Grants demand both sides of the brain

Developing an effective grant application requires a lot of brainwork, but not necessarily the kind that most people assume.

You’re probably familiar with the concept that the brain’s hemispheres each handle very different kinds of thinking. It’s said that the left brain is in charge of logical and analytical thought, while the right brain is more comfortable with creative and random thinking. Anyone who has ever prepared a grant application for a nonprofit or for-profit organization would probably tell you that it’s a left-brained process. After all, there is usually a lengthy list of elements and questions that must be addressed in a specified length and a particular order. Given that “order” is one of the left brain’s favorite words, it’s no surprise that the left-brain crowd is adept at gathering all the information and putting it in its proper place.

But the people who view developing grant requests as a wholly left-brained process are missing what separates very effective and memorable grant applications from the ordinary ones.

That something is the right side of the brain. Surprised? If the right brain is the home of random thoughts, how could it possibly improve something as structured as a grant request?

“The key is recognizing that there are also two sides to the way people think, and addressing both of them.”

The key is recognizing that there are also two sides to the way people think, and addressing both of them. To simplify, we can call them the rational and emotional, and while we’re not always conscious of it, those two levels are constantly butting heads.

The rational side may know without a doubt that our supervisor’s idea is moronic, but our emotional side is too afraid of losing our job to let us speak up. Our emotional side sees a Porsche and wants one, before the rational side steps up to remind us that it’s probably not the best way to transport three kids and a dog.

We need both sides to survive and to interact successfully with other people – and both sides are involved in every decision we make.

Consider that as you think of the person charged with reviewing all those grant requests. After the first three or four, they begin to blend into one another. Dry recitations of even drier statistics, vaporous mission statements and stilted language, and charts created right out of the word processor’s wizard. The left side of the brain has clearly been at work.

But your request has stopped the reviewer in her tracks. Her brain was waiting for yet another collection of declarative sentences about partnerships and paradigms, and you woke her emotional side with something different. Your application is talking about the problem in a way that builds empathy and concern. Your description of the solution doesn’t tell her that you can fix the problem – it lets her emotional side come to that conclusion. You’ve gained her trust, her confidence, and even her admiration. And while she gave the other reports a cursory glance, she read every word of yours. Care to guess which one she’ll remember?

Of course, you probably couldn’t write a successful grant request using just the right side of the brain. First off, you’d probably never even meet the deadline. Those brains cells behind your right eye would be whirling and whizzing with all sorts of ideas and images.

Making sure that your application balances both sides of the brain is the key to making your request stand out. Let the left brain make sure that all of the facts are gathered and properly organized – and then turn the right brain loose to add the magic that will make your message memorable and meaningful.