Maybe We Need Equity Lasik®, by Maryam Gilmore, JD

Unless you’re a one-person show at your agency, you’re likely dependent on someone else within the organization to provide you with whatever information you need to write a grant (e.g. data, service updates, etc.). Getting that information is oftentimes the most challenging part of our jobs as grant professionals. Once we do receive the information, it’s part of our job as grant professionals to use it strategically to build a strong, hopefully award-winning grant proposal.

So now you’re ready to write, right? While most people don’t just dive in and hammer it out, it’s absolutely ok if you do. But if you’re like most people, you likely need to make some kind of a roadmap, outline, or otherwise get your initial thoughts written down early in your grant preparation stage (before you start writing the proposal). Once you’ve formulated your grant writing strategy, you’re ready to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. That’s where these tips come in. For now, we’ll focus on only what we ‘need’(i.e. the Needs section of the grant proposal).

Someone once told me that grants are given to organizations to solve ‘problems’, not to start programs. Thinking about this from the Needs prospective, we’re talking about using your information to:

  • Demonstrate the cost of the problem in your community.
  • Illustrate your target population and their unique needs, especially as it pertains to your community.
  • Align the ‘problem’ with the mission, objectives, and/or funding priorities of the funder.
  • Talk about the long-reaching effects of the challenge or barrier (and provide data if available).
  • Relate the ‘problem’ to real-life examples.
  • Highlight the strengths and opportunities your agency and project activities bring to the table.

While that’s a solid start, it shouldn’t be your finish. Friends, I dare – no – I double-dog dare you to take it a step further by examining needs from an equity standpoint, or as I like to think of it: an equity framework. Unlike dog food, sunglasses, and clothing, your own ideal or interpretation of equity cannot be ordered online. We as humans and grant professionals develop a sense of evaluating equity within ourselves, organizations, and other people over time and hopefully strive to improve upon it regularly. Personally, I like to think of my own equity framework as a transformative quality improvement tool I use to work towards achieving access, objectivity, and inclusion through my role as a citizen of the world and a grant professional.

Ok, ok I know; all of this sounds good, but what’s it look like. Well, that’s entirely up to you, actually. Maybe a good starting point is stepping back and examining who’s in the room, who’s making decisions, who’s getting left out of the conversation, what your agency is doing well equity-wise, etc. As grant professionals, we all want to ensure that our work helps build equity across the board. Evaluating your work, policies, and the world through an equity framework is an amazing thing and we all need more of it. We also need more people of diverse backgrounds and walks of life (racial, socio-economic, gender/gender non-conforming, etc.) to conduct those evaluations. It’s not enough to examine need through our own sometimes one-dimensional viewpoint. To truly be cognizant and considerate of the population you’re writing for, you must continuously examine and re-examine your equity framework and the frameworks of others.

Some people prefer to think of equity framework differently, like a lens. If you Google the term ‘equity lens’ right now, you will find numerous definitions for it. But a lens can sometimes conjure up a connotation of something that’s temporary rather than permanent. Particularly for those of us who wear glasses and/or contact lenses, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t buy the anti-scratch protectant, your lenses get damaged, and you get new ones. All lenses have to be replaced eventually because they’re not meant to last forever. So maybe rather than an equity lens, what we all really need is equity Lasik®. Afterall, we want people viewing issues through an equity framework all the time, not just when the occasion calls for it.

For more on this topic consider attending our upcoming webinar, “The Power of the Pen: Social Responsibilities of a Grant Professional.

GPC Competency 9: Ability to write a convincing case for funding; Skill 5: Use information provided.