I’m upset that I’m not perfect and I’m also very tired.
The Invisible Developer asked me tonight if I had a list of all of the grants that I’d had funded in my career. For some reason, he thought I should have kept track of that. I told him that no one cared, not even me. The first few years, I would list in my c. v., “Over two million in funded projects.” “Over three million in funded projects.” Eventually, I felt like one of those McDonalds signs that keep changing, “Over 427 billion served.”
So, if I mentioned grant writing at all, I would just list a half-dozen or so funded projects. Really, once you’ve brought in over $7.5 million, people don’t care so much about the details. Dr. Erich Longie, who was president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College when I worked for them used to say we had gotten over $30 million. I honestly forget. I sat down and wrote whatever I could remember and came up with about $19 million, but I’m sure there are some from 15 or 20 years ago that I forgot. Of that $19 million, $15 million were grants I wrote with no help whatsoever. That is, I sat in front of computer, swore, wrote, added numbers, wrote some more, swore some more and in the end produced 100 or 200 pages that were good enough that someone gave the funding to run a program and pay people’s salaries for five more years. The other $4 million, I wrote large parts of but other people helped with budget or some other part.
I know I have forgotten a bunch, and I don’t even care to look. When I was trying to come up with a list, I saw one grant for $1.5 million in my list of examples and thought, “Oh yeah, I had totally forgotten about that.”
And yet, today I made a mistake on a grant and I kept thinking what an idiot I am.
I used to make a lot of money writing grants for people. There was one year when every single proposal I wrote got funded. I was the flavor of the month. Everyone wanted me to write grants for them. Of course, the first time I wrote one that didn’t get funded, the client was pretty upset. How could that happen?
In an average year, 85% of the proposals I wrote got funded. I’m not as great as that makes me sound. I was selective in what competitions I chose. If there wasn’t at least a one in seven chance of getting funded, I didn’t apply. When I started, my cut-off was one in five, but things have gotten more competitive. (That is, I would look at the number of proposals they funded last year and the number of applications they received and calculate the odds. Some competitions fund as few as 3% of the applicants. I wouldn’t bother with these.) Still, hitting 85% when only 14-20% get funded is a pretty good track record.
I don’t think the mistake that I made will keep the grant from getting funded. It was possible to submit a revision, since it was before the deadline, and I did that, on time. Still, I felt like an idiot.
Confession: I don’t really like grant writing
I’ve never liked grant writing and I’ve only ever met one person who did. He was very good at it but he’s retired now and probably nearly 80. It’s tedious work. You read 100+ pages of instructions, write 100 pages to fit a formula – Needs Assessment, Objectives, Project Design, Evaluation, Adequacy of Resources, Personnel. Fill in every box and bubble. Cite research to back up everything.
This is probably why I’ve never been very sympathetic when my children complained about their schoolwork being boring or hard. The fun, easy stuff we do for free. The boring or hard stuff, you need to pay. Grant writing is both boring AND hard. I did it for years because I was a widow with three young children and I needed the money. I’m grateful that I was able to support my children through private schools, good universities and the Olympics.
The only grants I write any more are for people I have worked with for years. Don’t call and ask me if I will write one for you because the answer is “No.”
No matter how many millions I hit, I feel terrible when I miss
Often, I’m writing grants for institutions where people are on soft money. That means, if the grant I write isn’t good enough, people lose their jobs. So, people somewhere else who did get the grant keep their jobs, but I don’t know THOSE people.
My point, and I do have one
I was going to write about PROC DATASETS today, but I wrote about this instead because it has been on my mind.
I think I have this in common with a lot of successful people – no matter how much money I bring in, how many good papers I write, no matter how many keynotes “knock ’em dead”, no matter how many grants get funded – if I slip once, I think I’m a failure.
Realistically, I know this is not true. If this particular grant doesn’t get funded, I’ll still have written tens of millions of dollars in successful proposals. This struck me the LAST time I had something not funded, over a year ago. I was feeling bad about it, and happened to be looking for something in a filing cabinet. (Yes, we have filing cabinets.) Going through those, I came upon file after file of data, reports, budget reports, from one funded project after another. It occurred to me that I had a LOT of successful projects over the years. It’s like this proposal I just finished. I think it was excellent work but there were one or two mistakes, and they weren’t even fatal mistakes (I hope!)
Here is my advice – successful people tend to immediately forget their successes and focus on the next challenge. That may be part of what makes them successful but it can also be a bit depressing if you forget the successes of the past when you are confronted with a failure in the present it looms unrealistically large. So, yes, fix your mistakes, learn from them, but also take some time every day to pat yourself on the back for the many, many mountains you’ve climbed in life.