Surviving and Thriving The Anxiety Causing Grant Panel Review

The room is dark except for a projection screen that displays a slide outlining your proposal. Fourteen people sit at a conference table: eleven-panel members and three staff. The leader calls the name of your organization. You stand and move forward. At the podium, you introduce yourself. An icon on the screen flashes, “Questions. Questions. Questions.” The panel members shoot. And, you field a dozen questions (seems like more!) about your 63-page application, your reports from last year and anything that pops into the minds of the panelists or staff and strikes them as relevant.

It’s the grant panel review. You want to help your organization to receive the funds. You want to help the panel and staff to understand the importance of your work. How can you excel in this setting? Here, are three of more than a dozen guidelines we offer to nonprofits with whom we consult, to help them shine in this potentially anxiety-causing situation.

  1. Prepare. Review your materials—an obvious suggestion. Here is a new twist. As your review them, note areas to provide updates. Where has the situation changed since you wrote the grant, e.g., you added a staff member with outstanding credentials. In your materials, do you read any vague answers to clarify? Finally, what questions would you have if you were a panel member? Prepare how to respond. Prioritize your points.
  2. The Messages. Identify up to three key messages. What do panel members need to know—and remember after you leave the room? While “#1 Prepare” is about supplying critical details, messages are main ideas that carry emotional content. How will you change lives? How does your proposal meet the donor’s goals? Why is it urgent to fund this proposal this cycle? During the panel review in as many answers as possible include key messages.
  3. Use We. During your presentation think and use “we.” This word embraces the audience (and those they represent) in your work. It helps you to remember that they truly are potential partners and not, despite their numbers and the room’s darkness, inquisitors. However, using “we” is more than just tossing it into the conversation. Use a “we” that views the meeting as an opportunity to engage the panel members and staff in a deeper relationship with your organization.

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