Jana Jane Hexter
Grant Writing Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful to Be Successful
Do you ever secretly wonder:
What’s wrong with me that I find grant writing so darned hard? Why do I keep procrastinating and end up staying up ’til the wee hours in the morning to get it done? Why can’t I get focused earlier, be more organized, less stressed, and nicer to my kids and family when I’m working on a deadline?
The truth is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Grant writing is stressful because it is a convergence of two of our biggest stressors — time and money.
I’ve identified seven reasons why it’s so stressful. Let’s take a look.
- You’re dealing with hard deadlines and often with a time frame of days or weeks versus months. In our daily lives, many things can be put off by a little (or a lot). There are only a few other places we have to meet such a deadline such as tax day, moving, and having surgery – all known to be stressful.
- On top of a hard deadline, you’re dealing withmoneyand often in large enough quantities that failure can mean layoffs or even the end of your program.
- Grant competitions are win-lose. It matters not a hoot if you almost won a grant. It doesn’t matter to your after-school kids that you almost won $1 million. You either did or you didn’t and the program either thrives or it doesn’t. That is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.
- Your work will be scored/graded. If your high school English teacher was anything like mine, that prospect probably makes your bones begin to rattle.
- Once the proposal is submitted you face possible rejection and defeat. This usually brings up yucky middle school memories of asking that cutie-pie to dance or opening yourself up to a group and being excluded.
- For most people, grant writing is done on top of a full-time job and so you’re writing in your “spare” time.
- And the icing on the cake: you put hours and hours of work into writing a beautiful proposal and there is no certainty that your hard work will pay off.
No wonder it’s daunting. I often quip that it could only be worse if funders asked you to declare your weight and submit a photo of you in a swimsuit with your application. 🙂
But Grant Writing Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful
I believe that grant writing can be much less stressful and actually empowering when we recognize it as a form of sacred service. It can be a beautiful way for us to bring our soul’s deepest yearnings into action in the world.
When we undertake grant writing from old fear-based paradigms such as separation, competition, and scarcity it constricts and depletes it. But, when we root ourselves in love, generosity, sufficiency, collaboration, and wholeness as we do grant writing, the proposals are more beautiful and successful, and we are left nourished by the process.
That’s what I’d like to talk with you about in this article. My hope is that you are left nourished and inspired after reading it and open to trying some new approaches the next time you need to write a grant proposal.
What the Grant Process is Really About
First, I want to share my take on what the grant process is really about. From the surface, it looks like a simple transaction of a wealthy foundation giving a nonprofit some money for a project. But I believe it goes much deeper and is really about much more than that. I view it as a divine transaction.
Please, allow me to explain by sharing a story:
Several years ago, I visited the rainforest in Costa Rica with my son. I had never been in a rainforest and it was sensual overload of sound, color, and moist air. Our young tour guide had grown up in the forest and he showed us a tree that was over two-hundred feet tall with a girth of several feet – a truly majestic creature that was draped in lichens and epiphytes.
Our guide pointed out a small mound of dung at the base of the tree and told us that it was the scat of a beetle that fed on the bark. The dung decomposed and left chemicals in the soil that were crucial for the tree. Without the little beetle, the tree would die. It was a wonderful example of symbiosis and how things are not what they might first appear. My son and I learned that the tree was not an all-powerful beneficent creature but part of an interconnected system in which its survival was dependent on this small innocuous beetle.
As a grant writer, I began to think about how this was a good analogy for the grant writing process. Foundations are not all-powerful entities that simply bestow their benevolence in the world. They are dependent on people working on the ground in nonprofits to identify emerging problems and develop the relationships and trust that is needed to create community-based solutions. They need us as much as we need them.
Imagine there is something beautiful that wants to be born into the world — the creative muse that all artists express, the tug in the heart that all activists feel. Funders feel it as a deep yearning in their hearts that their resources be used to create a more beautiful, just, and sustainable planet. And grant writers and activists feel it as the pull to create solutions that work. Neither the funder nor the grant writer can manifest the solution by themselves and they feel the gnaw of incompletion.
For this reason, when a grant writer writes from the heart, does an excellent job of articulating what is possible, and couples that with a solid plan for its accomplishment, it resonates deeply within the heart of the funder. Then, when it is funded, something that only existed in the ethereal realm can now be manifested in the physical world. The divine spark that lived in both their hearts can now been seen and the vision brought into the physical world. Yes, money exchanges bank accounts but through this collaboration a more beautiful world, that our hearts know is possible, can be created. Foundations cannot create the more beautiful world that their heart knows is possible without collaborating with nonprofit teams and vice versa.
Together, We Are Midwives for a New Life and Societal Structures to Emerge
Over the last decade, I have thought long and hard about how to make grant writing a nourishing, rather than depleting, process as we midwife a more beautiful world for future generations. I’ve developed a list of practices to accomplish this. I’ve encapsulated these into “11 Guiding Questions for Conscious Grant Writing” and I’ve shared them below.
To be a successful grant writer, you do need to know the nuts and bolts, what to write and what to leave out, and how to organize your team and develop a budget. Obviously, I won’t cover those in this article. The 11 Guiding Questions are designed to support you in developing a powerful way of being when you are grant writing. They are not substitutes for a lack technical competency. They are designed to be put in place in unison with nuts and bolts grant writing skills.
11 Guiding Questions for Conscious Grant Writing
Question 1: How Can I Put Love More Fully into My Grant Writing?
Whether we own them or not, we bring to our work conscious and subconscious beliefs, attitudes, suppositions, and feelings that impact our writing, the people we work with, and the outcome. The energy with which we plan a project and write proposals shines through in the document, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Love, beauty, and grace are the intangible threads that make our world glisten. They are present in every work of art, act of kindness, or courageous stand for justice. When we develop grant proposals within a context of love and beauty, they are embedded with a grace that speaks to the heart of natural allies who resonate with your heart’s yearnings for the world.
We can consciously pay attention to who we are being and what energy we generate as we develop a project so that the proposal is imbued with our most loving selves. When you love what you’re doing it shines through in your writing — and vice versa. If you can feel yourself becoming exhausted and losing passion — you must slow down and replenish yourself.
Action/Guiding Question: What is your favorite way to replenish yourself and get present to love?
Question 2: How Can I Use My Time Wisely in Service to the Greater Good?
Time is our most precious resource and so it’s vital that we use it well.
The first step to consciously using your time is knowing which projects are worth putting time into and which are best left alone. Developing this skill and learning to speak up when you know something isn’t worth your time will have a huge impact on your output.
The second step is learning to manage yourself kindly so that you’re productive. The default in our culture is to push ourselves to work harder and longer. It has been an ongoing lesson for me to learn how to motivate myself with loving encouragement and reward rather than by threat of harsh repercussions.
We can learn to wisely choose what to focus on, set nourishing boundaries, and then nurture ourselves to work optimally and achieve our deadlines with ease.
Action/Guiding Question: What is one thing that you know isn’t a good use of your time that you can drop now?
Question 3: In What Ways Can I Generate a Context of Sufficiency for Myself, My Organization and My Community?
Our culture is defined by scarcity and most of us accept three operating assumptions about our world that author Lynne Twist argues, in The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life, are toxic myths:
Myth 1: There’s Not Enough
Myth 2: More is Better
Myth 3: That’s Just the Way It Is
According to Twist, sufficiency “ is a context we bring forth from within that reminds us that if we look around and within ourselves, we will find what we need. There is always enough.” It is looking at the situation and the resources available both internally and externally and knowing that they are sufficient to respond inthe moment.
By contrast, when we believe resources are scarce, we feel small and constricted. Most of us breeze past the point of enough without stopping to notice. When we see a context of sufficiency, we can see our role as stewards of money to keep it in a healthy flowing state — like water.
Action/Guiding Question: Name three ways in which you or your community are resource-rich right now, in this moment (this may include inner qualities such as determination, clarity, or passion)?
Question 4: How Can I Become More Present to Gratitude on a Daily Basis?
One easy way to replenish ourselves is to remember gratefulness. Identifying each person’s, organization’s, and community’s strengths fortifies us in the grant development process, improves our writing, and leaves us with a greater sense of fulfillment. Explore https://gratefulness.org — a wonderful resource for exploring and developing a deeper capacity for gratitude.
Action/Guiding Question: What simple gratitude practice could you put in place for yourself?
Question 5: How Can I Give Myself More Spaciousness and Time During the Grant Writing Process?
Grant development can be a linear and high-pressure business. We are all about getting from point A to point Z, progressing through predictable steps along the way.
But the world isn’t a linear place. Just look at a maple tree or a stream or a crocus. There’s very little that is linear and uniform about them. There is power in slowing down, taking the dog for a walk in the midst of the mayhem, going around in circles a few times, and seeing what emerges.
By letting go of our inner perfecti-demon, we can allow the creative thoughts and ideas to arise. Not working is as productive as working and we can give ourselves permission to let ideas percolate rather than beat ourselves up for procrastinating.
Action/Guiding Question: What do you love to do or where do you love to be that opens up creative ideas for you?
Question 6: What Is My Dream for the World That I Want to Bring to Reality Through Grant Development.
Power lies in envisioning the world in a new way and then creating that vision in the waking world. Author Charles Eisenstein beautifully encapsulates this in his book on sacred activism as creating “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” With clarity of vision we can take actions that align with that to make it real.
Action/Guiding Question: Share with someone your dream for the world.
Question 7: What Bold Actions Can I Take Now That Are in Alignment with My Vision?
Grant development is often the first tangible action step between taking ideas and conversations and turning them into reality in the world. Without action, everything is just a dream. Or, as the late American author Arnold Glasgow said, “ Ideas not coupled with action never become bigger than the brain cells they occupied.”
Action/Guiding Question: Take one SMALL action today that aligns with the more beautiful world that your heart knows is possible.
Question 8: How Can I Communicate Truthfully with My Peers and Funders Even When It Feels Scary to Do So?
It takes courage to tell the truth to a funder when your project isn’t working out as you’d hoped; or to admit that you really don’t have time to fit one more thing in your schedule; or that you don’t know how to do something; or remind folks at the table that we’re all working for the best of the community when they start squabbling over territory or the budget.
At the heart of grant development is the capacity to take a deep breath, stand tall, and speak with compassion for the highest good even when you may be the small fry at the table.
Action/Guiding Question: In what way could you communicate more clearly with someone about your grant writing work? Where do you tend to stay silent where you could have more courage to speak up? Where are you not telling the truth to yourself, your organization, or your funders?
Question 9: How Can I Bring Full-hearted Courageousness to My Work?
Taking bold action in the face or your own or others’ doubts can bring up fears. For example, picking up the phone to make a cold-call to a funder, offering a deserved apology to a nonprofit peer when there has been a misunderstanding, or actually finishing and submitting the proposal that you’ve been procrastinating on, can all be daunting.
We are often told to act even in the face of fear. I find doing so exhausting and depleting. I believe that when we get present to our lives as a precious and freely given gift, embrace our imperfections, and connect with our deep purpose, we can take courageous action from a full-hearted not depleted place.
Action/Guiding Question: What have you been putting off because it’s uncomfortable? Envision your dream for the world being realized and see how taking this action that you’ve been avoiding will have long-term benefit for the world. Ask within what you need in order to take this action with a full heart?
Question 10: Who Can I Collaborate with to Make My Grant Writing More Effective?
Grant writing is a team effort. Grants that win and lead to successful projects are never written and developed by one person — you need budget experts, program design experts, community members, visionaries, and board input. I can tell you from experience that, while one person can write a grant in isolation that wins, it is usually a disaster once it is implemented. Wisdom is understanding the power of working with a team in grant development — and also have the awareness to know when to work alone.
Action/Guiding Question: Who else could I involve in my grant writing process and how could I do it in a way that would feel wonderful to both of us?
Question 11: How Can I Remind Myself to Be Present and Allow Projects to Flow?
Our job is to align ourselves to our deepest wisdom and stay as present as we can. Sometimes, working on a project feels like pushing a boulder up a hill — and when this happens it’s helpful that we don’t exist in a vacuum. This quote from philosopher-thinker-activist John Mohawk, an elder of the Seneca Nation, is a beautiful reminder in those times when things are not going the way that we’d like them to:
An individual is not smart, according to our culture. An individual is merely lucky to be part of a system that has intelligence that happens to reside in them. In other words, be humble about this always. The real intelligence isn’t the property of an individual corporation – the real intelligence is the property of the universe itself.
Action/Guiding Question. What allows me to stop pushing and to sink down into the depths of my being, become aware of a larger dimension, and allow the miraculous to emerge today?
To learn more about upcoming The Grant Writer’ Well workshops using this approach to grant writing that begin in January, March, and September 2019 please visit http://www.GrantWritersWell.com. You can also access a plethora of free resources at https://www.grantschampion.com, such as an Online Grant Writing Self-Assessment Quiz, a gift copy of Jana’s book, Grant Writing Revealed: 25 Experts Share Their Art, Science, and Secrets, and an audio version of the 11 Guiding Questions for Conscious Grant Writing. Also, consider Jana as a presenter for your next podcast, webinar, or guest speaker series.
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