What Diets Taught Me About Collaborative Grants and Fundraising

I have struggled to maintain a healthy weight for years. My goals have nothing to do with the wasp-waisted curves filtered through Instagram posts. Keeping my body healthy for long-term is more my speed, and that involves shedding some pandemic pounds.

Over the years I’ve lost and regained the same pounds through a bewildering series of diets—low-carb high-fat, no fat, counting points, never weighing, only eating certain foods, only eating certain foods at certain times of day, more protein, less protein.  Short-term successes led to long-term disappointments.

Here are few tips: dairy-free ice cream is still not healthy, a bag of “fiesta” sized chips is not a single serving, and overnight oats are a gelatinous mess abomination that purports to help lower cholesterol. Also, if you would like to tell me to my face that weight loss is so simple: “eat less, move more,” be forewarned that I will not be held responsible for my actions.

Now, I’m progressing slowly and unevenly to my health goals by not dieting for the short term, but by planning meals, batch cooking, and just plain focusing and paying attention to what habits serve me, and what ways no longer work.

Focusing on the process of healthy habits is actually related to successful collaborations in grant seeking and fundraising. Maybe related in that second cousin twice removed way, but related all the same.  “Collaboration” has been a buzzword for so long in the philanthropic field that it’s lost its impact and certainly its true meaning.

True collaboration between non-profits and other agencies that includes and honors the communities served is the healthiest option. It’s the gold standard, and sounds so simple, right? Just like eating less and moving more is the “best” and simplest way to lose weight. By the way, it’s also best to only eat organic food lovingly prepared with herbs from your kitchen garden while bluebirds of happiness serenade you.

But in the real world, true collaboration involves planning, listening, and focusing—not things found in abundance when boards and leaders pass on the pressure they feel to win more grants and raise more money than their competitors. Foundations and businesses that force multiple, complex proposal and grant cycles may ask for a letter or memorandum of agreement even, but overwhelmed nonprofits and agencies don’t receive extra time or even extra funding truly needed to create and sustain beneficial collaborations.

Also in the real world are nonprofit executives who turn down grant opportunities because they are doing okay for now and know that other agencies are really struggling. There are agencies that front the administrative costs for major special events and share the proceeds with other nonprofits.  In the latest episode of the Fundraising HayDay podcast [Don’t Hate, Collaborate: Social Grant Responsibility (podbean.com)], my co-host Amanda Day and I detail several examples of collaboration in action from different sectors of nonprofits and other agencies. (Note: I will neither confirm, nor deny that some ranting may be involved.) These collaborative mindsets and efforts didn’t happen overnight.

Seemingly overnight transformations took place on The Biggest Loser, a popular TV show from 2004-2016. The show pitted overweight contestants against each other to see who could drop the pounds the fastest. The extreme calorie restrictions and grueling workouts produced some mind-blowing physical changes. However, a study from Harvard Health Publishing found that nearly every contestant, especially those with the most dramatic weight loss, actually dramatically lowered their metabolism during the competition. Within just a few years after their participation, many contestants gained back all their weight and then some.

Collaboration forged days before a major grant deadline without the time or focus or planning needed may just possibly win the initial grant, but then the real work begins. All the hours of effort to produce a slim, compelling memorandum of understanding will be lost if the program planning then disintegrates into a series of bloated but unproductive meetings that lead nowhere.

But in that case, the biggest losers aren’t even the participating agencies, it’s the people, animals, environments, and communities we all want to serve. Cut-throat competition and rushed collaborations actually end up hurting the very communities who could be helped. And that would be the biggest loss of all.


DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 4 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 3 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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