Who Tells Your Story? Applying Lessons from Hamilton to Grant Writing
Updated: Mar 9, 2019
“Who Lives, Who Dies Who Tells Your Story” is the last song in the Broadway sensation Hamilton. While all of the songs contribute to Hamilton’s legacy, it’s only in this final song that we learn why his legacy is well known today: because of the people who survived him, carried on his work, and purposefully told his story. All grant writers can learn a lesson from this.
It's easy to view grant applications from the perspective of a nonprofit organization - after all, in most instances that's who a grant writer is representing and regularly in contact with. Because of this, there's a tendency to focus on the nonprofit's program and strong financial need instead of the bigger picture: when you’re grant writing, you’re telling a story to a specific audience. As you craft this story, you really need to view the application from the funder’s point of view to determine what they are looking for.
How much time do you, as a funder, have to review this application?
What type of story do you want to read? (hopeful, depressing, simple, complicated, inspiring, direct, etc.)
What’s the most important information for you to learn from the application?
Is the applicant capable of running a program of this size?
What specifically would your grant money go towards?
Does the applicant have a plan for future funds, or is their financial plan not well thought out?
Will this program start or continue to leave a permanent mark in the community?
Will it reflect positively on you, as a funder, to be associated with this organization?
Once you start thinking from the funder’s perspective, it’s easier to determine relevant information for the application. You’ll also be able to frame your story more easily for the greatest emotional impact.
So the next time you’re grant writing (or listening to the Hamilton soundtrack) consider this: Our entire impression of Hamilton is based on the perception of people who survived him. His wife Eliza played an enormous role in this, carefully cultivating how she wanted Hamilton to be known to history and succeeding in her efforts.
As grant writers we play the role of Eliza, crafting the story of nonprofits. It’s our job to not only determine what that story will be, but how to frame it in a way that makes an impact. Thankfully, it only takes a small shift in perspective to do this.
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