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Another Lesson for Grant Writers from KU Basketball: Every Organization Needs a Great Grant Writing Point Guard

My beloved KU Jayhawks just got bounced from the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament by a much lower ranked team, V.C.U. As much as I favor the Jayhawks, who would probably beat V.C.U. nine out of ten times, V.C.U. was the better team today and deserved to win. Having watched most of the KU games this year, it became obvious early in the season that the team lacked a stellar point guard, even though they only lost two games coming into today’s fiasco.*

For those who do not follow college hoops, point guards run the offense, distributing the ball and acting as the “Field General,” even more so than the quarterback on a football team. Basketball is so fast that the point guard has to make decisions on the fly, maximizing the potential of the offense while blunting the defense. The best point guards can also create their own shots by breaking down defenses. This year, KU’s starting point guard is good but not great, meaning that several guards shared the duties. This is another way of saying that KU lacked a true point guard.

There is good analogy between a great point guard and an organization’s grant writing efforts. If a nonprofit or public agency is committed to getting grants, they need a quality point guard to run the grant writing offense. As I have pointed out in many recent posts (see, for example, “Federal Budget Battle Unfolds, But the RFPs Just Keep Rollin’ Along“), the competition for grants is even more ferocious than normal. This makes it essential for every grant applicant to have a great grant writing point guard to keep the organization’s Eyes on the Prize. It doesn’t matter if the grant writing point guard is the Executive Director, Grants Coordinator, or a grant writing consultant like Seliger + Associates, as long as the grant writing point guard keeps the ball in play and the focus on scoring. They need to coordinate the whole organization to make sure that it maximizes its opportunities and doesn’t let easy “points,” or, in this case, money, slip away.

The challenge of keeping an organizational focus on grant writing can be seen in the differing behaviors of two Community Action Agencies (CAAs) we’re working for. As I pointed out recently in “Heavens to to Murgatroyd: Grant Competition Is About to Heat Up for Community Services Block Grant Grant (CSBG) and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Recipients,” CAAs are under enormous pressure because of threatened cutbacks to their core funding streams.

In the case of CAA client # 1, we are trying to finish a non-deadline assignment we started six months ago. Our contact, who is the Executive Director and his own grant writing point guard, is totally consumed with potential budget cuts. He’s effectively abandoned our project and, as far as I can tell, his overall grant writing efforts. In other words, he’s not handling the ball well. Regarding CAA Client # 2, the Executive Director is also the grant writing point guard. She is completely ignoring the maelstrom of potential budget cuts and focusing like a laser on the many RFPs on the street. We just finished two proposals for her and are currently writing another one. She is a consummate point guard and is distributing to ball to all shooters, not dribbling in the back court or making a bad out of bounds pass.

Even a perennial basketball powerhouse like KU can be easily derailed by lack of focus by their point guard and the general fear of tomorrow that paralyzed the team today. The best point guards keep their eyes focused on what is immediately in front of them while not losing sight of the whole court. If you organization’s grant writing team is transfixed about macro budget cutbacks that is out of their control, it is best to get their attention back to what really matters—what grants funds are available today and how can you get them. Otherwise, like CAA client # 1, you will find yourself out of time and out of money, while CAA client # 2 and others like her, race by you for an easy transition bucket. The grant funds are there for the taking.

* Never having been an athlete, I am always careful in my criticism of athletes. In some ways, being a grant writer is like being an athlete, particularly like a golfer or pitcher, in that one goes one-on-one against the “RFP opponent” to produce a winning proposal. While the grant writer may have other team members—who gather research, complete forms, edit, etc.—nonetheless, she’s in the grant writing arena along with her iMac listening to Pandora Radio on her Bose QuietComfort 3 Headphones and facing the RFP alone. When criticizing athletes, grant writers, novelists, fighter pilots or others engaged in solitary conflicts against long odds, remember this Teddy Roosevelt extract from his “Citizenship In a Republic Speech,” “The Man in the Arena”:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.