Grant Writing Busy Seasons & Self Care

I’m right in the middle of my busy grantwriting season (yes, I understand the irony of posting to the blog for the first time in six months while I’m drowning in work!) and this round, in my 10th or so year of full-time grantwriting, I have been paying attention to some specifics that help and hinder my writing and productivity at times like these. So, in no particular order:

  • Don’t attempt to multitask. We believe we’re great multitaskers, that we can capably switch between multiple things and get our work done faster, more efficiently, or more completely. Unfortunately, this is complete nonsense. Multitasking is Not A Thing. For many years I fully believed I was the best multitasker ever, but recently I’ve been consciously paying attention to how multitasking goes for me, and the more I try to do it, the more frazzled I get, the more items I miss, and the worse my overall product is.

  • Make Lists. I do very well when I make COPIOUS lists. I tend to make a paper To Do list at the beginning of each workday, actively use them (adding things, crossing off) and often in the busiest times I’ll remake them at the end of the day as well. This helps me to ensure I don’t forget things, and gives me relief from the nagging sense that I have to do something—if it’s on my list, I’ll get to it. I tend to place items on my list by priority, and I don’t worry about including things that are short term vs. long term—it all goes in the same place so it’s not in the back of my mind bugging me.

  • Enforce strict work/life boundaries. I don’t have my cell phone number on my email signature, and I don’t give it to my project staff unless absolutely necessary. Some of that is a holdover from my social work training where it’s critical that clients only have professional access to their clinicians/therapists, but some of it is just plain old good elf-care. I answer emails during business hours only as a personal general rule (unless it is a truly urgent situation). It’s incredibly easy for the lines to blur during peak grant activity periods, and I find that nobody else is going to identify that line for me, I have to do it for myself, and I have to rigorously enforce it for myself.

  • Find your personal self-care go-to’s, and practice them regularly. For me, I tend to read a lot more during my busy seasons (something about reading books is a great antidote to the cognitive work of writing a whole lot), currently I’m reading Brene Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Catherine Price’s How To Break Up With Your Phone, Samantha Irby’s Meaty, Jen Sincero’s You Are A Badass, and Ray Dalio’s Principles. I listen to podcasts (Forever 35, You Made It Wierd, My Brother My Brother And Me, A Single Serving Podcast, and Love Letters are in my current heavy rotation). I train at my gym at least 4 times a week, as I’ve written about before, weightlifting is my favorite thing. I try to get out into nature as often as possible—having a dog that needs twice daily walks is wonderful, as is getting out for weekend hikes and camping trips. Do the things that help you relax, re-center, and recharge.

  • Lean on your supports. My friends are great sounding boards for me during the particularly busy times when I need to vent about work. I also serve as their support and listening ear whenever they need that from me. While it’s tempting, I try to avoid gossipy discussions with my colleagues.

  • Say no to the things you can’t reasonably accomplish. This applies to work as well as outside commitments during busy times. I only have so much bandwidth, it serves nobody if I fail to recognize where the reasonable limits are on my time and my resources.

These are just a few of the most important things for me during my busy times. For many years, I’d put my head down and slog through these times without paying much attention to how my thinking, behaviors, and actions were serving me or not—stress is great at forcing us to hyper-focus and ignore the big picture. I have found over the last couple of years that drawing back my energy, paying conscious attention to the things that are working as well as the things that are creating more issues has helped me to construct my work time and my personal time in a productive way during the periods of high activity and high demand. Best of luck to you if you’re in the middle of the busy season, too! We can get through it, and remember that it won’t last forever!

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Recommended Reading and Resources for Changemakers!

Assembled here are my personal recommendations for great resources across the board: books, blogs, article series, videos, podcasts, and more for those of us who are changemakers! 

Videos: 

Books: 

Blogs/Articles: 

Websites: 

Podcasts

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Grant Professionals are matchmakers

Grant professionals occupy an interesting place in the nonprofit ecosystem. In an ideal world, the grant professional in any organization is responsible for the full spectrum of activities involved in a complete grant lifecycle, which range from deeply understanding the work and programs of the organization; identifying and researching prospective funding sources; developing relationships with funders; preparing, submitting and monitoring grant proposals; managing compliance for existing grants; maintaining grant records; collaborating with colleagues on organization and program development, fundraising, and other institution-wide activities; and much more.

 The grant professional in any organization should be a go-between, understanding their own organization and translating its’ needs to match those of prospective funding sources, ensuring that the mission, vision, and goals of the funder are met through investments of general and program support of their organization. The grant professional needs to thoroughly understand their organization’s mission and programs, opportunities for expansion and innovation, plus the ‘wish list’ of needs for future program and organizational development. Likewise, the grant professional needs to research, understand, and filter potential funding prospects with a similar focus. Grant professionals are constantly seeking the perfect match between their organizations and the current and prospective funders that are eager to effect change in the world through their investments.

Grant matchmaking requires several things to be most effective: the time and ability to thoroughly research prospective funders, commitment to extensively understanding your organization’s services and programs, the ability to effectively communicate internally with colleagues from various disciplines to obtain the information you need, the ability to communicate externally with current & prospective funders to tell effective stories and convey critical information, the discipline to synthesize a large volume of information, the ability to manage confidential information with discretion, a high level of sophistication in communication (in all forms), willingness and ability to build relationships with funders over time, and the skills of strategic planning, critical analysis, tactful communication, and high-volume multitasking.

Grant writing and management is a skilled, professional craft. An ability to write well is a prerequisite for becoming a grant professional, but it is only one component of the role. All of the areas of responsibility for grants professionals require a commitment of time and significant expertise to be done well. A specialized, skilled grants professional is a vitally important team member, one that many organizations mistakenly conflate with general resource development work or one of many duties assigned to an ED, top leader, or volunteer. Grants work is time- and effort-intensive, and producing high-quality, competitive grant applications and growing relationships with grant funders demands investment by organizations.

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On being a Social Worker

Upon completing my Bachelor’s degree (many moons ago) I got my first “real” job as the Early Childhood Parenting Coordinator for a School Readiness Program in Irvine, CA. The position was funded in part by California’s tobacco tax settlement funding, and in part by the U.S. Department of Education’s Safe Schools-Healthy Students grant program. This role was my first introduction to working in grant-funded programs, which sparked my 14+ year career in grants with nonprofits & public K-12 and higher education systems.

In that position, my programmatic work spanned a wide range of direct support services including counseling and providing case management to parents, families, and young children, teaching parenting classes, developing and delivering professional development for educators, evaluating and tracking my program outcomes, and a range of other services. My undergraduate degree in Cognitive Sciences (psychology) was helpful in theory, but in practice my academic background offered me little practical knowledge in my direct service role. A colleague observed my passion for both working directly with clients as well as managing the program and encouraged me to apply to graduate school in Social Work. It was something I barely even needed to consider before deciding that would be the best choice for me to further my education and my career. I was accepted to USC (a top 10 School of Social Work!) and completed my Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Industrial/Organizational Social Work (then called Social Work in the Workplace).

After finishing my Master’s, I got a job as a Grant Writer for a nonprofit social services agency in Orange County, where I discovered that my passion for serving people directly and my aptitude for thinking, planning, and communicating strategically fit perfectly with my training as a Social Worker to work as a grants professional. I have now been working in the grants space full-time for about a decade, as a grant writer, program manager, organizational leader, university instructor, consultant, and professional association leader. I believe wholeheartedly that my Social Work training and direct service background have helped me immensely during my career. As a result of my experience, I am able to fully understand the implications of grant program development on the implementation side, and I understand the intersection of organizational mission, strategic planning, board cultivation, and fund development with program services and client relationships. The broad skills development and background I’ve gained from my Social Work training in community and organizational needs assessments, asset mapping and development, program lifecycle development, and analysis has assisted me innumerable times over my career. I also firmly believe that the combination of my training, my personality, and my skills & aptitudes has helped me throughout my career to see and understand all sides of organizational development and management, program services and implementation, and funder relationship development. I am deeply proud to be a Social Worker, and I am so grateful that the field allows for the best expression of my unique abilities, talents, skills and experience. Social Workers rule!

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