Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Speeding Up Grant Writing in High Pressure, Last Minute Situations

I think that grant writing trick shots are most impressive when they occur at the last minute when the pressure is greatest and the need for correct decision-making is at its zenith. Below, I want to share with you some of the day-to-day habits that end up being trick shots when they pay-off under difficult circumstances. 

Pearl Rothman, Grant Writing Associate, recently visited Paris. Despite her absence, we were able to keep working on her 
projects because we all use the same passwords.
1. Use Excel Spreadsheets for Your Budgets: I always recommend that the staff urge work on the details of the client's budget early and as quickly as possible. Most organizations tend to procrastinate on creating a budget, in part, because it usually includes sensitive information and involves working with the already overwhelmed accounting department. I have found that it solves a lot of problems to insist that all budgets are written out in Excel spreadsheets. These spreadsheets can easily be incorporated into your existing documents. Moreover, they make it easier to implement last minute changes without creating difficult to sort out math problems. It takes a little longer to set up a budget in a spreadsheet, but you will look like a trick shot genius when you easily make the inevitable, last minute, required changes to the budget. 

2. Don't Be Too Careful with Your Passwords: This point is a little counter intuitive. I have found that nothing causes more problems at the end of a project than dealing with inaccurate or forgotten passwords. This is especially true if you are working on different computers, at different locations, all at the last moment. My solution is to put the passwords right into the document or to put them on easy to see post-its on my desk or in my wallet. To be sure you run the risk of someone accessing your grant and stealing your work. However, I have never seen this happen in real life. On the other hand, I have seen people panic and lose valuable time when they are struggling to remember the password they need to access or submit their on-line grant application. Worst case, I have never gone wrong or made any mistakes by simply using the same passwords over and over. Right now, I think my team is pretty much trained to use the same password all the time so that we do not have to struggle with this part of the grant writing process.  

3. Write Your Summary Last: Since you are more likely to know what your project is all about after you have done your first draft, I recommend doing the summary, which usually appears at the front of the document, as one of your very final tasks. This way, your summary will include all elements of the grant that you have learned as well as your brightest last minute ideas. 

4. Last Minute Numbering: There is no shame in finding that you got some of your page numbers wrong. You can always add spacing numbers like 1-A and 1-B if you need to add a page between pages 1 and 2 and you do not have the time or the patience to do it exactly right. 

5. Don't Get Too Creative: By this, I mean that you will always save time and create effective, likely to win grant proposals if you follow the funder's directions exactly. For me, this means answering their specific questions, word for word, part by part, in the exact order that they are presented to you in the request for proposals (RFP). This simple exact approach provides you with many advantages including giving you a standard with which to measure the responsiveness of your grant copy and giving you guidance on what to do next when you come back to a project that you have momentarily set aside. 

6. Read the Request for Proposals (RFP) Multiple Times: Unfortunately, it is not possible to fully understand the motivations behind a request for proposals or how to create the best possible answer without spending extensive time with the RFP itself. These documents are not designed to be accessible. They are prepared by people who have the incentive to make your job tougher and to discourage people from even applying for the money. One of the reasons I tend to under research grants is because I believe creating a quick first draft is one of the best ways to slow your brain down and actually learn, line by line, what the funder is seeking from you and your agency. By doing a quick first draft, it forces me to take the RFP seriously and to understand it enough so that I can start doing extremely high quality work in later, more careful drafts. I have also found it useful to take the RFP home and read it at night while I am more relaxed. I often write on it and number the new ideas that come to me as I reread it. Many times I have found that my better understanding of the RFP actually makes it simpler and less difficult to respond to.

Easier Than It Looks: How to Perform Grant Writing Trick Shots

If you have experience as a grant writer, I am sure you have had moments when others have been astounded by your ability to solve a problem in just the few minutes before the grant is due. Without getting too dramatic, I thought I would share with you some of the techniques which make it possible for me to perform what I like to think of as grant writing trick shots. 

1. Use a Professional Proofreader: The one technique I use that comes the closest to being a YouTube trick shot is leveraging the expertise of a paid proofreader. This is a secret advantage which will make you look like a genius of grant writing. After all, I cannot stress this enough. It is physically impossible to proofread your own work. I have had three Ph.D. level scholars review a document and my paid proofreader has still found errors of spelling, usage, spacing, punctuation, and consistency on nearly every page of the document. If you want to produce an awesome final product, I don't think you have any choice. Hire someone else to proofread. As an additional trick, I recommend having the proofreader go over the application guidelines too. You may be surprised that you have misunderstood a question in your haste. A smart proofreader will catch your error and make a huge difference to the final product. 

2. Leverage the Power of Consistent Filing:
 Most people do not understand the amazing power of having well-organized files because they never face situations in which they need to 
retrieve documents in an emergency. Under extreme stress, a predictable, routinized filing system allows you to smoothly process and collect information and produce surprising results. At Drew & Associates, for example, we now keep electronic files in Dropbox for all our clients. Within each Dropbox folder we establish four sub-folders as follows: 1Work, 2Administration, 3Reference and 4Personal. This system is exactly the same for each client and it allows us to quickly find the information we need to complete the grant. Likewise, we use the same coding style for each electronic document starting with an abbreviation for the client, the full year, the project, and the funder. The benefits of this disciplined system only become freakingly amazing when you are working at high speed and find yourself effortlessly retrieving exactly what you need at the right moment without any hassle and fuss. 

3. Normalizing Last Minute Genius: One of the persistent patterns in grant writing is that you get more persuasive and knowledgeable about your topic the closer you get to the deadline. If you are working under extreme pressure, then you will most likely get your best and most convincing ideas at the tail end of your project. The bravest grant writers, of course, are more than happy to place their fresh new insights into the grant application. In the heat of the moment, however, they may not appreciate the extent to which a brilliant idea cannot credibly appear in just one spot in the grant proposal. Doing this sends a signal to the reviewer that you are not really serious about this idea and this undercuts its value. I fix this problem by reminding myself to make sure that the logical ramifications of my new brilliant idea are artfully seeded or hinted at elsewhere in the document by referencing it in the summary, problem statement, plan of action and even the table of contents. By artfully seeding elements of the last minute idea in at least four other parts of the proposal, I'm able to create the illusion that this great idea was with us from the beginning and not just a last minute realization.