Grant proposals often request funds to work on some of society’s toughest issues — poverty, hunger, homelessness, violence, pollution. When documenting the harm and hardship inflicted on their communities and proving the urgency of the need, grant professionals submerge themselves in a sea of depressing data that can be overwhelming.
“It’s easy to get stuck in a gloom-and-doom headset when you’re swimming around in negative statistics,” said Barbara Floersch, chief of training and curriculum of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “That’s a mistake. Remember, grants are about positive change and your proposal is offering funders a chance to help you turn things around.”
Kevin Wiberg, a program officer at the Vermont Community Foundation, puts it this way: “Be sure your grant proposal speaks to the promise of the program you’re proposing.”
While it’s true that one organization and one program can’t solve huge, lingering societal problems, it’s also true that well-planned programs that are laser-focused on achieving realistic, sustainable changes are essential investments in a better future. “We have to work together to chip away at huge problems,” said Floersch. “As social activists we have an obligation to do that. A civil, caring society has a responsibility to keep on trying.”
Your organization is in the business of improving the lives of the beneficiaries embraced by its mission. To truly understand the most promising pressure points for change, you must plunge deep into dark water of causes and effects, hard data, and personal stories. Understanding the scope and impact of the problems is essential, but to do your job well you can’t let yourself get stuck there. Live the problem enough to carry the information into your grant proposals in an authentic voice and well-documented case for support. But stake your ground in hope.
“As long as you can get excited about promising approaches and feel joy in the accomplishments of those you are working to assist, you’re grounded in hope,” said Floersch. “Bring that hope and joy into your grant proposals.” If the waves of darkness overwhelm you with hopelessness, take a break and renew yourself, or pass the torch and walk away.