Grant Guru Tip #2 by Gary Carnow: Grantwriting as a Creative Process

Grantwriting to me is a lot like problem solving. Most grant proposals follow a fairly typical order of presentation. Usually there is a RFP (request for proposal) or RFA (request for application) to guide you. I begin by printing or making several copies of the application and then I read the RFP from cover to cover. Although most grant proposals have limits to the number of pages that you submit, it is not unusual to find that the RFP is fifty pages long or longer.

The second time I read through the RFP, I take a yellow marker and underline all action words. The action words are helpful because they tell me what I will have to do. The next part of my process is very difficult to describe. This is the creative process. The creative process is an elusive process. Rarely can I be called upon to be creative on command. If I could only Tivo my right brain and select when needed, I would really have a powerful tool. For me, I usually need to take a break, a walk or engage in some kind of mindless activity. This allows me to let the ideas begin to flow.

I do consider myself a creative person. I believe I have an on-going desire to search for what’s new and play with my knowledge and my many experiences. I like trying different ways to solve problems. I especially enjoy solutions to problems that seem to come only when I’ve torn it all down and started over again.

I’m told that creative people tend to want to be know-it-alls. The creative person never knows when to call upon his or her many interests. It may be next year, next week, or tomorrow afternoon. I’m a list-maker and a brainstormer. I’ve also had a lot of practice playing with ideas and reading a considerable amount about the creative of process. Many of you may be familiar with some of the great books out there on creative thinking. I have loved Roger Van Oech’s book “A Whack on the Side of the Head” ever since it was first published in 1983. “Whack” is humorous, with great illustrations and lots of interesting examples. His follow-up book “A Kick in the Seat of the Pants,” published in 1986, provides even more suggestions to help you become creative. Van Oech has also published a series of cards, one called the “Creative Whack Pack” and one called the Innovative Whack Pack.” Both of these decks are full of great tips and are fun to shuffle through. I was able to attend one of Roger von Oech’s seminars several years ago. He began with an exercise that he called Mental Sex. It went like this. Roger posed to the group the following multiple-choice question: when was the last time you came up with a creative idea? Was it this morning, yesterday, last week, last month, or last year? What was your creative idea? Finally, he asked, what motivates you to be creative? Try this exercise around the dinner table and see what you and your family come up with.

Recently, I have also enjoyed Michael Michalko’s book Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2nd Edition, published in paperback in 2006). Michalko also has created a “Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck.” Currently, I am in the process of reading “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” by Daniel Pink, first published in 2005. Pink states “We’ve moved from an economy built on people’s backs to and economy built on people’s left brains to what is emerging today: an economy and society built more and more on people’s right brains.”

The creative process is at the heart of proposal development. What separates a mundane proposal from a proposal that shines and sparkles is the creative touch. It may be a creative solution to a problem or an innovative approach. The grant reader and ultimately, the grant funder will gravitate towards the creative proposal.

Here are a few ways to get and keep the creative juices flowing. An old joke goes like this: ideas are like in-laws; you never know when they’re coming over to visit. So welcome your ideas. Invite them in. Write them down. Keep a notebook of your ideas. Look at the blank pages as your way to get the creative ideas flowing. Ask yourself, “what if…? This getting of ideas is a critical part of your work. These ideas will form patterns. Woody Allen has a line in his film “Annie Hall” where he says: “Right now it’s only a notion, but I think I can get the money to make it into a concept, and later turn it into an idea.” Write down your notions, develop your concepts and later, you can turn them into ideas.

What motivates you to be creative? Please share your thoughts with our community of grantwriters.