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Karen Hodge

About Karen

Managing Unreasonable Expectations Concerning Your Grants Program

If you have been a grant writer for more than a week you have probably already encountered your share of unreasonable expectations: supervisors who think you can write fourteen winning grants at the same time; faculty members or other co-workers who think you can secure funds for their pet projects without any more detail than "get us as much as you can for whatever you can get it for."

Unreasonable expectations are part of the game. People who do not write proposals do not understand what is required to have a successful grants acquisition program. They, like the popular athletic company slogan, expect you to "just do it." So how do you maintain your sanity and your job? You do it through education, documentation, conciliation, and realization.


If you want to work with people who respect what you do and work with you to achieve success, you must educate them on the grant writing process. They must understand that you need adequate detail and time to help them secure the funding they need.

Education must occur at three critical points in time.

  • First, you should be "training" your colleagues about the proposal development process before grant ideas have even occurred to them. They will be easier to work with if they know ahead of time what is possible and how they can help you make their ideas successful.
  • Second, while you are working with co-workers on proposals, keep them informed of what you are doing and why. Frequently, the unrealistic expectations arise out of unfamiliarity with the grant world, so it is to your benefit to make sure you explain everything in detail.
  • Third, after a grant request has been approved or denied, explain to your colleagues what happened and why in a timely manner. If the proposal has been funded, work with the involved parties to make sure the project is carried out in accordance with the funding source’s wishes. This type of collaboration provides a great opportunity to educate your colleagues on the funding process. If the proposal has been declined, make sure everyone at your organization understands why. Failure is also a great teacher.


Proper documentation is important for two reasons:

  1. To keep everyone on the same page. Have you ever had a conversation with someone only to find out later that the two of you came away from the interaction with two vastly different sets of conclusions? Properly documenting all interactions, and sharing that record, is a great way to minimize that risk. Important meetings and phone conversations should have follow up emails or memos that summarize what was discussed and list next steps and the persons responsible for those activities. Not only does this keep everyone operating within the same set of parameters, but it also erases confusion and provides a written record when memories fail.
  2. To cover your behind. We hate to think that we have to protect ourselves from our colleagues, but sometimes we work with people who, whether out of malice or fear, will leave us holding the bag. Putting in writing what was discussed creates a paper trail in the event that protection is needed.


Remember when you were in kindergarten, and the teacher urged you to "play well with others"? Those skills come in handy still. You want to develop a reputation within your organization for being a positive, helpful force, not one whose mantra is "No, it can’t be done."

If you have to say "no" to a colleague, give an alternative solution, where possible. For example, if your supervisor asks if you can secure $100,000 by the end of the month for a new program, it may not be in your best interest to reply, "Have you lost your mind?" Instead, you might try, "That timetable is too short to secure the funds you need. However, if you give me the details of the program, I can begin searching for appropriate funding sources. We can get it funded if you’re willing to give it some more time."

In the grant writing profession, we get inundated with unreasonable requests daily, and the knee-jerk reaction is to reply in the negative. However, if you can demonstrate yourself to be a team player who wants to help, your colleagues will be more likely to trust you when you do have to tell them something cannot be done within the parameters they have laid out for you.


Realizing success is one of the most effective ways to reduce unrealistic expectations. If you develop a successful grants acquisition effort at your organization, you will find your colleagues will be more likely to defer to your judgment and follow your instructions. Even supervisors are apt to be flexible with employees who can point to track records of success.

How do you realize success? Build your skills, take advantage of training opportunities, and, of course, work hard. Set challenging goals for yourself and strive to exceed them.

Unrealistic expectations are a fact of a grant writer’s life. However, they do not have to be the standard by which each of your days is governed. By keeping your colleagues and supervisors informed of what goes into the proposal development process, working as a team player, and achieving success, you can transform the unrealistic into the realistic.



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