A Little Creativity Goes a Long Way Towards Improving Grants!
Let’s face it: creativity isn’t often associated with grant writing. Whether that’s because grant writing falls under the umbrella of fundraising/development work, grant applications require a lot of precision, or some other reason, they’re just not thought of together. That’s unfortunate because a little creativity inside and outside the grant writing process can go a long way towards improving grant applications!
Creativity gives you the freedom to think outside the box. When you exercise your creativity, you give yourself permission to try things in a new way. The new approach may not always work the way you’d like, but sometimes it ends up working out better than you imagined!
Considering how grant applications are becoming more and more of a word/character limit game, creativity is needed now more than ever to include all the relevant info and make your grant stand out without it reading like a report. Below are some ideas on how to bring creativity into the grants process and exercise creativity outside of the grants process to improve your grant applications.
To bring creativity into your grants process:
Brainstorm with collaborators for each section of the grant. Instructions can be interpreted differently from one person to the next, so it’s always a good idea to hear what other people suggest. Give everyone a sheet of paper, have them write out a quick sentence or two explaining how they’d answer that question, and read them all out loud afterwards - you never know when a brilliant idea you wouldn’t have thought of will turn up!
Encourage collaborators to dream big about changes to the program - then brainstorm how to make it a reality. Often times people will restrict their thoughts and ideas to what’s realistic in their current situation. That’s helpful, but only to a point. If you always restrict your thoughts you’ll never what you can accomplish because you’ve stopped yourself before you’ve begun. Some of the craziest and most outlandish “dream big” ideas can become the basis of fantastic changes to your program (and by default your grant application) if you’re willing to entertain the idea and consider how to make it a reality.
Shadow the program manager a day the program is in session. When people see something day in and day out, they lose sight of the details that make it amazing. If you live close enough that you can work with the program manager in person and the program is currently in session, getting a first hand experience of the program can shift your understanding of it and how you portray it in the grant.
Listen to people in various positions wax poetic about the program. If you can’t experience the program firsthand, speak with people who have different experiences of it: directors of development, program managers, volunteers, participants, etc. Set aside a good chunk of time so they feel free to say anything/everything they want about the program, and hold all your questions until the end. Because these people all experience the program from different perspectives, you can learn new ways to frame the program when writing about it in the narrative section of the application.
To exercise your creativity outside of the grants process:
1. Sing along with songs on the radio (or iTunes or smartphone or mp3 player). There’s 2 reasons for this. First, whether you sing well or totally off key, singing lets you relax and have fun - and you always get more ideas when you’re relaxed and having fun than when you’re stressed. Second, singing forces you to pay attention to the lyrics of a song, and you can learn a lot from how tightly a story is told in song. (Right now I’ve pretty much been listening to Hamilton nonstop - pun fully intended - and it is incredibly inspiring when working with word and character limits).
2. Journal daily. Doing so allows you to let loose and express yourself however you’d like, with no real limits. Aside from being therapeutic, it also gives you a way to work through problems in your head. Sometimes the patterns you subconsciously notice and vent about while journaling can help you approach a problem from a different angle.
3. Respond to writing prompts. Just as with word and character limits, writing prompts challenge you to create a story that fits specific criteria. Responding to them is a uniquely frustrating, yet rewarding experience because they force you to rethink story telling, story framing, and what is really important to your narrative. If word/character limits cause you writer's block, working with writing prompts can help you address them more easily.
4. Watch YouTube videos. There’s practically a YouTube video for any topic you can think of and YouTubers excel at presenting info in an interesting and entertaining way. So cue up a video on a topic you’re interested in and pay attention not only to the content, but the way they present the content. Their graphic effects, sense of humor, timing, and use of social media may just surprise and inspire you when it comes to your own storytelling.
Do you have any other tips or suggestions on how to add some creativity into your life? On how you can use creativity solutions to improve grants? Share them in the comments below so we can all learn from each other!
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