Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tales of Horror from the World of Grant Writing

No one knows the trouble I’ve seen. As a freelance grant writer, working at home alone, I have few opportunities to discuss the true-life horror stories of my professional existence. Sometimes I talk to other contractual grant writers and we swap our tales from the crypt. Usually I have no one to talk to about my trials and tribulations. Ron lends a sympathetic ear, but he doesn’t know the trade well enough to fully comprehend what I go through.

Last week I wrapped up a job writing the narrative for a proposed $22,000,000 project. At least I thought I had wrapped it up until it reappeared to bite me in the ass this week. The lovely doctor I had worked with to write the narrative describing the project flew to Europe last week. Immediately after his departure, I turned in a carefully honed, polished narrative we had developed together over the course of five weeks. Having completed my job, I billed the company that had hired me to write the narrative for the grant for their client and called it quits. Everything ship-shape and tied up with a bow, right? Not.

On Tuesday the project manager (from the company that subcontracted to me) emailed to tell me that a new team had stepped in to take over the project upon the departure of the lovely doctor (deadline was close of biz on Thursday), and the new team had rewritten the narrative over the weekend, thus the project manager wondered if I would read the new version to make sure it was still compliant with the guidance and regulations for the grant proposal. Even though I had completed the project and billed for my time, I dropped everything and read the new narrative.

I soon discovered that a terrifying creature from the technology lagoon had hijacked the project within hours of the doctor boarding his plane. What a mess. She sliced out large sections of material so that she could make room to insert pages of technology jargon-speak about data warehousing and other technology infrastructure for the project. She took an attractive humanistic client-centered project design and reframed it as a high-tech data collection research project. Some of the material she wrote is incomprehensible to the lay reader. What on earth is “outlier detection”? Sounds sci-fi. What exactly is “metadata”? “Iterative design process”? Grammar, punctuation, and capitalization errors abound; inconsistencies throughout; and typos everywhere. The narrative is now screamingly sloppy.

I am so traumatized by the co-opting of my beautiful work that I am writing this blog about it. I wonder what the kindly doctor, who worked so painstakingly on this project with me, will think when he sees the mishmash-surprise that was submitted yesterday to the funding agency. I guess I shouldn’t care. I did my job. I got paid. I provided an excellent product (even if it was subsequently mangled). But I do care. So much money was spent by the organization to pay for the development of this grant by me and my colleagues at the company for whom I subcontracted. And the funding at stake ($22 million for goodness sake) is huge. Not to mention the benefits the organization’s clients/consumers (an underserved extremely needy demographic) would realize if the project were funded.

This is just the latest incident and the one that is disturbing me right now. I have a treasure trove of shocking, wild, hilarious, horrifying, and unbelievable stories from my thirteen years as a grant writer. Here is a for-instance. There was a time, back in the day, when original signatures were required on hard copy grant applications sent FedEx to the funder (now everything is electronic submission). I would FedEx the signature pages to the client with post-it arrows that said “sign here” on them in all the spots that needed a signature. The client signed, FedExed the pages back to me, I went to the copy shop, made all the copies of the proposal, and shipped it FedEx to the funder in DC. So one time I received the signature pages back and the client had signed his name ON THE POST-IT ARROWS. When I peeled the post-its off, the signatures came with them. Argh. I had to get permission to sign all the pages on his behalf because we didn’t have time to redo. What a bimbo. Or there was the time that I was working with a Native Tribe on a grant and they fired the tribal fiscal officer three days before the grant was due (escorted her off the Rez and wouldn’t allow her back on). I drove two hours to the tribal office and hacked into the woman’s computer with the help of the IT guy to get the budget out so we could submit the grant. Sheesh.

I should write a book entitled “Adventures in Grant Writing.” It would come as a surprise to many people to learn that grant writing is a nail-biting, cliff-hanger, seat-of-your pants, landing-a-burning-plane-on-a-melting-iceberg kind of profession. I want a purple heart, an honorary doctorate degree, a congressional medal of honor, and a case of Lake Champlain dark chocolate with almonds, and I want them now.

1 comment:

Jennie said...

I hear ya', Amy! You should start a FB group where we could share war stories and best practices. I cringed-laughed at your "sign here" post-it story. I had a client come to me b/c their previous proposal had been tossed in the trash only b/c they had numbered the blank back sides of the pages. No other reason. There is insanity out there!