I Am a Hunter for Words (a Roxanne Metaphor for Grant Writing)

There is a common metaphor that fundraising is like dating. The first step is identifying someone compatible. Courtship is key, and it’s important to know your worth. A healthy, long-term relationship will build over time, with work. To poke some fun and elaborate on the metaphor, as a grant writing consultant I sometimes feel like Steve Martin in the movie Roxanne.

If you don’t know the movie, it was Steve Martin’s 1987 interpretation of Edmond Rostand’s classic play “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Martin’s character, C. D. Bales, is the witty fire chief of a small Pacific Northwest town who also possesses an enormous nose. The lovely Roxanne Kowalski (played by Daryl Hannah) moves to town, and although C. D. is enamored with her, he instead helps his fellow (and dimwitted) fireman Chris win her over by feeding him romantic words through an earpiece. Here’s a clip:

As a grant writer, it is my job to woo funders—to charm them with the poetry of impact statements and shared love of measurable objectives. But, while I expend time and effort crafting alluring language and rhetoric, I remain anonymous, watching in the wings to see if a funder is attracted to the organization whose picture I’ve carefully painted.  

A big difference, though, is that I need to craft a grant narrative that actually matches an organization, its mission and culture. Unlike C. D., whose poetic soliloquys are so out of synch with Chris’s limited mental aptitude, I strive to reflect what a staff member might have written if she had had the time to take it on herself. My process begins with careful listening, then prospect research to identify funders that are likely to jive well, ruling out a Chris/Roxanne mismatch. Then, once we’ve zeroed in on our dreamboat funder, I bring a collaborative mindset, soliciting feedback along the way to ensure that what’s written won’t fall flat during that “first date” meeting with the foundation’s program officer. Because, while the story might begin with a funder wooed by my carefully crafted needs statement, my goal is for the romantic comedy to end with true love, a genuine partnership that is sustained for years to come.

Published by Ellen Spangler

Hi, I’m Ellen Spangler. With nearly twenty years in nonprofits, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. My first love will always be museums, but I have also cherished my work in education and membership organizations. I’ve worked as a Development Director, Communications Director, Educator, Trainer and Project Manager, and now own and operate a consulting business, Three Notch’d Nonprofit Solutions.

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