate the level of resistance they meet.

Another terrible consequence is that the agency may be less willing to pursue future grant proposals or suggest real change. The burn of a grant gone wrong can hurt the agency for a long time so it’s important to negotiate well with everyone the changes impact. This does not mean that all objections must be overcome, that rarely happens. Sometimes a grudging acknowledgement is the best you’re going to get, just be prepared for a few mules.

In spite of that, lay it all on the table so people can’t say they didn’t know what was coming. There’s always going to be unintended consequences but good planning can minimize those. Plus, nobody will be able to honestly say that those consequences were concealed to push a grant agenda forward (some may still say it but you’ll have meeting minutes to prove it just ain’t so).

Making it happen is an exciting feature of grant work. But obtaining funding and successfully creating change are not the same things, the latter does not necessarily flow from the former. Grant writers who volunteer to become involved in the planning process can have a positive influence on outcomes. A grant writer who has been around a while can point out planning pitfalls, suggest program alternatives, and give a fresh perspective to difficult issues of implementation. I find that my many years of project implementation experience make me a valuable resource around the table when grant planning is taking place. Not only that, the information I collect by participating makes my narrative concrete so the time is well-spent.

People in the insurance industry who bring in clients are called “producers.” I’ve always liked that term and apply it to what I do in terms of working with clients. I like to make it happen and produce clients. I like to write grants that make it happen for others. Grant writing is rewarding work in many ways and it takes positive thinking to make “it” happen.

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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.