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Cheryl Kester

About Cheryl

How to Keep Plugging Away

If you’ve been a grants professional for a few years now, you may find yourself struggling to remain motivated at times. Whether you just keep receiving rejection letters, or whether you’ve been writing what seems like the same proposal over and over again for months or years, all of us have times when it’s hard to get energized about what we’re doing. Unfortunately, this usually is reflected in our uninspired writing, so we need to address it as quickly as possible.

When I worked for a university advancement department, there was always a priority to raise scholarship funds. So, squeezed in between federal proposals and capital projects, I was sending out letters and proposals for scholarships for our students, year after year. And proposals to foundations who had funded us in the past were more challenging, because I felt compelled to come up with a new twist or new content annually. I knew they had read last year’s proposal, because they sent a check!

The same is true when raising general operating funds for any organization or even “project” funds when you have the same project year after year (building homes, or offering literacy classes, or doing stream cleanups). How do you keep it fresh?

Here are a few suggestions. Most you will probably have heard before, but maybe today one will resonate with you when you need it:

1) Get Out!
That’s right. Get out from behind that keyboard and take a walk. Visit your colleagues and pump them for information or stories. Sit down next to the Down’s Syndrome client patiently stuffing envelopes. Watch the kids playing ball. Listen to the navigator helping a patient through confusing paperwork. Take photos if they’re allowed. We can all be energized by these real life reminders of why we love our job and our organization. You’ll get content. You’ll have mental images of the smile on a child’s face that you can turn into a story and transfer to paper.

2) Get New Content
Every year, I reminded colleagues that I needed new student stories — more than one, please. I can’t keep using the same story every year of the kid who was saving up his workstudy earnings to buy his mom a pair of shoes for Christmas (not Sex and the City shoes; basic necessity-type shoes). It was heartwarming, but even those who have rejected us are probably starting to recognize it. What’s happening this year? Who is our new poster child?

3) Get Fresh Eyes
I have always thought that one of the best favors we grant professionals can do for one another is to swap old, tired proposals and have a “jazz it up” session. But, we usually don’t like to share our proposals with each other. So, even if you just verbally explain to someone new what your organization does and why it matters, that can often get you reenergized. The questions they ask or what gets them excited about your mission may give you a new angle.

4) Get Away
Sometimes we just need to leave. To go get a Mocha Latte. Or a massage. Or exercise. Or pray. Distance, especially if you are really frustrated or burned out, can be a sanity saver and is essential to true productivity. If you can’t leave the office, then catch up on filing or reading those fundraising magazines or emptying your email trash bin. Two are mindless repetition; one is professional development. Any will give you a break from feeling like you need to produce right this second and let your brain re-set.

5) Get Someone Else’s Content
Whenever I’m stumped, I consult proposals written by others like those in the Foundation Center’s two volumes of sample proposals or the ones that accompany other grant books. Even after (or maybe because of) writing grant proposals for years, I can find inspiration to get out of the rut of how I’ve always done it and strike out in a new direction by seeing how someone else did it differently.

I welcome additional suggestions for keeping motivated, getting over writer’s block or livening up old content. Let’s do it over a Mocha Latte.


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