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Sarah Sutton

About Sarah

I'm Waiting...

The proposal deadlines stack up ahead of you, but no one is ready to give or get you what you need. You have had the team meetings, designed the projects and made the connections, now you're just waiting for the physical material you need to write the proposal. Something as simple as "John, this is worth $75,000!" will move things along. Too often, though, our colleagues fall prey to smaller, more immediate issues.

So, what do you do while you're waiting and to get them moving?

First, how to get them moving:

1) Re-confirm deadlines and responsibilities in writing and in person. Put the deadline in an email reminder or a memo. Write it on a yellow sticky note and plant it on their computer. Try to also see them face to fact to reiterate the deadline and be sure they understand what is needed to meet it. That discussion may prompt them to reveal whatever physical or mental block is impeding progress.

2) Help fix or remove the blockage. You can't fix health issues, but you may be able to help with writer's block or mental blocks. Sit with them and prepare a completion schedule they feel is realistic. They can begin chipping away at the job while developing a sense of control and success that may spur them faster. If you need support letters, provide sample text. Do encourage them to change your words to their own style, though. This is important. Readers will recognize the proposal writer's language in the letter and may not trust that version as much as a true original.

3) Nudge with lunch and assistance. Meet the staff members, consultants or advisors for lunch in their office and walk through the questions you need answered. They may be able to describe their part in conversation but not in writing. If a meeting cannot be arranged, ask for 20 minutes on the phone. Tell them all you need is a few of their thoughts to get you going, then you'll provide text they can work from. This requires developing typing and editing skills to keep up with streams-of-consciousness, but since you will edit their words anyway, isn't it better to get the real ones rather than those they think are "grantese"?

Now, no complaints about "this isn't my job!" This IS your job if you work as part of a community trying to provide services that require outside support through grants and gifts. Facilitating IS your job -- you cannot write the proposal without your colleagues, so be firm and direct but play well with them.

Second, while you're waiting:

1) Make sure the printer and copier have toner. Check the paper supply. Confirm the deadline as postmark or arrival date. Find a box for mailing and complete the mailing label.

2) Backfill by collecting all the support materials you can mange on your own -- collect the resumes, find the 990s, copy the student thank you letters and evaluation reports, collect the annual report or brochure or newsletter or photos you want to send along as well. (Keep electronic and/or hard copies for future proposals). You can always update the organizational history section and the trustee list, and revise attendance, web and distribution numbers.

3) Finish anything on your desk that would otherwise need to be addressed during crunch time headed your way.

4) Read, read, read. Work at a steady pace through your backlog of professional reading. This will give your typing hands a break, your brain cells time to rest-up before the big push and, best of all, since your brain's filter is on the subject of the upcoming proposal(s), you're sure to find something good to strengthen your project and case.

The last time I killed time this way, while waiting for other people to produce, I discovered examples for systemic change in diversifying institutional audience and perspective; a survey reference for the success of actor-based programs in learning outcomes; and a reminder of a few mistakes NOT to make in the project design. Once again the reading lifted me out of a little world of struggle into the broader perspective of non-profit work. That perspective always strengthens a project and the proposals to support it.

Lastly, practice reverse psychology. Commit to writing an article, say like this one, for your colleagues. As soon as you get busy, the other stuff will come pouring in. I promise.


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