Working “Smarter”, Not Harder

As grant writers, we work in a field which is inherently full of pressure, due to its very nature. We must prepare and submit grant applications to meet deadlines which are nonnegotiable. The funding agencies will almost never give an individual applicant an extension. If the application is not submitted by the due date, the application has no chance of being considered. Also, grant writers are prone to performance anxiety due to the fact that our success or failure is so visible. We either get the money, get part of what we requested, or get nothing at all. Many grant writers fall into the trap of becoming too personally identified with the results of the applications they write. This makes them feel that a rejection is due solely to their lack of skill in writing the application. This could not be farther from the truth, as there are many other reasons for the rejection of an application, such as other applicants with a greater level of need or having a project which is not really ready to be implemented.

A grant writer’s method of dealing with stress and time management will naturally have to take into account whether they are part-time or full-time and whether they are a grant consultant or an employee of an agency which is seeking grants. In my case, this is how I make my living and support my household. One would think that this would cause a great deal of stress, worry and pressure. I know it sounds simplistic, but my way of dealing with this is that I concentrate on the work to be done and do not let myself get into the stress-oriented frame of mind. I have found, in my 35 years of grant writing, that the best policy is to do the best one can and have confidence that the funds will flow. This is sometimes difficult to do. I recognize that some personalities deal with pressures in different ways. However, if you are an excessive worrier, you probably should not be a grant writer.

Having expressed these generalities, I would like to share with you some of the techniques I use in order to meet my deadlines and work at a comfortable pace. Fortunately, my business is thriving and I therefore must work on multiple projects at the same time. One of the things which really helps me the most has been my use of dictation. For a number of years now, I have used a product called Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which is manufactured by a company called Nuance. This software enables one to speak into a microphone and have the words automatically typed on the computer screen. It is hard to overstate the time savings I have realized as a result of using dictation. However, I think that everyone is initially leery of working in this fashion. Many people feel that they can think better if they type. However, my advice would be to start out dictating very simple letters and memorandums, which is what I did. Once you get comfortable with that, it will be relatively easy to dictate two page documents and work up from there.

Another method I use for avoiding stress is to gather all documents I need from others prior to beginning an application. For example, a funding agency may request copies of audits, articles of incorporation, a list of board members and so forth, which I will have to gather from the client. I have found that it really helps to get these documents together in the very beginning. This will help the grant writer to avoid last-minute pressures.

It is also a good idea to avoid unnecessary meetings. For those meetings which must take place, it is a good idea to encourage brevity by knowing ahead of time what you wish to say and what you hope to get out of the meeting. I have found in most cases that one motivated person can help to keep meetings shorter, provided that the group is not too large. Of course, you will find that some clients (in the case of consultants) or coworkers (in the case of grant writers which work for an organization) will try to increase the number of meetings and interactions above and beyond what is really necessary. In some cases, this is due to the fact that this is what they are used to. In other cases, it may be because these individuals feel that more is better in the case of meetings. I generally have one meeting with a client in the beginning and have the rest of our interactions by telephone and e-mail. This has proved to be sufficient.

Finally, I would encourage all grant writers who are employees to be frank with their supervisors about what they need in order to produce a successful application. This may be a reduction in other duties, allowing work at home, support from other staff, or access to research resources. Employers are generally happy to receive this sort of feedback, as they are as concerned as you are about producing an excellent application. They will not know your needs unless you tell them. Being assertive is a key to success in the grant field.

These are just a few suggestions on how to avoid burnout. Being able to organize your time and to speak up about your needs are key factors. Having a mentor is of immeasurable benefit, as support from others goes a long way towards relieving stress. I wish you success in your grant seeking.

Be Specific and Give Concrete Examples in Grant Applications

Following are two examples of how to describe the same project- a mentoring program for victims of domestic violence. The first example is the “fuzzy” one:

“The Newland Shelter for Victims of Domestic Violence needs money for its programs. We help victims of domestic violence and their children. The shelter fills a big need in the community. Our clients are very grateful for the help that they receive from us.”

This type of non-descriptive paragraph raises more questions than answers. The following items are missing from this description: amount of funding being applied for, exactly how the funds will be used, description of the full range of services given at the shelter, estimated number of potential clients, and the number of persons on the waiting list.

The following is a vastly improved project description:

“The Newland Shelter for Victims of Domestic Violence is applying for $30,000 in order to hire a counselor who will work twenty-five hours per week to train our clients in job-seeking skills. The shelter provides housing and meals for a two-year period for victims of domestic violence and their children. While our clients are resident here, they must take classes in child care, financial management, housekeeping, and other life skills. In addition, we provide a comprehensive counseling program which helps them to overcome emotional problems associated with the abuse they have endured. This grant will enable the new counselor to train all fifty of our clients in job seeking skills. Due to limited funding, we are unable to serve the sixty-five persons on our waiting list.”

It is patently obvious that the funding agencies will be much more likely to approve an application which contains the second example. It would be next to impossible to get funding based on the description given in the first paragraph. Grant makers want to know the exact picture and do not like vague writing.