A couple of years ago, a good friend and colleague invited me to speak at her AFP Philanthropy Day event on a topic related to grantwriting. The presentations for the day had a decidedly creative and fun bent and I bemoaned being asked to talk about writing proposals as I cast an envious eye on the other topics: e-philanthropy, major gifts, marketing, case statements.
Then she reminded me that I was the guy who had told her all about “fun on the bus.” To wit: when Mick Jagger was auditioning singers for a solo tour he told them “I know you can all sing, but if you ain’t fun on the bus, you ain’t coming on the tour!” So, she suggested, talk about making grantwriting all about fun on the bus.
She’s right. Grantwriting can be just about filling about forms and applications. Or we can make it a creative exercise. So here are my thoughts:
- It’s a game. When we write a proposal, we are competing for support. The nice thing about this game is there are multiple winners. So, what’s the objective of the game? I think of it as finding a creative, meaningful and substantive way to connect a charities work with the objectives of the foundation. I little more along the lines of “Connect Four”
- It’s a puzzle. Sometimes, getting a grant involves unraveling the ball of yarn that makes up a foundation’s process. Or finding your way through a labyrinth of contacts. Or negotiating with personalities. The proposal you write becomes a map of sorts with way points (this could be goals, objectives) that will carry you from point to point, from conversation to conversation. Writing becomes a creative strategic challenge. A little like “Chess” or “Pente”
- It’s a mystery novel waiting to be written. In the first edition of “The Foundation Center’s Guide to Proposal Writing” interviewee Carol Robinson of the Issac Tuttle Fund noted that: “A proposal should read like a mystery novel and keep me wanting to turn the pages to find out what happens next.” What a wonderful and creative analogy: indeed, in a proposal we set up a mystery (problem) and we solve it (project description). And we certainly have a great cast of heroic detectives (our team). “Clue” anyone?
Some tips for your creative process:
- Engage your team. Writing a proposal is a great excuse to spend some time out of your office and on the front lines.
- Find the beauty and greatness in the ordinary. I had a proposal writer for a Meals on Wheels program ask me “How is what we do so fun? We drop off food.” My response: “No. You deliver food and you drop off companionship, care, hope and love.”
- Make your mission and your work fit the times. When the recession hit in 2009, I had the pleasure to work with some organization that raised more money from foundations simply by making it clear that NOW was the time when they were most needed. This means getting in touch with what makes your work important. And why you get out of bed every morning wanting to make it possible.
I cede the closing words to American business titan Walter Chrysler: “I like to build things, I like to do things. I am having a lot of fun.” So may we all!