How the Great British Baking Show Can Make You a Grants Authority

Holiday baking reigns supreme this time of year.  Cookies, cakes, pies—it’s hard to escape. I’m not a baker, but I do appreciate the baking artistry of others.  And I do escape the hustle and bustle of end of the year reporting and fundraising deadlines through grit, determination, and extreme binging of cooking shows on Netflix and YouTubeThe Great British Baking Show surpasses all other comfort viewing for me.  

The premise is that 12 amateur bakers gather under the watchful and exacting eyes of experts and compete by completing three bakes an episode—with the lowest-ranked baker leaving the tent at the end of each episode.  Y’all, they are so polite, and they actually help each other finish by the deadline. Seriously. 


Every contestant has significant experience; some are true artists in the kitchen.  What separates the winner (who toils away for the cash prize of NOTHING, but receives a lovely personalized cake stand of an award) from the also-rans is not simply talent, but also confidence and a certain kind of grace under pressure.  


Instead of (heaven forbid) stepping into an overheated tent on a picturesque English estate to bake competitively, I have found myself repeatedly entering board meetings, directors’ meetings, and even impromptu office visits or texts where I need to explain how restricted grants work, why very busy people must attend site visits, and how grants may not be the right funding stream for particular programs or projects.  Early on in my career, these situations felt even more awkward, and even intimidating, because I was an entry-level or junior-level employee—not a director or manager. 


And so began an ongoing series of what I now call “Educate Up” moments.  During these encounters, I’m not trying to whip up the perfect crème Anglaise, puff pastry, or multi-tiered cake castle under time constraints.  But I am trying to coax and educate a given team of passionate, busy professionals on the finer points of securing grant funding and the perils of poorly executed programs and related reporting. 


Like baking, actual grant development/writing is precise and exacting.  But explaining these intricacies and their importance is where your grant professional artistry comes in. To flog this metaphor to death, consider comparing the budget, objectives, and many required attachments as essential ingredients to the perfect grant.   And omitting key ingredients ensures funders will see your grant as half-baked. But what if you’re not talking to folks who regularly bake?


Comparing grant application and reporting requirements to amusement park rides has provided me with moments of levity while also getting across the serious points of compliance.  Nearly everyone has seen the signs that state “you must be this tall to ride this ride.” Simply hold your arm out parallel to the floor for special emphasis and make your point about how the funder has determined the “height” needed to apply for or to manage their grants.  If cakes and rollercoasters aren’t working as analogies, then maybe the threat of potential jail time or clawbacks of funds could be powerful motivators.  


Sharing webinars, trainings and other activities geared toward beginners with your supervisor, executive director, commissioner, mayor, or board members could help them understand the complexity of grants. Sometimes the mysterious power of a third party explaining the same truths you know has a greater effect on your work colleagues.  (This same phenomenon holds true with your spouse, but that is far beyond my blogging pay grade to explore in more detail.) Finally, I invite you to take a listen to the latest episode of the Fundraising HayDay podcast— “Educating Up.” My co-host Amanda Day and I offer up our own experiences in educating up in the workplace, and we often speak longingly of pie.


What’s been your most recent “Educate Up” moment, and how did it turn out for you?




DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 2 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on season 1 and stay up to date on the new season here.

Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.

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