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Rebecca Vermillion Shawver, MPA, GPC

About Rebecca

A Frumpy Grantwriter Who's Rooting for Susan Boyle

Every job has its frustrations. Grant writing is certainly no exception. This article is written by a grant writer. It is for and about grant writers everywhere — in recognition that we are the least praised members of fund development teams.

With that said, here goes...

For many grant professionals, it seems that the greatest of all frustrations is the lack of public recognition for what we do – every day, day in and day out — to secure the millions of dollars needed to keep our nation’s non-profit organizations running.

Long ago, most of us realized that there would be no ticker tape parade when we secure another million dollar contract. Nor would there be any public celebration of our grant awards. There would simply be another grant application awaiting our attention; and, we would sit in our tiny offices in places far, far away from the hub of our agency’s power, to write another compelling and persuasive grant application.

Of course, there will always be press releases that proclaim to the public how great an impact the newly acquired funds will have upon the agency’s ability to serve its clientele. And the CEO or president will bestow an appropriate amount of personal praise upon the grant writer and their staff. But for most of us, our years of experience in working for social service, youth development and educational institutions have taught us that there will never be a public show of recognition or appreciation for the acquisition of grant funds.

Most of us know all too well, that grant writers are the least recognized and most often invisible fund development staff members that any organization employs. Let’s accept it…we’re the frumpy fund raisers. We aren’t a part of the beautiful people — the foundation folks that spend so much of their time with movers and shakers, wealthy donors, and elected officials. Grant writers are the common folk that keep on plugging and chugging away at their computers. The words and the statistics spring forth from our finger tips...but always in the solitude of our offices and in less than opulent settings.

The dictionary defines frumpy as “dull,” “plain,” “unfashionable,” “primly sedate,” “primly out of date,” and “dowdy.” (See, Hmm...sounds exactly many seem to view us.

Perhaps because we’re viewed as frumpy people, oftentimes no one (including some of my former bosses) expects much of us. Thus, when we “win” a new grant contract, it’s almost as if it wasn’t our talent and hard work that netted the contract — but rather dumb luck. In fact many years ago, a board member told me that he simply didn’t understand how it could take so long to write a successful grant — after all “they’re just words on paper...write some.”

So when one considers the attention that is typically lavished upon foundation offices and their staffs for the acquisition of donor gifts and capital campaign funds, the lack of public recognition of a grant office’s achievements is notable.

Please understand that the grant writers I know are thrilled each time they see a photograph of a local foundation director and donor side-by-side and accompanied by an article highlighting the donation and how it will be used to benefit the community. Grant writers around the nation know that it is this type of publicity that brings an organization’s mission and accomplishments to attention of community residents, elected officials, and potential donors.

And to be honest with you, I wouldn’t be very comfortable at most foundation events for I lack the gift of glib conversation necessary to mingle with and persuade wealthy donors and elected officials to write large donation checks. That is the foray of foundation officers. Rather, I’m far more comfortable with my command of the English language, my computer, the statistics that my institutional researcher prepares, and the measurable outcomes that I write to document program successes. Like most grant writers, I’m very much at home with the tools of my trade.

Through the years, many of my colleagues have shared with me that they long for a little recognition of their success. Mind you, it’s the simple things of which most of them dream...not the big photo spread in their local paper. Rather, they dream mostly of a more spacious office or closer proximity to the hub of power at their agency.

However on occasion, some do long for some form of public recognition too. Just once, wouldn’t it be simply fabulous to see an article highlighting the diligent work and creativity of one of our fellow grant writers? Wouldn’t that be something to see? Recognition of a grant professional — especially a frumpy one!

With all that said, I want to share that on several levels, I related to Susan Boyle from the first time that I saw her performance on Britain’s Got Talent.

There before my eyes I saw a frumpy, unemployed caterpillar transform into a majestic butterfly with a voice that even the angels must envy. No one expected anything great from her. She was just one of a million frumpy people hoping to make their dream come true. (Isn’t that the same thing that grant writers dream of? Only for most of us are dreams aren’t personal; rather, they are for our clients and students.)

There she stood with her cheeky confidence and unpolished air of nervousness---until she began to sing. The judges and audience were shocked as they sat in utter awe of her abilities. Her breathtakingly beautiful voice didn’t fit their perception of her. She wasn’t beautiful or sophisticated. Yet there she was standing before them on that huge stage to risk their ridicule….just an older woman lacking outward beauty by societal standards. A frump. (Sounds a lot like how someone might describe me at a party of our community’s movers and shakers. Frumpy and out of my league.)

Well, as one frumpy old woman to another, I want to tell Susan Boyle that I’m rooting for her. I don’t want her to compromise her inner beauty and God given talents for societal demands. She is an absolutely beautiful and gifted person that deserves far more than a minute or two in the spotlight. She deserves to have her talents and hard work celebrated publicly with all the glitz that other celebrities are surrounded by; and, unlike grant writers around the world, she’s got a fairly good chance of receiving this praise.

As for me and my grant writing colleagues, we will continue to toil away the hours in our small offices in a far, far away places. We will seek to acquire that next big contract because that is where our talents lie...and we will continue to feel blessed because we know that we make a difference in the lives of hundreds of people.

Susan Boyle will move forward with her career. She will touch the lives of thousands of people with her awesome voice.

As for me, I will await the day that frumpy grant writers will bask in the warmth of spotlights shining upon them, their talents, and their accomplishments...because each one of them deserves to have at least five minutes of fame.

I hope that frumpy Susan Boyle succeeds. Perhaps she will help the world take note of all the frumpy workers that far too few people recognize — nor organizations celebrate.



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