Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

I moved to Leavenworth, Kansas when I was a 13-year-old army brat, and that’s when I realized the Wizard of Oz was more than a movie played on television each Thanksgiving. It’s a Kansas-resident obsession, and rightly so. This also began my obsession with sparkly shoes. Coincidence, I think not!

This beloved classic teaches great lessons about the power of friendship, family, and the power within. Surprisingly enough, it also draws a perfect parallel to the lessons learned while serving as a grant reviewer. So follow along with me on this yellow brick road. I promise, it will deliver you to a place much better than the Emerald City.

The first time I served as a grant reviewer, I read for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant program (21st Century). While I’ve never written grants for the education community or worked in a K-12 school system for that matter, the Georgia Department of Education trained all their reviewers. We were given a scoring rubric and a rundown on what they were looking for in a quality program. Then they turned us loose with 11 applications and 3 weeks to review them all. I did not know what I was getting myself into that first time, but I learned more in those three weeks than I learned in a year of writing grant proposals on my own.

1) IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN – All grant proposals start and end with need. Data and stories work in tandem to showcase the need for change. Quality proposals tell their story through numbers, details, and real-life situations. And that’s just the start. Spelling, grammar, and high command of the English language show attention to detail and ensure a clear-cut understanding of every sentence written. As a grant reviewer, I want to read a proposal that has it all. Show me you know what you’re talking about. Be clear and concise so I do not have to reread a paragraph three times to catch your meaning.

2) IT TAKES HEART – The proposals that caught and kept my attention were heartfelt. Their words showcased their love of community and the children served. The passion behind their programming was evident. As a reviewer, I felt their desire for change and improvement. These are the applications that I wanted to keep reading. I was swept up in their story and find myself rooting for them.

3) A LITTLE COURAGE DOESN’T HURT EITHER – Be bold. You may be crafting a grant proposal, but that does not make you any less of an author than those who write novels or poetry. You too have an audience, and you want them to desire to turn the page and read the rest of the story. As a reviewer, I personally enjoy a relevant story, a turn of phrase, and a line that paints a clear picture in my mind. Grant proposals can be, and should be, engaging. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

4) YOU HAD THE POWER ALL ALONG MY DEAR – Just like Dorothy had the power to get home thanks to her own will and resources, so do you. As a grant professional you know your community, the services offered by your organization, and the clients you serve. Let your knowledge and passion shine through the pages.

5) PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN – Dorothy and friends ignored that advice, and quickly realized that Oz wasn’t so scary (or so magical) after all. The same is true of your funders and grant reviewers. We are all human beings with a mission to fund organizations that have a similar mission and purpose, a clear need, and a quality plan and budget to address that need. So pay attention to the grant rules, the instructions laid out in the Request for Proposal, and any tips provided by the funder.

Dorothy may have discovered that there’s no place like home, but in the grant world there’s no place like the role of grant reviewer. You learn what funders look for in a proposal and you understand the scoring process. In the end this improves your own proposal writing skills, leading to additional funding for those you serve. And that feels an awful lot like home to me.



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