FLAME! How to Be a Better Grantwriter, Part 4

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If you’ve been following for the past few weeks, you know there’s been a series of blog posts about how to become a better grantwriter.  The first three posts discuss how failure, fuel, and focus lead to better grantwriting.  This post brings the idea of Flame to the topic.

Flame in grantwriting means that you are really “hot,” “burning” or “consumed” by the topic of your grant.

If you’ve got a flame for a particular project, nothing is going to stop you from getting the job done in the best way you know how.

If you’re on fire about a proposal, the writing flows easily and onerous tasks seem easy.

If your project is all-consuming, you can’t think of anything else and everything you read, see, or hear helps you improve your proposal.

But sometimes that’s not the way it is and this is a BIG problem.

Let me put it this way—if you, as the grantwriter aren’t particularly interested or excited by what you’re creating, then it is going to be difficult for you to be convincing to potential funders.

OK, so this isn’t exactly news.  There’s probably not anyone reading this who will disagree.  And yet, we all have been in the situation where we are writing a grant that doesn’t really excite us.  Maybe there’s pressure from a board member, maybe “the boss” thinks we should “just give it a try” or whatever—it’s a proposal that needs to be written, regardless of how you feel about it.

So the question is:  How do you find a flame when you’re completely unexcited about the work?

Here are three tips:

1.      Take a break from it.

No, this isn’t a procrastination technique.  This is a way to let your mind rest from resisting working on the unexciting project you see before you.  You’re using a lot of energy (mental and maybe even physical) fighting yourself—“I should be excited BUT I’m definitely NOT excited by this proposal.”

When doing the dishes, washing clothes, or cutting the yard seems more exciting than writing a proposal then you need to take a break from it.

The trick here is to give yourself permission to relax from this task.

BUT you’ve got to only give yourself a limited amount of time.  Maybe the proposal is due next week so you can’t take a long break.  Maybe it’s only for two hours, or maybe it’s just a 30 minute break.  The key is to tell yourself:

  1. I’m going to take a break from this proposal;
  2. My break is going to be for X amount of time.

While you’re taking this break, you may find it useful to walk around, do a few deep breaths, and/or do a couple of tai chi or yoga moves.  Do anything you can to really take your mind off the (boring) project by focusing on a physical action.  As you ignite the calories in your body, you’re likely to re-light your grantwriting flame as well.

2.      Remember the beneficiaries

Another way to re-flame yourself  is to remember why you’re writing a grant to start with.  The ultimate beneficiary of the work you’re doing isn’t you.  It isn’t your board.  It isn’t your boss.  The ultimate beneficiaries are people you probably don’t know and may never meet, the people who receive something valuable because YOU wrote this grant.

Remember the people your grant will aid.  If you believe that your organization does good work but could do even more of it with the additional funds you are working towards, then you’ll kindle the flame for the writing before you.

If you have in mind a real person, or an idealized picture of a client who will be helped with this funding, you’re sure to get more excited and begin to pour your best efforts into your writing.  Think about the future recipients of services and how their lives will be different if your ideas get approved by the funder.

For most of us, remembering that our efforts are about helping others is a key motivation for doing more than we think we can right now and getting the flame of productivity going again.

3.      Take yourself seriously.

This tip probably seems ridiculous.  After all, most of us hear the opposite much more often than anyone tells us to take ourselves more seriously.  “Don’t take yourself so seriously” is what we’re told at times when we’re having a hard time or being uptight, right?

But you need to take yourself seriously when you’re feeling a lack of excitement and energy for a grant you’re writing.  This is rooted in professionalism, not excessive ego or pride.  Taking yourself seriously means you’ll take steps to perform your job as well as you possibly can.

If you’re a professional grantwriter taking yourself seriously, you’ll work long hours to get the proposal in on time.  If you’re a professional grantwriter, you’ll invite criticism of your draft proposal so that it is better than it would otherwise be.  If you’re a professional grantwriter, you’ll go beyond current practices and limitations just so you can improve your skills.

Are you being selfish?  Maybe just a bit.  But it is fine if you want others to see you as competent and professional.  It’s a plus if you want others to have a good opinion of you.  There’s nothing wrong with these things!

Self-interest is a powerful motivator, and so is altruism.  When you combine your self-interest in being a successful grantwriter with your altruistic leanings to help others, you can discover your flame again.

While there are many more ways to get your flame back, just adopting these three techniques can help you learn from failure, find fuel and get focused.  Then, when you have a flame in your mind for the project, you can move forward.

If you’re losing your flame on a particular project, or just about grantwriting in general, you might find it helpful to hire a coach, someone who can provide you with an experienced but outsider’s look at your situation.  I have a couple of slots open for this type of support if you’re looking for it.  Just send me an email at richard@richardhoefer.com and we’ll arrange a time to chat to see if it’s a good match.

Thanks for all you do to promote nonprofit excellence!

Richard

PS.  What tips do you have for people feeling unable to “find your flame”?  What works for you?  Post your answer below!