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Channeling Escher: Making Planning a Work of Art


M.C. Escher's work has always intrigued me. The combination of pristine geometric shapes and creative perspective holds my attention. It allows my mind to jump from the science to the art and back again. Each time I revisit the work, a different aspect stands out and speaks to a different part of who I am. My experience of Escher's work is deepened by reading what he has said about his work.
 

Aside from helping pass an art appreciation class, thinking about Escher's work and words helps me structure my own art: grant writing. Data, trends, strategic plans, and industry standards form a framework for my writing. But at some point, the programs I describe must break through the theoretical into illustrations of the practical impact on the lives of real people. Our challenge is to channel the talents of M.C. Escher so that our readers walk away understanding the order and beauty of the program and mission we describe.
 
“We adore chaos, because we love to produce order.”
 
When composing the project description and implementation sections, our task is to bring order to the ups and downs of a program or project's structure, successes, and weaknesses. The act of writing demands order, because words constrain ideas to their own definition. While one word might seem right to us, our readers ultimately hold power over their interpretation.
 
In a February conversation with a board member, my boss used a term that peppers our grant requests: “volunteerism.” In my organization, volunteerism refers to our clients, who have moderate-to-severe developmental disabilities and gain valuable experience (and build their résumés) by volunteering at local non-profit organizations. However, our board member thought that we were referring to other community members coming to our organization to volunteer. It was a stumbling block that could not be undone, despite the clarity of the subsequent paragraphs. As a result of this conversation, we massaged our messaging to use the term “Workforce Development through Community Service.” These words brought the goal of the program into focus immediately, rather than forcing our readers to hunt for it.
 
“The things I want to express are so beautiful and pure.”
 
Before I became a grant writer, I was a program coordinator that allowed me to serve and get to know more than 100 of our clients over the course of two years. The stories, successes, and challenges that I experienced propel my current work and give me a unique context for my writing. I remember the beauty, of seeing our mission fulfilled, while I am writing a proposal. However, that beauty and impact must be translated into words for people who have not had first-hand experience with my organization's services.
 
Last week, I realized that in a six-page proposal I had not included even one success story of the individuals we serve. You could hear echoes of achievement through the statistics and program design, but those elements only prove a theoretical success. We needed a person to bring the story together. By talking with staff, and hearing Sam and his mom talk about his story, I was reconnected with the current impact of our services. In one paragraph, Sam's story illustrates the program design and implementation process in a way that resonates with both the intellect and emotions.
 
“At moments of great enthusiasm it seems to me that no one else in the world has ever made something this beautiful and important.”
 
The service that grant writers provide should always be subservient to the mission. In that subservience, the beauty of the process shines through not because of eloquent words or superior wisdom, but because of the beauty of the mission we serve. And that is a real work of art.

 
 

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