Lesson 13 For Grantwriters From “The Princess Bride”

Have a strong and memorable introduction

For the conclusion of our series of what we can learn from the movie, The Princess Bride, here’s lesson #13.

Have a strong introduction (and abstract) that captures your audience’s attention immediately.

inigomontoya

Inigo Montoya: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my Father. Prepare to die.

If you know no other line from the movie, this is one you can probably repeat from memory. Inigo, who wishes revenge on the 6-fingered man (Count Rugen), gives a quick introduction of who he is, why he wants the Count’s attention, and then provides a call to action. This could be the model for your proposal’s abstract and introduction. By the end of the paragraph, your reader should know about you, why they should pay attention to your proposal, and what you want them to do to want to keep reading.

This has been a fun exercise for me to reflect on what it means to be a grantwriter and how to support nonprofits in their quests for a better world.

I hope these lessons bring you a chance to reflect on what these and other quotes mean to you.

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Lesson 12 For Grantwriters From “The Princess Bride”

Know what you're talking about...use correct terminology

Continuing with the series of what we can learn from the movie, The Princess Bride, here’s lesson #12.

Know what you’re talking about and use correct terminology.

Vizzini

Vizzini: He didn’t fall?! Inconceivable!

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The world of grantwriting is full of obscure terms that most people really don’t know what they mean. Here’s a quick quiz:

Define the following and differentiate them from each other.

  • Objective
  • Outcome
  • Output

Have you ever found yourself saying some gibberish thing like this?

“Of course we met our outputs in an objective outcome sort of way! That was our goal!”

When I’ve reviewed grants for federal agencies, I’ve seen cases of nonprofits who lacked a full understanding of these (and other) terms. Vocabulary isn’t a matter of opinion in many cases—some words are correct and some words are incorrect to express particular ideas.

If you aren’t clear on what words mean, you’ll be found out. Don’t try to fake knowing what terms mean in your proposal. It will definitely hurt your credibility and may cost you the grant. Take the time to learn—often funders have glossaries that explain what they mean by specific words. If you want their funds, you need to accept them as the “correct” definition for that proposal, even if other funders define the same words differently.

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Lesson 11 For Grantwriters From “The Princess Bride”

Don't let others convince you to be unethical

Continuing with the series of what we can learn from the movie, The Princess Bride, here’s lesson #11.

Don’t let others convince you to do things you believe are unwise or unethical.

Fezzik

Vizzini: Finish him. Finish him, your way.

Fezzik: Oh good, my way. Thank you, Vizzini… what’s my way?

Vizzini: Pick up one of those rocks, get behind a boulder, in a few minutes the man in black will come running around the bend, the minute his head is in view, hit it with the rock.

Fezzik: My way’s not very sportsman-like.

In the course of my 30+ years writing grants and working with nonprofits, I’ve seen a lot of “stuff” come and go. Sometimes consultants suggest things to agency leaders that are at least somewhat shady or not really in line with the organization’s mission and values. I’m happy to say that in almost every case, the agency leaders rejected the advice because it wasn’t a fit.

Grantwriters may have the tendency to do something similar in pushing an agency to apply for a grant that might address a fiscal need for more resources, but is not really in line with what the organization does or sees as a strategic priority.

Plenty of people will tell you to inflate your outcomes in the grant proposal, or under-promise when you know you can do better. They’ll say “That’s the way things are done. Everyone does it.” Don’t play that game. Be honest and calculate things as transparently as possible. Be true to your best instincts and follow your organization’s mission and values. You may pass up a few “opportunities” but you’ll be far ahead in maintaining your reputation and integrity.

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Lesson 10 For Grantwriters From “The Princess Bride”

Pay attention to what's important.

Continuing with the series of what we can learn from the movie, The Princess Bride, here’s lesson #10.

Pay attention to the important things you’re being told.

king

The King: [after Buttercup kisses him]. What was that for?

Buttercup: Because you’ve always been so kind to me, and I’ll never see you again, because I’m killing myself as soon as we reach the bridal suite.

The King: Won’t that be nice? She kissed me! Ha!

In this scene, the important information is the suicide attempt that is about to occur. The King, however, is so happy to be kissed by Buttercup that he pays no attention.

As grantwriters working for and with nonprofits, we often are focusing on what WE want. What we want are good things—programs for clients that are designed to achieve better life chances or to meet needs and solve problems. But our proposals too often come through the focus of what we want, and too often we ignore what funders are really telling us to pay attention to.

Funders are telling you what they want to receive proposals on. Listen to them. Don’t just go with what you’re interested in.

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Lesson 9 For Grantwriters From “The Princess Bride”

Don't get too cutesy.

Continuing with the series of what we can learn from the movie, The Princess Bride, here’s lesson #9.

Don’t be overly cutesy in your writing. It quickly becomes annoying.

anybodywantapeanut

Inigo Montoya: That Vizzini, he can fuss.

Fezzik: Fuss, fuss… I think he like to scream at us.

Inigo Montoya: Probably he means no harm.

Fezzik: He’s really very short on charm.

Inigo Montoya: You have a great gift for rhyme.

Fezzik: Yes, yes, some of the time.

Vizzini: Enough of that.

Inigo Montoya: Fezzik, are there rocks ahead?

Fezzik: If there are, we’ll all be dead.

Vizzini: No more rhymes now, I mean it.

Fezzik: Anybody want a peanut?

Grantwriting is a creative endeavor, but it is NOT “creative writing” as the term is used in academia. It’s a straightforward exercise in technical writing combined with verve and passion. But it is NOT cutesy. Now, I have only very rarely seen a proposal that tried to be “too creative” and this is a good thing. Focus on substance with style in your writing. It will take you far and be a joy to read for the reviewers.

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