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Note from Diane: We often get asked, how many grants can one grant professional write in a year? Or how do you best balance multiple deadlines? We are beginning a short series looking at grant professional capacity both from the consultant and employee point of view. Have a specific capacity question you want addressed? Drop me an email (diane@dhleonardconsulting.com) and we’ll do our best to build it in to the series as it unfolds. Excited about our first post today that comes from Julie Johnson as it comes full circle to her post a few years ago about how she went about establishing her business plan. Missed it? Read it here.

 

As a grant consultant, I’m often advising my clients to realize their organization’s grant strategy and capacity. I found that it’s a question I need to ask myself as a consultant too. What is the grant capacity of my consultancy? How many clients do I have the capacity to serve? My business plan answers these questions for me.

Like the complicated moving parts of managing grants in an organization, the same can be true for a grant consultancy. The ebb and flow (think Gantt chart) of my workload timeline, shows some consistent, busy times and a few doldrum (think vacation) times of the year. With that said, a few moving pieces out of my control can quickly change my plans.

I found my capacity limit in a sudden overload earlier this year. First, a few of my current clients had government agencies change the deadlines for huge applications, and the new date was the worst timing for my clients’ event calendars. Next, a potential client that I had been speaking with for months received budget approval to offer me a retainer. Said client, as an absolute best fit for its order of grant needs, had to immediately pursue a very large, collaborative, assessment grant. Simultaneously, all the consultancies that I subcontract with were swamped with work too.

The result of this unforeseen convergence of work was me working six to seven days per week for several weeks. How or why did I work overtime? I did it because I knew it was temporary and my business plan laid out what to do.

My business plan predicted that I might reach capacity this year, my third year, as I want to remain a consultancy of one rather than building a grant team to oversee. To remain focused on the work in front of me, I referred new inquiries to other grant writers and I temporarily reduced the work I could offer in subcontracting. And, I hired more help in my personal life such as housekeeping, gardening, and food preparation, so I could solidly represent my clients during these converging deadlines.

I’m not saying this was a comfortable time. I felt fatigue like I imagined lawyers feel as they prepare and focus for a big case. Yet, having a plan in place helped guide me through the process. Managing grant client loads in a consultancy is like planning a grant calendar in a nonprofit. It’s a complex, changing process with multiple unknowns.

I would love to hear about your consultancy. What is your strategy? How has your business planned served you in crunch times? Do you work alone or have you built a team?  Either way, what are some of the scheduling challenges that you’ve faced and overcome? What have you done in the opposite situation such as too little work or too few clients?

In a previous Grant Funding in Action blog post here, I spoke about my work with the Mindful Veterans Project and completion of an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. Like most other careers, grant professionals deal with stress on a daily basis. Deadlines, grant rejections, dealing with difficult people, budgets, finding the right words, research, striving for perfection, proving our Return on Investment (ROI), staying creative, and finding enough time in the day are only a few of these stressors. So how can practicing mindfulness help us be more productive and happy? Consider the following.

There are numerous research studies that support the ongoing practice of mindfulness, and it is becoming a much more common practice supported in the workplace. For example, after Aetna ran an employee mindfulness program for a year, their out-of-pocket health care costs decreased (https://on.wsj.com/1O0qvhR). Some companies provide online mindfulness training, video conferences, Mindful Leadership education, or use in-house meditation practitioners to work with employees. These companies are willing to invest in helping employees become more productive, healthier, less stressed, and happier.  

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Luck or Bobbing for Apples? (Neither): How to Find Federal Grant Review Opportunities

Ever wondered how to find federal grant review opportunities? As I mentioned in Ten Tips I Learned From Being a Federal Grant Reviewer, serving as a reviewer is one of the best forms of professional development for grant professionals. It opens your eyes to a new way of respecting the review process and helps make you a better writer. Although luck has a little to do with being chosen to serve as a reviewer, it is definitely easier than bobbing for apples in a fifty-gallon drum.

Here are ten tips for how to land that valuable review opportunity.

  1. Believe it or not, every now and then, do an internet search for “call for reviewers.” You will be surprised at what opportunities pop up.
  2. Register as a federal grant reviewer at https://www.g5.gov. Be prepared with your resume and other documents you use when applying for a job. Also, this will take time and patience—it is a rather laborious process, but worth it. And remember to use Internet Explorer—g5.gov does not like Chrome.
  3. Complete a Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) Peer Reviewer application on eGrants: https://1.usa.gov/1roMunw. You may be chosen to review AmeriCorps or other grants.
  4. Review this list of U.S. government agencies to find grants you may be interested in reviewing: https://1.usa.gov/1DNSBe5. If there are certain agencies you want to follow, sign up for their email alerts. They often send out call for reviewer emails.
  5. Consider Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) grant review opportunities if you have knowledge or experience in those areas: https://1.usa.gov/1L6DLPT.

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22 Apr 2016

A Room (Or Office) Of Your Own

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*Note from Diane: The flexibility that can come with the life of a consultant can be wonderful, but can also present unique challenges. Julie offers us a great, honest perspective on those challenges in her latest blog post to give insight for potential consultants and commradarie of experience to fellow consultants. I would imagine that for employed grant writers, many have also faced similar work environment issues when working away from the office or sneaking in some laptop time while on a vacation or at a conference.

This past February, I put to test one of my grant consultancy objectives. I want a business that is more dependent on my skills and my tools than on my physical location.  Part of my goal in establishing my own business was to embrace a healthier work/play balance.

As you may remember in my post about generations and the differences in grant seeking, I have a family spanning multiple generations. I learned through travel to joyous events such as graduations and weddings, coupled with fast-changing events like medical emergencies, that I didn’t want a job at one location anymore.

So, I did it. I took my laptop, smart phone and grant skills from my home office in Minnesota to my parents’ home in Arizona. My parents live in a RV retirement resort that is beautiful with sunshine, cactus and swimming pools. I’d visited there before and knew that their home was small, but they had built a bunk house in hopes that I could spend more time with them.

I faced trouble the first day as I worked at their kitchen table. The immediate presence of the television and its coverage of a notably bizarre election year coupled with my dad’s stress-filled comments did little for my ability to concentrate. What to do? It was colder than normal in Arizona, and the low temps ruled out a patio location.

For day two, I changed my tactic. I rose early, packed my laptop and quietly walked up to the community center for its 6:00 a.m. opening. The custodian and I worked quietly for three hours until activities started gathering momentum. Truthfully, I worked under a lack-of-caffeine angst. I could see the glow of a Coke machine outside, but I only had $20 bills on me. Do you coffee drinkers feel my pain? Day three, began with cowboy coffee in the bunk house before working at the center.

For the afternoon, I logged in and reserved a study room at the nearby public library. Unfortunately “study room” seemed to imply large, rowdy groups separating their noisy selves from the greater library. Although the walls vibrated, I focused on my work.

Eventually I could work as dreamed on the patio with a warm breeze. As I was deep into the multi-topic thinking of a large research project, a friendly neighbor stopped by and said, “Drinks and snacks on our deck in 10 minutes. Are you coming?”

Being surrounded by retirees was a challenge that I never imagined facing. I felt like I was on an island alone in an alternate universe. I witnessed a visceral change in all those around me. Even though they had put in their decades of service, “work” was no longer a concept that they understood. One day I met another Minnesota daughter who worked at home, but had flown to Phoenix for business. We almost fell onto each other with glee because we both still understood the daily demands of work.

Will I continue to meet my objective to work anywhere in order to maintain better work/play balance? Yes! Without a doubt. But when I rework my business plan for year three, my work anywhere plan will include a room (portable office) of my own. And always, access to good coffee.

 

How do you handle days or weeks when you are on the road or choosing to work from a different location than normal, whether an employee or a consultant? We’d love to hear your solutions – share them with us in the comments section on the website, via social media, or drop Diane an email at diane @dhleonardconsulting.com.

25 Mar 2016

Celebrating Success In A Grant Team

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Last Friday was International Grant Professional’s Day as the capstone for International Grant Professional’s Week. It was a fantastic week as there is so much to celebrate and be excited within the grant profession! In fact, I’m still in a celebratory mood, and that celebratory mood has me pondering how it is that we celebrate our work as grant professionals, and *when* we celebrate with our grant teams.

Do we celebrate minor daily victories as a grant team? 

Do we celebrate when a large application is successfully submitted? 

Or do we only celebrate when a grant award is made?

I was at a client’s office this week for a grant team meeting for some strategy planning sessions. The team had just completed a large grant application the week prior. The process had gone smoothly with weekly check-ins, digest emails outlining progress on specific tasks, a great mock review process of the full application by our team, and ultimately an application that was submitted early. It was a big reason to celebrate even though it was “only” the submission of an application, not a grant award. I arrived at the grant team meeting with a large bag full of Girl Scout cookies – Thin Mints, Samoas and Tagalongs.

The team was surprised and excited. There were enough cookies for each member of the grant team to grab a box for their office/team/home. “Why had I arrived with the cookies?” 

Let’s rewind to when we started the project, when as with most projects that have a large grant team, I asked one of my favorite meeting check-in questions to get to know a grant team, “What is your caffeine or motivation of choice during tight deadlines?” I am avid coffee drinker, but have embraced tea recently in order to keep my consumption to two cups a day, so I love to talk all things coffee and tea with team members. I was surprised though to have a team member say that they don’t consume any caffeine on purpose, and really never have as an adult. It was actually a great team-building moment for the organization as this was apparently a new discussion and discovery about each other’s preferences and approach to motivation or fuel for a project for the team as a whole. We moved on to the team meeting, and the discussion was set aside.

That is until I prompted the group with a different check-in question during the next meeting, “What is your favorite Girl Scout cookie?” Now *that* was a question that everyone got excited about. We talked about freezing Thin Mints, putting peanut butter on Thin Mints to make a modified Tagalong, dunking Trefoils in tea, and the fantastic yumminess of Samoas (yes, those are my favorite!).

Why take the time to ask these check-in questions? First and foremost, they help bring grant teams together about a non-grant conversation as often the teams are not natural teams within an organization and all players may not know each other well. Secondly, but also critically important, I am on the hunt in all client and project interactions for unique ways to help celebrate the successes of the team. Whether it is having a fruit platter delivered to a meeting that we are participating in remotely, sending handwritten notes after a project is complete, or arriving in person with a bag of Girl Scout cookies (I do try to balance the healthy choices in with our celebrations.), I want to help grant teams celebrate throughout the year, not only when they receive a grant award, or during International Grant Professionals Week.

In my true client story, the Girl Scout cookies were a twist on verbal praise, email gold stars, or a team lunch paid for by the organization and I am already brainstorming how to celebrate the next success of that grant team.

 

How do you celebrate your work and your colleague’s work during the year? I’d love to hear! Share your celebrations with us in the comments section below or via social media! Or, let us know what YOUR favorite Girl Scout cookie is so that I am prepared to help you celebrate your next great achievement as a grant professional.


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