Oh No, Not “Grant Proposal Prose!”

swordPaul Sehgal must have been secretly delighted to realize how little respect he had for the book he was reviewing for the Sunday, December 15, 2013 New York Times Book Review. (The book’s title doesn’t actually matter here, but to assuage any curiousity, it was Art as Therapy, by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong.)

Having found it to be “depressing” and a book that “lays bare the flaws in de Botton’s method, chiefly that, well, he does regard his readers like ants,” Sehgal treats us to a snarkfest of words and phrases like, “dispiriting,” “shtick,” “unhinged,” and “never done it so badly.”

And, for the coup de grace: “The grant proposal prose saps all the fun from the proceedings.”

Uh oh. Did you catch that? “Grant proposal prose” has been elevated to stinging insult.

And the worst thing is, we all know exactly what he means: tired recitals by some nonprofit staffer who resents having to fill in a bunch of repetitive blanks with jargony blather and send it off to a faceless foundation committee that will probably reject it half-unread anyway.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Art flourishes within constraints, remember? For the nonprofit staffers of the world, a good New-Year’s resolution might be to reexamine one’s approach to proposal writing, and put the fun back into it. The writers will be happier, and heaven knows the folks who have to read million of these things at the other end will be happier. (Fear not, Paul Sehgal will find some other way to shred the next book he’s not pleased with.)

For detailed advice on preparing compelling grant proposals, see Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits; Real-World Strategies That Work, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).