The Dark Side of Grant Writing

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

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Happy New Year, gentle reader! My resolution for this blog is to keep it fresh and very useful for fledgling grant writers in schools everywhere.

This article is part of a series of articles about grant writing for teachers and school personnel. I’ve been outlining steps to take in the process, and have provided you with some templates for your narratives, and a budget planning Excel document that will help you make sure you cover all the financial bases. This blog is part of a super Grants Database you can search for appropriate resources.

You’ve decided that grant writing is for you, the discipline required to meet deadlines is in your genetic code, you love the social nature of making relationships with the power brokers in your community, and you love the adulation you receive from the other teachers in your community. This is the pretty picture; most of you who have done this for a while know that there is a dark side to the grants world. We’ll talk a little bit about that today.

We’ll say you now have a couple of successful grant applications under your belt, you’ve made inroads in your community for developing a steady stream of funding from several sources, things are really going well. You were not, however, prepared for the enormous amount of time all of these activities have taken from your schedule. Your husband/wife is now permanently angry with you all the time for missing all those soccer matches that little Poindexter has played. The bags under your eyes are deeper than the Grand Canyon, and the laundry is about a week overdue.

Don’t despair, you will find ways to manage your time so that all can be accomplished, and you will even be graceful doing it. One of the keys is to delegate. Some sections of a grant narrative can be done by people who are eager to help. In an earlier blog I cautioned against writing grants in committee, it rarely produces a coherent application. However, to delegate some of the demographics paragraphs and maybe budget research is acceptable. You’ve made a list of the costs you will incur in your project, but someone else can help you get the three bids you’re going to need to find the lowest costs. This one is sort of fun, you get to work with vendors and learn to sweet talk them to a fair price. Don’t kid yourself, it is always negotiable. Someone accused me of being unfair to corporate America for doing this, come on now folks, think about that for a minute.

Another cast member in the dark side of the grant writing drama is the whiner. There’s a teacher in your building who snipes at you behind your back, suggesting that you don’t know what you are doing, and that your motives are impure. This person is making a career of trashing your work, and it isn’t fun. My solution to this one is to sit down with the whiner to try to find out what the real issues are. Chances are its jealousy; they want some of this limelight you are now basking in. A good solution to this is to find something for the whiner to do. Bring him into the fold, and then be sure to give him lots of credit for being helpful along the way. Amazing how fast the whining will stop.

There are other parts to the dark side, the fact that now that you’ve been successful, people expect this level of success on a regular basis. I can tell you from experience, there will be dry spells along the way, you will develop writer’s block on occasion, and life will intervene to take you away from the tasks of putting together an application. You are not a superhero, you do what you can, and it’s all you can do anyway.

So, grant writer that you are, suck up to the dark side, learn to embrace it, and continue on your path to glory.

It’s all for the kids anyway, right?

Please comment on this post, let me know if there are topics you’d like me to cover. I have a million stories to tell, seven years as a grants manager has taught me a few things and I’d love to share it all with you.

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