The first few weeks of 2021 have been so distracting that setting New Year's resolutions hasn't exactly felt like a priority. But while being a grant writer isn't always the easiest job, supporting my clients' work has been a consistent source of joy and hope for me over the past year. So instead of personal resolutions, which somehow always involve more reading and less scrolling, I thought I’d share my grant writing resolutions for the year.
Resolution #1: Give funders real, honest feedback
There’s a growing understanding among funders that their grantmaking processes ask a lot of community organizations. At the same time, it seems like every foundation is developing their own sophisticated theory of change, guiding pillars, and vision statements, and then asking nonprofits to squeeze their work into those molds via complicated grant proposals and reports. Needless to say, this can feel frustrating and counterintuitive. As grant writers, we can help foundations simplify their processes and expand equitable access to funds, but we have to commit to giving them honest feedback, even when it’s hard. We’ve all been there: you just spent 20+ hours on a grant and at the end of the proposal, there’s a question asking for feedback on the process. Your first instinct might be to write “Your portal made me want to punt my laptop out the window” or “Stop making me describe our evaluation processes in three slightly different ways.” Instead, fearing that honesty might impact your chances of being funded, you write something neutral and upbeat and slather on some extra “gratitude for the opportunity to apply” for good measure. I’ve decided I’m leaving this familiar dance behind in 2021. This year, I’m going to work with my team to strategize ways to provide authentic, constructive feedback to funders. Even though it’s intimidating, this is a necessary step if we’re going to decrease the power differential between grantors and grantees and help nonprofits build strong, reciprocal partnerships and advocate for their needs.
Resolution #2: Use intentional language
How often do you use words like “vulnerable” or “at-risk” to describe the people your organization serves? How about phrases like “disproportionately affected by” or “historically impacted by”? Funders often use this language in their funding priorities or calls for proposals, and it can be tempting to mirror their words in an attempt to speak a common language and clearly demonstrate alignment. However, after reading Systems Centered Language: Speaking Truth to Power during COVID-19 While Confronting Racism by Meag-gan O’Reilly, Ph.D., I’m resolving to write in a way that intentionally acknowledges the ongoing systemic injustices in our country and the true forces driving the problems our organizations are trying to solve. I’m viewing this shift as an opportunity to educate funders on the power of language in shaping our reality and the harm that familiar but inaccurate phrases perpetuate.
Resolution #3: Make your rest non-negotiable
As a culture, we’ve been tossing around terms like “self-care” for years now, but I still find myself internalizing grind culture and equating my value to my productivity. In 2021, I suggest we stop glorifying being busy and start glorifying maintaining healthy boundaries and making time for rest. I’m resolving to shift the way I view rest and relaxation away from being separate from my work, and instead as being an integral part of it in the same way I see eating breakfast or grabbing coffee as a non-negotiable step in my writing routine. This year, I’m committing to integrating rest, both big (no more weekend work!) and small (mini eye breaks from the glowing rectangle!), more completely into my life, and I hope you do too. Our proposals, organizations, and communities will be better off because of it.
Madeline Atmore | Grant Writer
Madeline has experience working as an advocate in the criminal justice system, researching breakthrough engineering technologies for an environmental nonprofit, crafting social media strategies for a local city agency, and writing many, many grants for ZIM clients. She holds a BA and an MBA specializing in nonprofit management from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.