Imposter Syndrome and Grant Professionals by Megan Campbell, MPA, GPC

It’s not news that grant professionals are often underrecognized for their vast knowledge, technical and subject matter expertise, and contributions to organizational success. It’s also not infrequent that grant professionals are excluded from project planning or meetings with potential funders until late in project development when they are asked to “just” find funding or write a grant. For many individuals, that lack of validation can often be internalized as a lack of acceptance or value. For others, the recognition received is passed on to others they believe are more worthy than themselves. This is especially true for women, BIPOC professionals, and those who have been subjected to microaggressions in their community and workplace (but that’s an entirely separate subject worthy of its own time and space). When highly qualified, high-achieving professionals question their value, competence, or adequacy to successfully perform work that they are 100% capable of performing, it leads to self-doubt, negative self-image, burnout, and workplace toxicity. While not a recognized mental health disorder – you won’t find this in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the common term for these unfounded feelings of inadequacy is imposter syndrome.

While being externally recognized as a valuable team asset is important, what can grant professionals do internally to avoid this phenomenon of feeling like an imposter despite their qualifications? The American Psychological Association (APA) offers these suggestions:

  • Consider the facts. Think about the hours of training, years of experience, or credentials you obtained to become a grant professional. “Zoom out” and remind yourself of where you were five years ago and all you’ve accomplished to be who you are today.
  • Share your feelings. Identify those whom you respect as trusted peers, mental health professionals, family, or friends, and share your insecurities. Seek out like-minded professionals to network with (look for nearby chapters of the Grant Professionals Association or Association of Fundraising Professionals). Support, validation, and empathy go a long way in learning how to cope with negative self-talk. Jim Kwik, learning expert and author of Limitless, said, “Don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from.”
  • Celebrate your successes. Take time to applaud yourself and own your contributions and achievements. Did you hit “submit” on the grant proposal that has been the bane of your existence for weeks? Do something fun for yourself or call a colleague and share how great this accomplishment feels. Did you get positive reviewer remarks on a grant or an email of kudos from a colleague? Print it, hang it above your desk, and use it to remember that you are worthy.
  • Let go of perfectionism. Ouch, this is a tough one. What are grant professionals if not perfectionists? Let’s just lean into the words of the wise folks at APA, “When you don’t meet your standards, resist the urge to see your failure as an exposure.” Reframe failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Oftentimes, you are the only one who thinks you failed; in which case you certainly shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Mistakes can lead to growth.
  • Cultivate self-compassion. Be cognizant of when those imposter feelings arise and how you are responding to them – internally and externally. Practice mindfulness and create comforting space in your environment where you can regroup after challenges or stress and remind yourself to take care of you.

For another perspective, AGS blog contributor Shauna O’Toole recently offered some great and practical ideas for how organizational systems can better support the human capital they have in grant professionals.

If you are interested in grant services, federal review services, or are interested in our career opportunities, Julie Assel, CGMS, GPC, President/CEO, will be happy to talk with you about this opportunity and provide you with a quote for grant services.

This blog post is aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills.

Competency #8: Knowledge of methods and strategies that cultivate and maintain relationships between fund-seeking and recipient organizations and funders

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