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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

Overcoming the Perfectionist Demon
Dot the “i” and cross the “t” but don’t obsess over your next grant proposal

By Jane Hexter

It’s that time of year again when sleep is at a premium and you are thankful for the kind soul who identified caffeine.

And it’s also a time when we can feel shattered, frustrated and completely overwhelmed by the prospect of looming deadlines and a lot at stake. And it’s under these circumstances that our worst tendencies have a field day.

I’ve noticed that a lot of grant developers tend to have a perfectionist streak. This is a good thing considering that there are people on the other side who are measuring margins and tossing out proposals because they are missing 1 of 26 signatures.

But we can also be plagued by the perfectionist demon when we are under stress.

So, what can we do when the demon raises its ugly head?

Well, I try to focus on why I am doing this in the first place. When I remember the estuary that is going to be cleaned, children that will be educated, or lives that will be saved by a new hospital wing it puts it all in perspective for me.

I am firm believer in the theory that all actions are grounded in either fear or love. And, that actions grounded in love trump the other kind. Period.

So, when working on an application I keep my eyes firmly planted on the prize. The prize of social change that will impact generations to come.

Keeping focused wards off the perfectionist demon

For me, it is crucial that during planning we envision programs that will enable our team to realize some of their higher ideals. It can be tempting to plan a program we think will get funded rather than one that we know our community needs. Don’t.

Those proposals don’t get funded. The ones that get funded are those in which the planning team’s commitment and skill shine through. They are the proposals in which the reviewer can feel a fundamental connection between the people being served, your team’s passion, and their own sense of the higher good.

What comes from the heart goes to the heart. And when you can touch both the mind and the heart of the reviewer your proposal will succeed. It’s not about manipulation it’s about connection. It’s about honestly describing your community’s needs and your enthusiastic assurance to use your skill and experience to create meaningful change.

When your planning team uses its expertise to plan programs that will have an impact, then your only task is to explain to the reviewer why you will succeed.

Assigning your perfectionist demon a task

When my perfectionist demon takes center stage, I say “thanks for the appearance, appreciate your help with making sure we get all 27 signatures.” Then I assign it the task of the editing and critiquing since that is what these demons are so good at.

And then I move on to remembering that this is about helping each other move through life and encouraging my team to dream big and plan effectively.

Jane Hexter, President of Grants Champion has written well over 50 successful proposals and raised over $22 million for her clients in the last few years alone. Her clients include school districts, higher education institutions, and human service agencies throughout the U.S.


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