I just handed it over. Across the table, it was an impulse donation, for sure. But he had me, without trying, without asking.
Here are my reasons why:
-It was a good story, well told,
-I had the image of tragic teen suicides in my mind, the school friend of mine who did the same. In front of a train, because of money issues.
-I identified with the local guy who steps up and does something about it. Who says ‘no more, not in my community’, I want that to happen. I want to be that man.
-He told the story with heart, He cared about it. You could see that, he told me about his connection with the ‘how’ they have chosen to deal with this rash of suicides. How he loves sport, how it had taught him things, how he coaches and how he believes it can help.
-He was also humble, with a modest goal, that he was nearly at, I wanted him to succeed, I believed in his goal. So I helped.
I came across this quote today:
“Good proposals will tell (a grantmaker) what you see when you go to work everyday,” said Hicks. The sign of a good grant proposal is it reads like a mystery novel, he said. “You want to turn the page to find out what happens.”
And that’s the challenge. Exposing the extraordinary in the everyday. I’m trying to do it now, show an average case of what we see and do at work everyday but make it gripping, but mostly it’s not. It’s everyday. But that reminds me of another quote, Bill Gates this time I think “We all overestimate what we can do in a year, but underestimate what we can do in a decade”. Problem is an average fundraiser stays with an organisation for 18 months (the internet said so, but I forget where) so we are lousy at having that decade long view that can see the transformations that happen over decades.
We need to institutionalise the practice of recording stories about our long term achievements. I did this on a retreat a while ago. We all sat around the campfire at the end of a long day of cold BBQ and I asked everyone in turn what brought them to this field, and what their best experience at this organisation had been. I’m still using the stories that came out. They tend to come out relatively unformed, but the things that sustain people are what we should be talking about. And hopefully what will win us the big grants!
Here’s where some of the everyday incredible happens:
I like that I write for a living. But as with all wordsmiths the words are the elegant swan like results you see, the bulk of the work is the messy stuff that happens under water.
A few months ago I went on a course on writing better grant applications, ‘Improving your proposals’ not a lot of it was new, but it ignited my enthusiasm again, like all good courses should. What it did do was remind me of the fiction writing class I took just after I finished my dissertation. ‘start in the middle of the action’ was the overlap phrase that joined the two things, fiction writing and grant writing.
A few months ago my wife announced she had applied to graduate school to study journalism. Being supportive, but knowing nothing about journalism I turned to Amazon.co.uk to see how I could help. Regretfully the book that turned up has helped me much more than her. ‘Telling true stories’ Edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, it’s a masterful series of tips, hints and explanations by some of the best narrative journalists working today. It has taught me a lot about grant writing.
The whole book lives in that overlap between writing fiction and writing grants, telling true stories. Both forms of writing have the goal of grasping the attention of the reader; giving them pleasure; amazement, and making them care about the fate of the heros, or villains, or underdogs of the piece.
Reading more of it this morning I stated thinking about the engine of the drama you write about that drives the story. For grant writing I feel it is the decision implicit in every application; will you, dear reader, allow this story to have the happy ending I am trying to depict? It’s a participatory story, the reader, the grant maker, defines the ending.
As for the beginning and the middle that’s up to me. Taking the reader on a journey up the ladder of abstraction. connecting the gleaming details of the good work we are doing with the big ideas, the lofty goals that started our charity, thats the connection I have to draw.
It’s my job to understand the background, get to know the players and align the facts and see where the good will happen, to know it well enough that I can show, not tell in a way that’s obvious, real, accurate and nuanced enough to meet the needs of the child and the doctor at the dinner table*. That’s where this book is so useful. Written by journalists that specialise in telling true stories, and at it’s heart that’s what grant writing is all about.
I have to find the small, human details that will show them, not tell them, that this is an important story that needs the happy ending only they can provide. It’s made its way on to my book shelf, well book-pile at the moment , I believe it will earn it’s place there very quickly.
* So imagine you are at a dinner party and you have to explain a medical condition, say Heart Disease to two people seated in front of you, on your right is a doctor, an expert in his field, and keenly aware of the details of the issue. on your left, playing with his dinner on the white china plate is a child, about 6 years old. Your challenge is to describe the condition, so the child understands it but the doctor doesn’t think you got it wrong.