It’s January. Are you ready for a reset? Better yet, is your grant strategy ready for a reset? I am just hunching here but with a year like 2020, I think the answer may be “yes” (and probably in many more ways than just grants)!  There are many different tools and tactics to reset your grant strategy.

I recently wrote a blog, Write Like a JD, where I shared some tips I learned in law school that I utilize in my grant writing. When it was published, I was excited – I always am; there’s just something so satisfying about seeing your work in print. But my heart sank immediately when I saw the cover art that originally accompanied my piece. It was a stock photo of a white guy in a suit sitting behind a desk with a gavel on one side of him and the scales of justice on the other. I’m a lawyer by trade, a grant professional by choice, and an African American woman by birth. I did not see myself reflected in this art that accompanied my work.

I recently attended my first-ever Grant Professionals Association (GPA) national conference – virtually, at that (because, you know, the pandemic). It was three days of absorbing information, dialoguing with colleagues, and notating my personal takeaways. I’m what I’d call, an inbetweener in the grant profession; I’m on the cusp of entering the mid-career mark but not quite there yet years-wise. I went into this conference with excitement and hope and left with certain unanticipated lessons learned. During the opening session, our emcee (Jess Pettitt) encouraged conference attendees to record our ‘circles.’ Although she gave a definition, I took this to basically mean, review our session notes and reflect on lessons learned at the end of each day, and circle the ones that personally resonated the most. I made countless observations and learned a ton, but here’s a snippet of what spoke loudest to me.

I always think of the last quarter of the year as the “learning season” when I attend the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) National Conference and begin thinking about the year past and ahead. This is not an easy process for me. As a grants professional, it is so easy to get bogged down in the daily grind, but this season really forces me and gives me permission to think about my own learning and goals. It reminds me of the Dr. Suess book Oh, The Places You’ll Go. A friend gave me this to me when I graduated college with my bachelor’s degree. At the young age of 20, I could not even begin to imagine where I would go. Some 20 years later, after working as an in-house grant professional and now working in a consultant role, I am using this learning season in 2020 to really reflect on where I have been and where I will still go. There are so many different paths in the grant professional’s work. This just one example – my journey.

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I am the type of person whose brain is constantly thinking, even in my sleep. The harder the problem, the more likely I am to have several nights of sleep interrupted by fragments of thought my brain is trying to work through. Two weeks ago, this was my situation. I was preparing to submit a grant to a funder on the cutting edge of the equity discussion. As a significant funder with a large corpus, the Health Forward Foundation is leading by example and investing in organizations that otherwise might be overlooked by other foundations. My client serves a population not in Kansas City, Missouri proper, but one whose challenges mirrored those living in the middle of the city: high unemployment, low-paying jobs for those who are employed, high mobility for families struggling to pay their rent, and families in and out of homelessness when ends did not always meet. Families struggle with the trauma common to multi-generational poverty. Children struggle with adverse childhood experiences. But there are no mental health resources located in the community, and this is what my grant was trying to address. The grant had been drafted for over a week when the demonstrations against systemic racism began. As I watched, listened, read, and thought, this grant proposal started to bother me. Had I truly reflected the need of the population and the context of the situation? How had I described the population who would receive these services – as those in need or those with a need? Were we truly putting forth the best portrayal of the client organizations we serve? Were we showing the strengths of the clients they serve? Were we doing anything to push back against systemic racism?