Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Golden Rule: Understand the Funder's Fears

Empathy for the funder can be a touchstone for success as a grant writer. When we visited China to lecture on grant writing, we got a chance to visit the Great Wall. It wove its way through the landscape as far as I could see in either direction. To me, the wall represents a powerful human need for self-protection. I think grant writers can sometimes make mistakes if they underestimate just how wary the funders are of non-profit organizations.

To help workshop participants understand the funder's point of view, I typically ask them to answer some key questions as if they were the ones giving away money to charities:

Do you trust the non-profit executive?
Should the grant you give away be large or small?
Should the proposal be neat or sloppy?
Do you prefer giving money to old friends or to brand new charities?
As a funder, what are you most afraid of?
As you work through these questions, I think you will start feeling some of the nervousness that the funders feel about even well-run and well-known charities. I think my job, as a grant writer, is to make the funders feel as safe and as comfortable as possible.

To me, the otherwise dull grant writing literature suddenly comes to life when I see the standard operating procedures of the profession as tools for reducing the funder's deepest fears. I like to build trust by appropriately mirroring their ideas and buzzwords, by supporting my arguments with recent research citations, and by avoiding the red flags that make it easy for funders to toss out an application without thoroughly reading it. Ideally, I like to make the grant package look so safe that the funder will be afraid not to fund my client's project.