Judging Yourself As You Judge Others

Something I don’t really often see people write about are the benefits of sitting on a grant panel, especially for an organization that funds you. First of all, the organization will love you for helping them out, especially during the heaviest period in their granting cycle.

Perhaps the biggest benefit for you will be identifying those areas people like yourself do well or fall short in making the case for their programs.  You can get advice about how to write an effective proposal on a monthly basis, but until you apply a critical eye to a proposal from outside disciplines, geography and demographic attributes with which you are familiar, you aren’t likely to appreciate all the potential pitfalls.

I recently participated in a panel for my state arts council for a program my organization wasn’t eligible to participate in.

There were a number of times people referenced discipline specific shorthand or neighborhoods/towns they were doing outreach in. I suspected that this information would be more compelling if I better understood the relevance.

Recognizing that I was probably making the same mistake of assuming reviewers would be excited by similar discussions of accomplishments for which they had no frame of reference, I started to pull out old grant proposals and found a number of places that could probably use additional information about why it was important that certain groups were involved or being represented in our programs.

During the panel review process I made additional notes as panelists would comment about things they wished they had seen more detail about. In other cases, it was observed too much time was spent talking about other organizational activities rather than focusing on the proposed project.

Now I will grant you, often space limitations imposed by the application form makes it difficult to provide the detail that will really allow your project to shine. It is important to make a case with the granting organization that 3-4 more lines of text would make all the difference.  Volunteering to serve on a grant panel can provide you with the opportunity to make that case in person.

I also want to acknowledge that when you are faced with a tall pile of proposals to review, the last thing you want to do is engage in prolonged introspection of the strengths and weaknesses of your own submissions. But it can be worthwhile to at least take the time to make duplicates of notes that represent potential areas of concern in your work for later review.

Then, of course, there is benefit in seeing what other people are doing. What novel ideas and approaches are out there? How are others executing their programs? How are they defining and measuring success? What strategies are they employing to deal with challenges?

One really, really general piece of advice I will give based on what I have seen is to make sure your website has links to your social media accounts. This is website and social media 101, but I was surprised at how many people mention they promote their events on social media, but don’t have links on their websites. Web searches will turn the social media accounts up, but there was often no easy way for someone who discovered an organization through their website to stay connected through social media.  (Actually, it might be more accurate to say that a web search turned some of them up, I have no idea if I found the full range of online presence.)


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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