Own Your Mistakes

Feb 29, 2024 | Grant Writing

Woman with her hand on her head and an "oops" expression on her face

Kimberly and I are currently going through the Dare to Lead training created by Brenè Brown. Our facilitator is Julie Boll, a fellow grant professional, whom we had the pleasure of interviewing on the Fundraising HayDay Podcast last year. If you want to learn more about Julie and her work, you can take a listen HERE.

The hallmark of Dare to Lead is finding your courage through vulnerability, while learning to appropriately address the shame that creeps in. For me, shame often comes in the form of the voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough to do the work I’m currently embarking on. Or it’s a sudden reminder of that one time I royally messed up, and surely, I’m going to repeat the mistake. And then it snowballs from there.

I’ve officially had the title of grants administrator (or something similar) since the summer of 2001, and I know I am dang good at this work. I have the grant awards, successfully funded projects, and reviews from training attendees to prove it. And yet…I still doubt myself at times.

The more I speak with highly successful grant professionals, I find I’m not alone in this.

It’s time to put a stop to our self-doubt.

One way to do that is to share our vulnerability. That’s right, I suggest we talk about our mistakes.

Why? Three simple reasons:

(1) By putting our mistakes out in the open, they do less damage through our inner voice.
(2) We all make mistakes. By sharing our downfalls and blips on the radar, we normalize them.
(3) Acknowledging that crap happens, and we can still be successful in our careers, allows others to understand the same can be true of them. Plus, isn’t it lovely to learn from the mistakes of others so we don’t make the same ones?

I’ll go first. Here’s a handful of small “oops” moments to one really big disaster.

I’ve missed a deadline twice in my life. The first time, I was traveling for work and had it in my head that the online application was due on Friday. On a Thursday night I sat down to make one last round of edits and hit the submit button, only to find out that application closed earlier that evening. The second time it happened, I waited until the last minute to mail an LOI. I paid extra for UPS to overnight it, but it was during the height of the pandemic and the mail was delivered three days late.

All I could do was own up to my mistake. Understand how it happened. Then put some processes in place to ensure it never happens again. So far so good, but I am human.

Second, I uploaded the wrong attachment to an application. I did not realize my error until after I hit the submit button. Luckily for me, after a flurry of emails to multiple contacts at the funding agency, they kindly “unlocked” my application and allowed me to fix my error. What did I mess up? I submitted my client’s Annual Report instead of the Audited Financial Statements. In my folder of commonly used documents those two are next to one another and in my haste, I grabbed the wrong one.

My lesson learned there? Always open each attachment uploaded to a funder portal and make sure it’s the correct one before submitting. To this day, it’s a regular process for me.

And the one that still makes my face burn with embarrassment when I think about it nearly 20 years later? Long story short, a new employee with a large regional funding agency kept cancelling regular (and helpful) meetings with its community partner agencies. I thought I was forwarding my frustration to a colleague, when instead I hit reply. The second I realized my mistake, I wrote back. (Well, after feeling like I was going to throw up.) I explained the source of my frustration, apologized for my unkind words, and asked what we could do to move forward.

The good news is that the program officer took my frustration and apology to heart, made some important changes, and we were able to work together for years. But it was an important lesson to learn early in my career to NEVER fire off an email in anger or frustration. Instead, I learned to go to my boss, vent my frustrations, then calmly come up with a plan.

Now that I’ve borne my soul, I hope you see me for the flawed, imperfect, and amazing human being that I am. Honestly, I feel lighter every time I talk about my mistakes. It gives me the opportunity to work on it never happening again, but I also give myself grace because really, none of us are perfect.

If you have any “I can’t believe I did this” moments that you’d feel better getting off your chest, let me know. You can confidently share it to Kimberly and I at hello@haydayservices.com. We won’t air your dirty laundry. (Plus, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in grant-related mistakes.)

Whether you share your mistakes with us or not, I’m here to tell you that self-doubt will only lead you to make more mistakes. It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Finding someone you trust to talk through those moments will make you feel lighter. I promise.

Amanda Day
Fundraising HayDay

A podcast about grants & such.

Check out all our episodes, and don’t miss any new ones, by subscribing on Apple Podcasts or Spotify today!

Spotify Podcast button.
Apple Podcast button.

Latest Episode