Perfection is the Enemy of Successful Grant Writing

Back in the aughts, I was a newly hired manager of corporate and foundation relations at a food bank with the directive to aggressively grow grant funding—by at least 25% in my first year. The agency had a strong base of family foundation support, but my job was to bring in larger grants and bring them in fast.

With supportive management and coworkers, solid programs filling demonstrated needs,  and documented outcomes, I was off to the grant-seeking races for larger private and corporate foundations grant opportunities and competitive awards cycles. Between long-term funders requesting basic letters as proposals to more complex, more extensive applications, I soon averaged more than 80 grant proposals a year.

During a weekly meeting early on in my seven years there, my supervisor, the director of development, told me we had the same idea about winning grant applications. Dear reader, I was pleased to hear it; but wasn’t sure what she meant exactly. She elaborated that we both wanted to get “A”s for our grant proposals, but the escalating community need and the sheer volume of submissions going out meant that getting an “A,” which translated as a fully funded request, was the goal, not a perfect “100” by the grant reviewers. (Side note: Grant reviewer notes weren’t usually available for those grant requests.)

In other words, if we were back in school, and getting an “A” meant a cumulative average of 93-100, then a 93 was still an A.  In her eyes, it was positive feedback. I was getting out there and getting it done. More importantly, increased grant funding was coming in to help feed more people across our vast service area.

While the perfectionist in me wanted to get every aspect of a grant proposal the best it could be every single time, that wasn’t the way my grant cookie was crumbling. To be clear, I answered all the questions clearly and thoroughly, provided all the attachments, and hit those deadlines. But I didn’t have the time to delve deeply into storytelling or create elaborate attachments. I had to get it done and get it out there.

The same is true for social media and other forms of communication. Getting an authentic, heartfelt message out to funders and donors about people who have changed their lives in part through your agency’s programs and services, or even attaching videos as a part of a grant proposal or grant reporting, doesn’t have to be a big-budget Hollywood production. Being overcome with a strong dose of perfectionism (trust me) could keep you and your team from meaningful connections in communication that most of us now take for granted.

Between smartphones and easy-to-manage video production and graphic design platforms, quick and meaningful social connections can be yours. In the latest episode of the Fundraising HayDay Podcast, How To: Video Marketing for Social Good | Fundraising HayDay (, co-host Amanda Day and I  interview Erin Goodier, the founder of Goodier Creative. This agency works with nonprofits to get their stories heard and seen. Take a listen and surprise yourself with how you can create your own short videos. She even included a video demonstration on the Fundraising HayDay YouTube Channel on using Canva, which has a free version, to edit a Zoom-recorded video:

Give it a look and listen and pick up some tips that can make your next proposal, report, or donor outreach shine. You’ll get an “A” for effort, without having to go to film school!


DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 6 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 5 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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