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As grant professionals, we all encounter a sticky situation, an argument, or a difficult colleague at some point in high-performing grant teams. For example, an accountant might demand something unallowable in a grant application, or someone might want to control the entire project without any prior grant experience. It is so important to work collaboratively with the team, but frustrating to deal with certain people.

During the Grant Professional’s Association (GPA) 2018 annual conference, I attended a session called “Snarks, Sharks and Drama Queens: How to Navigate People-Generated Obstacles to Grant Success” presented by Bruce Ripley. Mr. Ripley is a former addiction counselor turned grant professional, so it was interesting to hear his perspectives about working with difficult people. He had plenty of experience, and the grant professionals in the room each had various conflicts occurring in their work lives. Here are some tips and resources from Mr. Ripley.

ODDD stands for Oppressed, Demented, Disrespected, and De-energized (Sutton, R., 2017). If you and others feel all four of these when dealing with someone, you may be working with a truly difficult person instead of a situationally difficult person. A situationally difficult person may have a troubled personal life or be addicted to certain behaviors or substances. A truly difficult person may have poor boundaries, extreme personality aspects, and change their mind abruptly and often.

Since you can’t change others, change yourself by asking the following three questions. “How much am I truly suffering? What vibe am I giving? What is it like to be them?” Perhaps that difficult person is experiencing stress due to the organization’s cultural norms, dysfunction, or may be worried you will take their job away. Truly listen to the person and see if you can pick up repetitive themes or phrases. Are you automatically taking a defensive tone every time you speak with an irritating person, and don’t realize it?

As a grant professional, detach emotionally from the person. Observe the person like a scientist instead of drowning in their toxicity.

If the person is angry, focus on what they say instead of the yelling. Don’t raise your own voice—exist on a higher level. Instead of arguing, ask questions or suggest solutions. People often move to anger when they feel no other options are available to them.

Lastly, here are some suggested resources from Mr. Ripley:

Altucher, James. How to deal with crappy people

Holiday, Ryan. Ego is the Enemy

Navarro, Joe. What Every BODY is Saying

Sutton, Robert. The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People who Treat You Like Dirt.

Thompson, George. Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion, Updated Edition

Voss, Chris. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It


What methods and tricks have you tried when you have found yourself in a difficult situation in grant team facilitation?

“If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” —Stephen King


It is well-known that reading improves writing, and writing is a large part of the responsibilities of a grant professional. Because of this, the DH Leonard Consulting Team discussed our reading lives recently based on a shortened version of the What Does Your Bookshelf Say About You? Discussion presentation developed by Trish Bachman, GPC and me for the Grant Professionals Association annual conference.


Here is the summary of our discussion so you can learn more about the team:


What are your favorite books, blogs, and podcasts about grant writing/fund development?


To read more about these books, check out Three Books that Should be on Every Grant Professional’s Bookshelf.


Why do you read?

  • Escape
  • Relax
  • Provide boundaries
  • Help fall asleep
  • Learn
  • Reading is like food. It is a necessity.
  • You can go anywhere with a book.
  • The social aspect of discussing books – book clubs, Bookstagram, etc.
  • To be sophisticated


What books sparked your love for reading?


What is the last book finished?


What book do you frequently recommend to others?


We’d love to get you know you through books as well. We would love to hear what the last book is that YOU finished. Let us know in the comments section!

2018 was quite the year in the field of grant writing as well as for the DH Leonard Consulting team. As it winds down and we ensure that all of our clients have their grant calendars and grant teams in great shape for the year ahead, we paused to look at which blog posts YOU enjoyed the most this year.

I’ve turned them into a Top 10 Highlights list reminiscent of Dave Letterman’s Top 10 lists. Enjoy catching up on these popular posts in case you missed them when they were originally published.

Top 10 Grant Writing Tips & Lessons Learned of the Year

10. Storytelling is a critical element in grant applications – it isn’t just about client stories as a method of storytelling.

Answers to the Most Common Questions about Storytelling in Grants

by Diane H. Leonard, GPC


9. While a rejection letter/email always stings, sometimes there is a silver lining for the organization.

The Value of the Grant Process…Regardless of the Outcome

by Briana Popek


8. Grant professionals *are* superheroes, but like any professional, we have boundaries for how and when our best work is performed and 2am is rarely the answer.

Setting Boundaries as a Grant Professional

by Diane H. Leonard, GPC


7. Sharing knowledge and lessons learned with those new to the field is an important part of what we can do as seasoned professionals to help grow our field.

Dear New Grant Professional…a Letter from an Experienced Grant Professional

by Diane H. Leonard, GPC


6. Grant professionals find inspiration for our writing in many elements of our daily life, including what movies we watch.

Movies for Grant Writers

by Amy Bonn, GPC


5. An answer to one of the most common questions answered by those new to grant writing that helps them judge how much time grant writing is going to take in their role.

How Much Time Does it Take to Write a Grant?

by Diane H. Leonard, GPC


4. What does your #lifeasagrantwriter or #lifeasagrantpro look like? These items might help you realize that you truly ARE a grant writer now, not just dabbling in it as part of “other duties as assigned” in your job description.

You Know You Are a Grant Writer When…

by Bethany Turner, GPC


3. Unfortunately, grant writing scams are real, and the news real in 2018 highlighted that for the public again.

How to Avoid a Grant Writing Scam

by Diane H. Leonard, GPC


2. Not all foundations are going to love your organization, whether Gates, Kellogg, or a local family foundation as their mission may not be a strong fit with yours.

The Gates Foundation Is Just Not That Into You…

by Nicole Sibilski, GPC



1. The safety of our communities, and in particular our schools, is a hot topic throughout the country so it makes sense that tips about the funding available for school safety grants would be a top post this year.

School Safety Grants

by Judy Riffle, Ed.D.


What other blog posts did you read and find to be bookmark worthy or shareable this year? Whether from our team or another source, we’d love to hear what you would add to the top 10 list!

I was talking on the phone with another grant professional recently that I had just met. In the course of the conversation, she shared with pride that the Executive Director of her organization knew she could count on her to do whatever it takes to submit a grant application, whether it is working until 3am or working on the weekend. 

I was quiet about it at the time, as we each have our own boundaries as professionals, and I don’t want to judge another’s boundaries, especially someone who had been a successful grant professional longer than me.

Yet, the more I processed the conversation later in the day, the stronger the feeling that I needed to speak up and acknowledge that while grant writing can be stressful, I believe we need to set thoughtful boundaries that enable us to uphold best practices and also care for ourselves. For some, their personal night owl tendencies might make working until the wee hours of the morning in exchange for a morning off later in the week, worth it. For others, the flexibility to have a day off midweek while everyone else is at the office in exchange for working on a weekend is a scheduling treat. But what if that extra mile of effort isn’t directly compensated for or exchanged as comp time? Those situations quickly create a stressful environment that can lead to unhealthy expectations and burnout.

And then if she was hearing my thoughts rattle around after the phone conversation, serendipitously, an article popped into my inbox yesterday from a trusted friend and colleague, Jana Hexter published via CharityChannel. Jana’s piece, Grant Writing Doesn’t Have to be Stressful to be Successful! was completely on point. Jana posed eleven guiding questions to help you as a grant professional consider your work in a different way that might help reduce your stress in the grant writing setting.

Jana’s guiding questions can help you assess your work and the framework that you may want to set boundaries within. I wanted to add to the conversation my own five tips on setting boundaries with employers and clients about our work as grant professionals. There is no one set of tips that will meet all scenarios, I acknowledge that, but my hope is that these tips and Jana’s questions will help provide you options if you find yourself in a situation where you need to set new or more realistic expectations in the workplace.

4 Tips for Setting Boundaries

1. Grant Calendar

Set a grant calendar up for each fiscal year. The calendar needs to be reviewed and approved by your grant team. The calendar sets the expectation for the year ahead. New grant opportunities can only be added to the calendar if the grant team agrees (and makes a commitment to what changes if something new is added).

2. Working Hours

If an employee, and you are not already working under a set agreement for your office, set working hours. Ask for clarity from Human Resources in your office about working outside of standard working hours and if you are exempt or non-exempt. If a consultant, be clear with clients about what your working hours are.

3. Optimal Writing Environment

Share with your colleagues the conditions in which you write best. Is it with your headphones on blocking out cubicle noise? Is it with your door shut without interruption? Is it with a fresh non-fat latte in hand? Let your grant team know what you put in place for an optimal writing environment when working on a big grant narrative so they can help support that environment and respect the signals you put in place.

4. Handling the Unexpected

The first three boundaries are all your optimal situation. But life happens. Items come in late from stakeholders in the process despite our timelines and follow-up. A last-minute FAQ document from a grantmaker significantly changes your approach to a response. How is your team set up to support you when the unexpected happens? What arrangements do you put in place so you don’t need to shoulder that burden alone? Does the grant team all stay late together and order in pizza? The mistakes made in the last minute unexpected hours when we are all of a sudden alone in our work can cost you the grant funding that as a team you worked so hard on together…up until the unexpected happened.


And most importantly….remember that YOU control your own boundaries as a grant professional, and so it is okay for you to choose to make an exception to your boundaries.


How do you set boundaries in your work as a grant professional, whether in an employee or consultant role?

“Sorry, but there are lots of bad writers. Some are on staff at your local newspaper, usually reviewing little-theatre productions or pontificating about the local sports teams. Some have scribbled their way to homes in the Caribbean, leaving a trail of pulsing adverbs, wooden characters, and vile passive-voice constructions behind them.” Stephen King, the master of horrific imagination, wrote one of the best books ever on the art of writing. I was reminded of his great book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, at the 2018 Grant Professionals Association (GPA) annual conference in November. I knew it was time to read it again, so I immediately ordered a paperback copy to highlight with abandon all the wonderful quotes and advice he provides.

Even if you are not a fan of Stephen King’s writing, this book will entertain you with wonderful true stories, remind you about the importance of reading, and teach you how to be a good writer. At the GPA conference, I attended a session titled “STEPHEN KING – National Best Seller, Master of Horror & Grant Writing Tipster? (How Book Club Forced Me to Read My First Book on Writing)” by Amanda Day, a fellow grant professional. Amanda and Kimberly Hays deMuga, another grant professional, recently started a podcast called Fundraising HayDay, which can be found on iTunes here. Whether you’re a seasoned or beginning grant professional, it’s a great podcast to listen to, and Amanda talks about Stephen King’s book in Episode 10 of Season 1.

I am passionate about the importance of reading and believe one can always improve their writing skills. While most grant professionals will not be able to buy a home in the Caribbean no matter how much they read or write, Stephen King has valuable advice for all of us to improve our craft. Here are some favorite quotes from the master of storytelling I hope you can use.

  1. “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
  2. “Write with the door closed; rewrite with the door open.” Have someone who’s not an expert in the field you are writing about review your writing to ensure you stick to the story.
  3. “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
  4. “The most important things are the hardest to say, because words diminish them.”
  5. “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
  6. “You MUST not come lightly to the blank page.”
  7. “Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.” Remember this the next time a proposal is rejected and start again.
  8. “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”

Now get out there, read, and write!

Be sure to check out the Fundraising HayDay podcast, website, or find Amanda and Kimberly on Twitter @FundingHayDay.

Thank you, Stephen King, for providing all writers a great manual for our craft.

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