“Focus…on the walls of your own making that are blocking the light. Of what purpose is it to build walls that block the light and then strive for enlightenment?”
--Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul
As grant writers, we strive to put our organizations in the best light. The story we tell is like a Mesopotamian victory stele: the triumphs are writ large. We talk about the legions served; the vanquishing of poverty, arts illiteracy, unemployment, or crooked smiles. One we have churned out our lists of accomplishments, we ask for more funds to achieve more of the same. In essence, we construct a beautiful façade and tell a linear story.
Yet experience tells us that the flow of all that matters to us is decidedly non-linear. As we travel through life, our relationships, recovery, and finances inch forward, retrench, dissipate, and reemerge.
Program officers know that organizational behavior follows the same course. They are excellent at “reading between the lines”—the product of years of site visits and final report-reading—and may derive the wrong conclusions with incomplete information.
It follows that the “best light” in a proposal is one that is unsparing, revealing vulnerabilities and challenges—and shed well before an organization and its leadership are backed into a corner. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that real reflection is something you save for final reports. Position your agency as a “learning organization” and illuminate the experimentation and problem-solving that has taken place. For instance, how did your organization re-organize, and perhaps flounder a little, after its founder’s retirement? Or…how did the loss of an important contract influence your organization’s next steps? Tackle the reasons for the middling success of your recent merger.
There are varied benefits to this kind of candor: