AKA Amanda and the horrible, no good, very bad grant writing week
I have been a grant professional for 20 years, and for the past six years taught an introduction to grant writing course to thousands of people across the country. I know the best practices for grant writing—meeting deadlines with a quality, complete proposal. Yet despite all this, I made three major mistakes in one horrific week earlier this year.
Why am I sharing, when it would be better for my bruised ego to simply keep the story of that week to myself? Well, I was reminded of something especially important on Season 4, Episode 15 of the Fundraising HayDay podcast this week. You can take a listen here: Paths to and Beyond Fundraising: The Road Less Traveled (podbean.com). Our guest, Simon Scriver of Fundraising Everywhere said that the leaders in our field who make the biggest impact are the ones who own their mistakes.
So, here we go…
First, my Letter of Intent (LOI) was late. The foundation would only accept hard copies of application mailed to the office in downtown Atlanta, about 50 miles away. I had two days to get it there but couldn’t hand deliver it. Instead, I overnighted it through UPS. I assumed I was getting the service I paid for, but the LOI arrived three days late. (This happened to several applications they received due to pandemic staffing at multiple delivery services.) The upside: this funder accepts applications every quarter, and they agreed to hang on to our application until the next round. The downside: a nonprofit must wait three extra months to see if they will receive funding.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE DONE, BECAUSE I KNOW BETTER – I should have tracked my package to make sure it was delivered on time. And when it wasn’t I should have reached out to the funder to ask if I could have emailed my application. After the fact I learned that several nonprofits did this very thing, and because of the delay in mail services happening this year, the foundation bent their own rules and allowed emailed applications, but only to those who asked. Or better yet, I should have completed the application earlier, providing plenty of time for me to hand deliver or mail it long before the deadline.
Second, I uploaded the wrong attachment to an online application and did not realize my mistake until I hit the submit button. I was supposed to upload the nonprofit’s audited financial statements, but instead uploaded their annual report. I realized this one hour before the grant deadline, but because I already hit submit, I could not change it. I sent emails to every contact I had at the funding agency and called their main line several times before I was able to speak to someone. Fortunately, they were willing to “unlock” my application so I could change the attachment to the correct one and resubmit before the deadline.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE DONE, BECAUSE I KNOW BETTER – My typical habit is to check every attachment to make sure it is named correctly (because funders can be awfully specific about that), and to make sure I attach the correct document in the right places. But I was under the gun and pushed it through. I am extremely fortunate the funder was willing to let me fix the problem after I hit submit. If not, they could have deemed the application incomplete for not including all the required attachments.
Finally, I almost missed an online deadline. I was working on an earmark request and the deadline for public input for projects was Sunday night at 5pm. I had the date in my mind and assumed that was my deadline for the applicant as well. I was working Friday night and was ready to take step away and save my final edit for the next morning before hitting submit. Thank goodness I did one last review and saw that the deadline was that night, not Sunday. A close call.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE DONE, BECAUSE I KNOW BETTER – I should have checked the deadline from the start, and had it written on my whiteboard. And online calendar. And my monthly to do list. I know I am a visual learner and having it in front of my face would have ensured it would not have been such a close call.
I know how quickly I can crank out a grant proposal. And it is easy to assume that all will go well, and nothing will be missed. But the reality is that things always take longer than expected. If it can go wrong on deadline day it will, and early is better than on time. I got sloppy, and I got lucky. This week could have gone even worse, but thankfully instead of losing three funding opportunities, I just have a very embarrassing list of mistakes to share with you.
Consider it a reminder that the basics of grant writing are the basics because they work. I stand reminded that the biggest basic rule is don’t wait until the last minute. Otherwise, I might not be as lucky the next time around. And that hurts me, my clients, and all the wonderful communities they are working to improve.
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