Bringing mirth and mindfulness to grant-seeking

Bringing mirth and mindfulness to grant-seeking

I was planning on writing a round-up of the year blog but decided to end on a lighter note, and one that doesn’t mention the C-word, the virus that has turned the world upside down.  With events unfolding in my native Britain and here in Sydney, I reckon a bit of humour and ‘upliftment’ is what we all need right now.

Humour has always been part of who I am, and I consider it part of my personal and professional skillset. A former client and I used to sometimes burst into stress-relieving hammed-up song (she was an ex-professional singer and stand-up comic) – particularly when dealing with a dense grant or the convoluted internal politics in her organisation.

And some of the best fun I’ve had while working was at the FIA’s SA Fundraising Showcase in Adelaide in 2016 when I dressed up as Melanie the Millennial to take part in a debate. I always did want to be an actress…

So, I was delighted to watch an online session at the recent international Fundraising Everywhere Trust Summit presented by Edinburgh Fringe stand-up comic and Trusts and Grants Officer at the UK’s Railway Children, Matt Zeqiri. Matt delivered his session walking through his farm in Hope Mountain in Wales with cameo appearances by his dog (who dropped his ball in a cowpat…), a feisty cockerel and a chorus of snorting pigs.

Determined to bring all of himself to his work and not be a cookie-cutter fundraiser, ‘Norman Normal,’ Matt has developed his own style and shared with us what stand-up comedy and trust fundraising have in common:

Stand-out from the crowd – being at the Edinburgh Fringe with its 3000 plus shows, Matt knows all about the need to make your mark. The same applies to how you position your grant application in the highly competitive world of grant-seeking.

Dealing with rejection – whether TV writing or grant-writing, it’s par for the course. Instead of getting discouraged, be happy that you have given it your best shot.

Get a Writing partner – yes, yes, yes! Whether you’re crafting a comic script or a grant application, get a colleague (or consultant like me) to review it for you; another brain and pair of eyes adds that all-important objectivity.

Write Drunk, Edit Sober (a misattributed Hemingway quote as Matt pointed out) – the idea here is that when we’re in creative flow, full of inspiration and enthusiasm, we need to step away from our first draft – sleep on it (well not literally!) – and review it in the cold light of day. And that’s why planning ahead and avoiding last minute rushed applications is key to being successful.

Trim the fat – Matt instanced a sitcom script where 25 of 40-odd pages might be stage directions. I loved his advice here: “What is the latest moment someone could read your application and know what is going on? Cut everything above that. Make every word count and do the heavy-lifting.” And, he added, avoid dense walls of text, make it easy to read.

Writer’s block – it’s part of the process. Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t turn on creativity like a tap. At this point in his ramble across the hills, Matt inserted a picture of his pigs to whom he turns for inspiration – porcine prowess, clearly. I have my spaniel Bertie – cuddling him can be a great circuit-breaker.

It’s an art not a science – if there was a formula for comedy or grant-writing, robots would be doing it, and Matt and I would both be out of a job. Joking apart, find and trust your own voice.

And that was Matt’s overall message as per the title of his session: ‘Bring Your Whole Self to Work.’ He shared examples of some highly original attention-grabbing fundraising copy he had written, and how he draws on his experience, personality, interests, passions and enthusiasm – the whole package. Many thanks to Matt for allowing me to share his pearls of wisdom:

Humour is also a great way to counter the high levels of stress in our sector which, while hugely rewarding, is also inherently challenging. Check out the recent Xfactor Collective’s September research study highlighting: ‘alarming numbers show sector burnout’:

Another way to lessen the anxiety, stress and burnout is to practise mindfulness. I listened into one of those online wellbeing summits earlier this year and heard another fabulous stand-up comic, Ruby Wax, speaking. Ruby has gained a Masters in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy from Oxford University. She talks of learning to switch off: “the weapons of mass distraction” that fill our minds and the accompanying anxious thoughts: “What’s going to nix us next? North Korea or too much salt?” It’s been a tough year for so many in so many ways. Being kind to ourselves as well as to others is so important for those of us wanting to improve lives in our community and the wider world. Pressing pause, being present and gaining perspective can all help us to function well. As Ruby says: “Fix yourself, then go save the world.’

On that note it just remains for me to wish everyone a healthy, happy, peaceful, restorative and relaxing holiday season – a merry and mirthful Christmas – and all good things for 2021. And to leave you with a photo of none other than Melanie the Millennial!