Grant Writer Burnout: How to Overcome it
You have written grants before, many of them. Why, then, is this one any different? Why is it so hard to start and stay engaged?
In this article, we will talk about grant writer burnout and what it looks like. You will learn some of the common signs of grant writer burnout, and, by the end, have some action steps for combating burnout.
What is Grant Writer Burnout?
It is important to understand what grant writer burnout is before we can discuss how to identify and combat burnout. Grant writing is time consuming and can be stressful. Many grant professionals describe the ongoing nature of grant writing; there is never an ebb to the workflow. The constant high-stress demands of a grant writer often leads to an inability to move forward in writing or failing to meet endless deadlines and application requests. It can also create strong physical, emotional, and mental strain on grant writers. This is grant writer burnout.
Why Should Nonprofits Care About Grant Writer Burnout?
In order to maximize grant awards for your nonprofit, it is critical to consider the needs of your grant writer and actively consider ways to support and retain them. The Grant Professional’s Association did an analysis of grant writer burnout that cited recognition of burnout by the World Health Organization. The GPA noted grant writers leaving the profession at an alarming rate; over half the grant professionals surveyed left.
In their analysis, one participant articulated that it is not the grant writing that causes feelings of burnout; rather, it’s the non-stop flow of work and expectations. There used to be a grant “season” of sorts, with deadlines coming in waves during parts of each year. However, as most grant professionals recognize now, there is always a grant deadline looming.
Similar to the findings of the GPA analysis, online community forums show a trend of burnout. Many will begin to consider whether grant writing is actually the right choice for them (as seen below), take this Reddit user as an example. The author of this post was asking the Reddit community whether staying in grant writing was actually worth it:
Many responded, affirming their feeling of burnout. The community reported their own prior moments of burnout and thoughts around moving to new positions to solve the burnout. One commenter noted that the grass isn’t always greener in a different position.
Nonprofit organizations have the opportunity to show their grant writers they value their work and keep them feeling that the grass is greenest where they are.
What are the Most Common Signs of Burnout for Grant Professionals?
Grant writer burnout can take the form of any number of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. Burnout is not uncommon and many grant professionals will experience some number of these symptoms at some point in their career.
As a grant writing professional, it is important to be able to identify signs of burnout. Burnout, however, can take so many different forms and be unique to each person. So, while the following may be some signs of burnout, know that there may be other ways your body and mind will respond.
Commonly experienced signs of grant writer burnout include:
- Fatigue: You might feel tired regularly or unable to drum up energy for the day. Even when getting adequate sleep, you may feel like you are running on empty.
- Sleeplessness: While fatigue can be a sign of burnout, whether sleeplessness is an issue, finding it difficult to sleep may be another sign. If you are feeling challenged to relax your body and mind enough to sleep, or are not staying asleep, you might be experiencing a sign of burnout.
- Apathy: You likely started out grant writing with enthusiasm and optimism for the effects your efforts would have on the organization. Your grant writing was a key factor in increasing operations capacity. Now, though, you can’t seem to find the emotional connection and inspiration to write. Especially in nonprofit organizations that work to support and improve dire conditions, writing the story of the people or children you serve over and over again can be taxing on your emotions. Finding yourself in a place of apathy is not an uncommon response.
- Writer’s block: This is likely part of what made you question if you were experiencing grant writer burnout. You just do not know what to say in response to your current grant request. There is nothing new or strikingly different about this one, yet, nothing is flowing to paper. Even having all of the components of a grant ready to go will not prevent writer’s block as a result of grant writer burnout.
- Avoidance: This can take the form of avoiding the grant or work task all together or avoiding people and interaction. When avoiding the task at hand, you may just ignore that there is even a grant to write or other work to be done. Sometimes described or seen as procrastination; however, when this is a sign of burnout it may not be a true conscious choice. Similarly, you may find yourself avoiding people you typically enjoy engaging with. There may be a sense that these people will ask about your work. Or, seeing them reminds you of what you are not doing.
5 Actionable Strategies to Overcome Grant Writer Burnout
Identifying that you may be experiencing grant writer burnout is a key first step in overcoming burnout. Review some of the symptoms listed above if you think you may be experiencing grant writer burnout, and then consider some of these possible ways to alleviate burnout.
1. Talk openly with your supervisor.
Many grant writers point out that creating transparency and a relationship with your supervisor, when applicable, can provide you the opportunity to talk about your workload and the ability to complete grant after grant.
2. Step back to take stock of the big picture.
Allow yourself to reacclimate with the big picture. Grants can be a bit like dominoes, one grant leads to the need for many more and before you know it, you have a pile of applications to be written with similar deadlines. While there are times that this grant writing task list may be critical for your organization, often taking a step back can allow you to reprioritize, remove some applications, or reallocate your time.
3. Get organized with task management.
Dividing your grant projects into smaller tasks can help grant writer burnout immensely. Defining the purpose of each grant, having a clear list of expectations and requirements, and knowing the deadlines can help move you forward in your writing. It is like giving yourself a checklist of smaller chunks of work to do moving toward the completion of your grant. This can especially help when you have multiple grants waiting to be completed and submitted. The piles can grow, and without stopping to reassess what truly needs to be done and in what priority order, having everything feel like it needs to be done at once can be debilitating.
If you’ve never used Instrumentl’s Tracker, you may find it valuable when it comes to setting up grant milestones, submission and reporting deadlines for yourself and your team members. Every week, Instrumentl will remind you of upcoming grant application deadlines as well as the tasks you’ve set in place. Bookmark our guide on how to never miss a grant deadline here.
4. Work on something different.
Changing things up for a short time can reset your enthusiasm and energy to complete your grant project. It is important to consider some of the prior suggestions listed here, such as knowing steps and deadlines, so that jumping to something different doesn’t set you up to miss your submission. However, often you do have time that allows you to briefly focus on something else. When you have grant writer’s block, you may find yourself not working productively toward submitting your grant, yet constantly thinking about the work that is needing to be done.
Give yourself a bit of time to intentionally not think about the grant task by doing another bit of work. You may find yourself better able to dive into your grant after this brief mental hiatus.
5. Find a mentor or grant writing community.
Grant writing is strenuous and never-ending, finding someone familiar with the challenges of grant writing can help you know that you are not alone. Often, just knowing that you are not the only one that has felt burnout gives you the confidence to move beyond that burnout. A good mentor can also give you suggestions for how to overcome burnout from their own experiences.
If you’re looking for an online community, Instrumentl hosts regular workshops and small group sessions around grant writing skills that may help you meet similar-minded people and connect with fellow grant writers.
3 Things Nonprofits Can Do To Support Grant Professionals
Nonprofits heavily rely on grants to continue operations and provide services to their stakeholders. Most understand the important role their grant writer’s play in maintaining their ongoing financial solvency; however, it is critical to not take for granted those behind writing grants. As a nonprofit leader, what can you do to ensure you are supporting your grant writing professionals? Even just a few simple steps can make a huge difference.
1. Communicate regularly with your grant writer and be supportive of their needs.
Offering an open line of communication for grant writers provides much needed trust and transparency that leads to a feeling of support. It is important that when you work to open lines of communication and transparency with your grant writer that you are willing to consider what they might have to say.
Grant writer burnout can come at the expense of having to reexamine workload and the scope and quantity of expectations. Be mindful that effective communication means both you and your grant writer have an equal place in the conversation. You may find that having these conversations leads to more and better grant award outcomes for your nonprofit.
2. Develop and document a clear grant writing process.
Nonprofit organizations that develop clear and seamless submission processes provide a framework for completing grants that can set grant writers up for success. If your nonprofit can have most grant required documents and artifacts in a shared space and readily accessible, valuable time and effort doesn’t have to go toward finding these items. Instead, grant writers will feel empowered to get to the real work of completing the grant process and doing the actual writing.
Similarly, if you establish protocols and outline priorities that help clarify your goals and objectives for your nonprofit, your grant writer can stay focused on the most important and efficient use of their time. Using the tools available through Instrumentl allows you and your grant writer to visually see what is in progress, submitted, and track grants that have been awarded.
3. Mentor or team up on upcoming grant applications.
Many people struggle working in complete isolation. Although some thrive being solo and independently responsible for their work, they often still need someone to bounce ideas off or provide non-evaluative feedback.
Being able to provide your grant writer with a mentor or someone to go to for that feedback loop and reassurance can further help show support for their work and importance in your organization. Even if this is on a bi-weekly basis, it can be a helpful way to connect with your grant writer, give meaningful feedback to push your grant applications, and keep a pulse on the morale of the grant writing team.
Wrapping Things Up: Conquering Grant Writer Burnout
If you are a grant writer, or you employ a grant writer in your nonprofit, you will eventually come across grant writer burnout. Although it may seem daunting, it is important to know it is common and there are ways to overcome grant writer burnout. Knowing the emotional, physical, and mental symptoms of burnout will set you up to identify burnout quickly and move toward getting back on track.
In the case where you’d like to level up your grant tooling to bring prospecting, tracking and management to one place, try Instrumentl free for 14-days for your nonprofit organization.