Want to be a better grant writer? Stop writing!

28 Jul 2016

He came running down the stairs toward me, apologizing for his tardiness and for leaving me alone in the lobby for an idle 15 minutes. “Crazy morning, call ran long, come on upstairs, etc.”

15 minutes. 15 minutes to watch a story unfold, looking on as a volunteer wheeled in an elderly nun, habit neatly pressed, hands quietly folded in her lap. The young guy pushing the chair shares a light-hearted welcome, “Good morning, Katherine. How are you? Gonna play the piano for us today? Love it when you play the piano.”

15 minutes to listen on as an attractive lady, riddled with Parkinsons, her children and a caseworker spoke Mandarin in hushed tones nearby. Although I couldn’t decipher the words I could sense the emotion in their dilemma, “What’s our next step? We don’t know where to turn next.” And then came the reassuring words from the caseworker, smiling, nodding, [I’m speculating] “You’ll be fine here… we will come alongside you and it will be fine.”

And so it played out in succession as each client began their day, greeted by staff, volunteers, medical workers and (almost forgot to mention) the wonderful receptionist with “special needs”(?). No one seemed to notice his particular condition as his job was to greet all with an enthusiastic smile (which he nailed, I might add).

So how does this account relate to grant writing exactly? Stop researching for a moment. Stop looking for just the right empirical data to build the need statement, justify the root cause, setting us apart from the competition. Whether you work internally or contract from the outside: Stop writing. Take 15 minutes to simply sit, watch and listen. Do it regularly!

Although government grants allow little room for passionate appeals, the observant writer, the writer who sits, watches and engages others in meaningful exchange, can better process program mechanics such as: timing; participant needs, conditions and demographics; staff requirements and challenges; or an unexpected evaluation epiphany. As for foundation grants, the more personal the program observation, the more passionate the appeals to tuck away in the arsenal for future use.

(Back to my appointment) I THANKED the executive for the OPPORTUNITY to sit a moment in his active lobby and just OBSERVE! I had read the website, searched for on-line information and perused recent press releases. None gave the insight to his organization’s meaningful impact as did the time simply studying those serving and those served.

“Knowledge will not always take the place of simple observation.” – Arnold Lobel, Children’s Author and Illustrator.