The Uncle Sam Analogy (Pt. 1 of 4)

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Our dear old Uncle Sam has a fistful of one hundred dollar bills. He lines up five of his nieces and nephews along a wall.  “Alright,” he says. “I’ve got a fistful of cash. I’ll give it to whoever can sell me on the best idea for what to do with it.”

Now, imagine Uncle Sam’s thoughts as each niece and nephew make their case.

The first nephew steps forward and says, “I like to cook and since I hear lots of people are hungry, I’d like to open a soup kitchen and feed hungry people.”

Certainly, this is a worthy project, Uncle Sam thinks.

A niece then steps up and says, “I’ve been studying the hunger problem and know all about it. And, I’ve studied soup making and have found a highly nutritious recipe used by soup kitchens all over the country. I’m confident I can make this soup and put it into the bowls of hungry people.”

Ah, this one has done her homeworkhe thinks.

The next one says “Hey Uncle Sam! I’ve been running a soup kitchen for the past 10 years. I know how to make soup that’s both nutritious and tasty. Hungry people love my soup! In fact, I already feed 100 people every day. I’ve even got people waiting at my door. I could really use the money for more soup.”

Well, that’s certainly a compelling case, Uncle Sam thinks. He already knows how to make the soup. He already knows who’s going to eat it. He’s got more hungry people than he can feed lined out his door. That’s a spoon-ready project right there.

But, then the last two join hands and step forward.

“Uncle Sam, we are a team. I make tasty and nutritious soup that feeds 500 hungry people every day. And my partner meets with people while they eat their soup to find out how we can help alleviate the underlying causes of their hunger. With your help, we can feed more hungry people and help make sure that there are fewer hungry people tomorrow.”

That’s the winning idea, Uncle Sam thinks.

In essence, this is exactly how a grant competition works: a lot of worthy people compete for a finite number of dollars.

The take-aways here are simple:  grant funding is a competitive, discretionary process and, ultimately, the person who demonstrates the most credibility is your toughest competitor. It is important to remember this analogy as you’re applying for grants

In my next article, I’ll talk more about establishing credibility in the grant application process. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to get in touch with questions or comments.

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