’Tis the season to be grant writing

Not a particularly festive thought. Although the thought of being successful in a grant application surely calls for a festival? What a respectable new addition to the Tasmanian events calendar it would be; The Grant Writers Festival. However, I suspect we’d need to apply for a grant to get it up; “We can confidently expect see a high level of patronage with compensation sought from all who’ve negotiated the tedious yet important process of applying for grant funds (alt: tenders, sponsorships, partnerships), successful or otherwise”. Oh, and I’d be including gin in the budget.

Grant writing. Tendering. Sponsorship requests. Partnership proposals. Ever tried it?

It’s like Shark Tank for Not-for-profits.

What a show that would be eh, people pleading for money not for a commercial gain, but for a social one. Grab the popcorn… and maybe the tissues.

While there are grants out there for private companies, I do wonder how often new organisations set themselves up specifically under a not-for-profit structure simply to be eligible for more funding options, despite it adding an extra level of complexity to the organisation. Is it possible we’d see more appropriate and efficient organisational structures if more funding bodies accepted applications from private organisations too? I’m well aware of the probity concerns here so perhaps it’s a can of worms, but with so much precious time and resources already spent organising ‘sponsoring’ organisations to apply on another’s behalf, is it that different? If a private company can provide a better service, or more importantly, can offer better value for money (with probity issues in full check of the auditor) should the public sector get behind the private sector to devlier? Ok, so maybe the worms are sneaking out of that can now.

There are of course funding options open to any Tom, Dick or Henrietta who has a service or product that meets the funding guidelines, for profit or otherwise. While some people look at grants as some sort of ‘hand out’, I’d argue that the process isn’t too dissimilar from corporates pitching for new clients; the funding body is simply buying the product or service on spec, usually because it helps meet certain KPI’s.  It’s outsourcing.

  • - You take on risk by spending time and money developing proposals and ideas without knowing if you’ll be successful
  • - You give over your precious IP to those who tempt you with the promise of money  
  • - You will have invested time developing precious relationships which will hopefully bring in letters of support and good recommendations
  • - You need to be able to talk to the talk, which in this case, is a special grant writing language
  • - You need to be hardnosed and unashamedly bolshy about your idea as you beg for the dosh to get it rolling

But, the real kicker to get this reality TV show the audience it deserves?  It’s that trait that groups grant writers together - our overt ability to curse. We curse online forms that don’t work properly, word counts that don’t allow for proper explanation, seemingly unsuitable or repeated questions, deadlines, the need for support letters and the following up of said support letters. We curse at ourselves as we transform into a pack of lions circling for that one bit of meat the zoo keeper is dangling in front of us. It doesn’t matter that most of the projects are great ideas, proven to work, using evidenced based practices, filling a gap in services, meeting KPI’s – there is only one bit of meat. If only there was a way to keep all the lions fed?

Which brings me to an unfortunate side effect of this process; grants necessitate competition, rather than collaboration. To upgrade the lion analogy with a pop culture reference; with only so much money to go around, people fight for their projects like a Stark protecting Winterfell. However, in the fantasy land that is Game of Thrones, the Starks, at least, understand there is a better chance fighting the white-walkers when everyone works together.

So, is there a more efficient way? A way that could better spend the millions of dollars spent preparing grant deeds, running grant workshops, marketing grant opportunities, covering legal fees, judging, evaluating and auditing projects? Add to that the time spent within the community understanding the guidelines, modifying projects to fit the scope, finding sponsoring bodies and of course tapping out that word count. If this human resource was spent delivering initiatives rather than writing grants, the lions would be fed ten times over and the white-walkers defeated.

I was recently asked by a prominent Tasmanian politician if I had any ideas of how to make our services work better, to deliver more for Tasmanians. I wonder if the answer is here.

I wonder if we can take advantage of our compact state and assemble a handful people who would work as ‘connectors’ to bring together the significant skills, innovation and proven ideas that exist in our community and get them working better together. A handful of people who could help transform sectors that historically rely on grants, so that there is less duplication, less competition and better outcomes. I wonder if we would then have funding opportunities that applaud collaboration and connection, no matter if you belong to a NFP, public or private organisation.

It’s just logistics after all. 

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