I’m often asked what makes a grant proposal stand out above the rest. I think there are several factors but one of them is to keep in mind that “people give to people not programs” and act accordingly. Funders like to give money to people who will succeed. And one indicator of successful person is someone who has mastered their craft.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell makes a fascinating argument that success isn’t the result of genius or personality but the environment in which people live. He argues that some people just happened to be born in the right time and place to succeed in a certain field when the opportunity arises.
The 10,000 hour rule or Practice Makes Perfect
Gladwell asserts that there is a 10,000 rule. He points out that numerous studies show that mastery of anything requires 10,000 hours of experience (which roughly translates into 10 years of grindingly hard work). Once you reach that 10,000 hours point, you have the skill to know what you are doing and can spot opportunities or diverge from the standard path with confidence.
He argues that successful people just happen to be in the right place and at the right time to develop mastery at an earlier age than their peers so that they take advantage of emerging opportunities.
He gives the example of Bill Gates, who spent hours and hours and hours in the computing lab at his high school and the University of Washington near his home so that over time he had developed the computing technical skill that was highly unusual for his generation. Or the Beatles who had played for 8 hours a night in Hamburg and had performed together 1200 times before their big break in 1964.
The Art of Mastery
But true mastery can’t be wholly taught. A friend of mine is a plumber. While you could teach me the ins and outs of plumbing I don’t have strong spatial skills and find it hard to conceptualize how physical objects fit together.
But my friend looks at objects and sees how they work. By teaching him the technical knowledge of a plumber it uncovered or polished off a natural skill. For me, I could learn about pipes and connectors and over time learn to do the job but it wouldn’t be tapping into a natural well within me.
What Have You Mastered?
Look closely at your life and ask what skills or craft have you mastered?
Don’t discount the experience that you gained from school or your family. It might be that you are a master at building friendships or telling stories. Or maybe, you have worked in your field for 10,000 hours and are truly an expert in your field.
Show Your Mastery
Show your mastery when you are grant seeking.
For example, when you speak to program officers let them know that you know what you’re doing in the conversation. And in the application, make sure that it comes through loud and clear that you understand the nuances of your work, have connections in the field and therefore have an excellent foundation on which to build the program or organization that you are seeking funding for.
If you are young and haven’t mastered anything yet, don’t worry
There are other ways to show funders that you have potential to succeed and we’ll talk about those in other posts.
In the meantime, take advice from Joseph Campbell and throw your time and energy towards your passions by ‘following your bliss’ and you will inevitably end up as a master of something that resonates deeply with your heart and allows you to serve the world in years to come.