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Narrative Tunnel Vision

Anyone who has worked in the grant profession for any stretch of time can tell you a grant-related horror story, and almost all of those horror stories probably have something to do with the very last step in the grant process: submission

  • The foundation's online grant portal glitched and deleted your perfectly crafted 10-page narrative.
  • You misread a deadline and realized—too late—that your grant was actually due three weeks ago.
  • The staff member in charge of drafting the budget went on a Caribbean vacation the week before the deadline, leaving behind an incomplete spreadsheet.

We all have one. Something I am beginning to learn (after a few of my own ghastly submission-related incidents) is that these glitches can usually be avoided if you do not succumb to tunnel vision. Within the context of the grant profession, tunnel vision can simply be defined as “getting so caught up in writing the grant's narrative that you lose sight of all the other components of submitting the grant package successfully and on time.”

As grant professionals, we are all aware that the grant process involves a lot more than writing a compelling narrative (though that is a substantial piece of it). From compiling supporting documents, to meaningful stewardship with the potential funder, to coordinating with members of your grant team, submitting a proposal package contains many components. If you as the grant professional develop tunnel vision while focusing on the narrative and neglect any one of these other components, it can easily derail a successful submission.

Here are a few pieces of the submission process that I focus on, which helps me avoid narrative tunnel vision:

  • Timeline: I construct the grant timeline in the grants management software used by my agency. I first clearly notate the grant's due date. Working backwards, when does the grant's final draft need to be completed? When do other team members need to finish their contributions? When do I need to begin drafting the narrative? Working backwards allows me to carefully plan and allocate my time, whereas blindly moving forward without a detailed timeline has derailed my submission in the past.
  • Communication with my team. Are they having an issue with the logic model? Do they fully comprehend the program's intended mission? Are they aware of the grant's deadline and when their contributions are due? I make every effort to stay on the grid and not to lose communication with my team members.

  • Submission method. Does the grant need to be submitted online, regular mail or in person? I never wait until the last second to verify the submission method. If the grant is submitted through an online portal, I allot a few extra days in case there are technical difficulties. If it is via regular mail, I give myself a week or two in case the postal service is slowed down by temperamental weather like snowstorms and hurricanes. (I go to great lengths to avoid putting myself in a situation in which I appear unprofessional by having to ask a funder for a deadline extension. This is a violation of GPA's competency of “raising the level of professionalism of grant developers.”

Grant professionals are first and foremost project managers. Grant writing is much more than sitting in front of a computer and painstakingly crafting the perfect narrative; it involves the coordination of different people, organizations, timelines, and pieces of the proposal package. Remembering that will help you avoid tunnel vision and submit your grant on time.

What are some ways in which you avoid tunnel vision during the grant process?
Colin Fleming is the Grants & Development Associate at the Olmsted Center for Sight, an agency serving over 2,500 blind and visually impaired individuals from across Western New York. 


By: Holly Hayes
On: 09/27/2017 10:53:46
Good suggestions, and I would add, do the attachments FIRST. I've seen many situations in which attachments were left until last because the assumption was that they were just simple forms, but sometimes when you get around to them they turn out to be more time-consuming than they first appeared.
By: Diane Calabria
On: 09/27/2017 11:51:46
Good article Colin. Another thing I do is advise the team working on the proposal (who are usually grant seeking beginners) is that a proposal usually takes longer than first guess so they should build in a time cushion for revisions. I can't recall a single instance in which someone later came back and said they didn't need that extra cushion.
By: Douglas Reedy
On: 10/02/2017 13:08:59
Colin, you are absolutely correct in characterizing grants management as Project Management. It may be that some training in project management basics could benefit us all in the grants profession. Being a project manager for almost twenty years, I can honestly say that I am still learning better project management techniques all the time. And applying them!

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