The Janus Life of Grant Writers

The Roman deity Janus had two faces.  One looked toward the past and the other the future. As the god of beginnings and endings, he focused on both the past and the future. Grant writers understand this duality.  


Our grants balance the power of words to evoke and reassure with their ability to excite and envision.  We write in the voices of our clients but pitched to the ears of grantors. We champion innovative and cutting-edge work but ensure that program goals are realistic and attainable. We argue that funding is at once crucial and sustainable. In short, we balance multiple priorities in the service of diverse constituencies.


It’s a tricky business.


Deploying language that conveys the intended meaning as economically as possible requires that we know our reader(s).  Should we identify a service population as underserved or marginalized?  Should we speak of a nonprofit’s management or leadership team; the former suggests a top-down, structured environment and the latter something more inclusive. We may refer to partners as collaborators, but the word has a very different meaning to students of European history.  Similarly, the ubiquitous stakeholders may be individuals, groups, or entitles in a nonprofit’s ecosystem.  But stakeholders might mean something quite different to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  


Seriously, though, in word choice we take cues from our clients, but we must also anticipate changes at the funder level.  Mid-sized and family foundations often follow trends set by larger legacy funders. But there’s a lag time between terminology preferences trickling down from these mega-funders and being adopted at the community level. What are grant writers to do?  We must adopt a writing style that reflects current norms while weaving in forward-thinking concepts and references. If we do, grant narratives will feel ‘fresh’ throughout the grant period – as compelling at closeout as at submission.


Achieving this Janus-like balance is what funders demand and our clients deserve.  The need to try – day after day, submission after submission – is what drives every grant writer.  It’s how we honor the past and celebrate the future.

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