24 Feb Grant-seeking or grant-rushing? Don’t do a Brian…
A good 30 years ago I jumped onto a train that had started to move out of the station – I was so desperate to catch it! I had spent the weekend in Gloucestershire (UK) with my parents and needed to catch the early morning train on the Monday to get back to London and my job at Penguin Books. In hindsight it was crazy and dangerous boarding a moving train; I just got in before the heavy door swung back on me. The train stopped, and I was reprimanded with a furious blow of the whistle by the Station Master – quite right, too. But I was allowed to travel on and I did make my desk on time. While I did run for the train, anxious not to displease my employers (I was but a young thing), rushing was not a way of life back then; the 24/7 hyper-connected world hadn’t yet been born.
Talking of trains, I watched Michael Palin’s Travels of a Lifetime program on SBS recently, a delightful look back at his TV travels in the ‘90s. I loved his ‘roof class’ travel on the Nile Valley Express, and how the passengers remained unfazed by a two-day delay; they simply set up tea-making stalls and whiled away the time. Similarly, passengers on a train that broke down in the former USSR took advantage of the delay to have a day out in the country, swimming in a nearby lake. It reminded me of a Swahili proverb I once heard: Hurrying has no blessing.
When it comes to grants and deadlines, we do need some sense of urgency, to know what the deadlines are and to work back from those dates in a planned and methodical way so that we get our application in on time. But the real trick is to be grant ready before the grant round is announced, especially given the turnaround time on some grants is very tight.
One evening last week I was watering the garden when a call came in. I didn’t recognise the number so didn’t pick up; I’d had a long day and it was 7pm. Shortly afterwards this person, let’s call him Brian, texted asking if I had received the email he’d just sent. I had shut up shop for the day, so no I hadn’t. I was cooking dinner at 7.40pm when Brian rang again. I ignored that too. Surely it could wait till the morning?
Curiosity got the better of me so I checked my emails on my phone. In a nutshell, Brian was looking for support with writing a grant due at 5pm the next day. How he was expecting any consultant to be available with less than 24 hours’ notice, I don’t know. And, to add insult to injury, he addressed the email as Dear Leslie… a name which bears no resemblance to Charlotte.
And that’s the whole point, a rushed job, a rushed grant application has ‘no blessing’; it’s likely to be poor quality and lack attention to detail. If Brian got my name wrong, what are his chances of reading and digesting the guidelines, adhering to the word counts and attaching the required documents?
The timing of Brian’s request and his badgering me well after hours was lacking in respect. Respectful practices and approaches are fundamental to grant-seeking: it’s about ensuring that all our dealings with grant-makers are respectful – from any initial conversations through to the quality of the applications submitted and how we communicate our thanks and project updates. It’s about respecting the consultants who partner with us and strive to improve our fundraising outcomes, it’s about respecting our own limits and maintaining a healthy work/life balance rather than burning the midnight oil.
“Are you aware that rushing toward a goal is a sublimated death wish? It’s no coincidence we call them deadlines.” (Tom Robbins)
So how can you avoid doing a Brian and compromising the quality of your grant submissions and your dealings with the various stakeholders along the way?
- Maintain and regularly update a shopping list of mission-aligned grant fit projects and budgets signed off by management
- Develop fully-fledged project summaries with clear evidence of the need and outcomes measurement
- Subscribe to a directory of grants so that you can research relevant grants and be notified of new opportunities (see links below)
- Develop a calendar of Trust and Foundation prospects and plan out your year
- Identify the top prospects and ensure you have the time and resources to pursue these opportunities
- Think ahead and build relationships with key funders and stakeholders ahead of submission rounds
- Secure organisational buy-in to grant-seeking processes
- Get quotes and estimates for any capital or equipment items on your ‘shopping list’
- Gather in advance, where possible, Letters of Support, References and MOUs
- Take a deep breath
- Be Respectful