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?