Grant Writers Don’t Sell Yourselves Short: True Measures of Success

Feb 18, 2023 | Grant Writing

grant writer reviewing grant.

Have you ever attended a grant workshop, conference, or gathering and left feeling deflated? Ever listened to a keynote speaker and told yourself nothing she said would work for you because you were not in the same league as said speaker? (If you’re nodding your head, know you are not alone.)

Every Grant Professional Is Different

Can I let you in on a little secret? We have all had moments in our careers where we felt the same way. But there is no reason to because we are not all on the same journey. The grant field is wide-open, and everyone comes to it with different education levels, backgrounds, work and life experience, and knowledge of how grants and nonprofits work. What is true for a grant pro working for a large, regional children’s hospital is not the same as the one working for a small, grassroots, free primary care clinic.

My grant career began in 2000, and 20-plus years later, I have learned a thing or two about imposter syndrome. The truth in this quote by President Theodore Roosevelt: comparison is the thief of joy. Allow me to share a few lessons I have learned in my grant tenure, which have taught me that it’s okay not to know everything because I know more than enough.

Comparison is the thief of joy. – Theodore Roosevelt

“I have a 100% success rate.”

The first time I heard that in a room full of grant professionals, I immediately wanted to curl myself into the fetal position. I have never had a year with a 100% success rate. And while I used to keep that tidbit to myself, I am not ashamed to report that I have had a year with as low as 40% and as high as 80%. If my organization is eligible and competitive, I believe the grant application is worth it. Grants are competitive, and it is not unusual to get a denial letter when the need for funding far outweighs the funding available. Quality proposals get turned down; it happens.

“I have secured $100 million in funding.”

I have a few friends who have reached this milestone, and while I’m over the moon for them, one can easily self-deprecate for not having reached such heights. But guess what? Not everyone works for organizations that are eligible for large multi-million dollar grants. If you are a consultant for a handful of small non-profits (meaning less than $5 million annual operating), winning $200,000 in grant funds for that nonprofit is just as impactful as a million-dollar award for a much larger organization. Comparing award numbers is never apples to apples, so don’t let other people’s award numbers steal your joy. Instead, get excited about every win.

“I helped feed 10,000 people this year.”

Many grant professionals work in the health and human services field and often talk about how many people they have helped feed, shelter, employ, or serve in various ways. I spent much of my career working for a local government, and talking about the new roadway built, hazmat equipment ordered, or housing study carried out didn’t seem as impactful. Then one day, I was at a local park with my son and witnessed little kids playing on the jungle gym, older kids riding bikes along the trail, and moms relaxing on the nearby park benches. That park existed because I wrote the grant for it, and all those people were enjoying the beautiful afternoon because of the amenities made possible by that grant funding. While we cannot always count the number of people we serve or how we help our community, every grant serves a need of some sort. Otherwise, there would not be a grant award in the first place.

Working to Be the Best Grant Professional We Can Be

The next time you hear a comment from a trainer, speaker, or colleague, take it with a grant of salt. Trust me, no one is perfect, and we are all working to be the best grant professional we can be, but we are only human. I have missed a deadline. I lost a grant for not spending the money fast enough. I have been on the receiving end of findings on an annual audit. My one rule is that I will not make the same mistake twice, and that is one I have managed to keep.

Whenever I teach a grant writing workshop, I encourage my students to ask as many questions as they need along the way. I find it is the best way to learn. But I always give the caveat that the world of grants is ginormous, and while I know a few things, I do not know it all. Doing so makes me feel so much better when I respond with an “I don’t know. Does anyone else in the room?” And usually, someone does. I learn something new every time I teach. I hope you learn something new every time you are amongst your peers. If nothing else, remember that no two grant professionals are alike, and there is no need to play the comparison game.

Amanda Day
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