Chewie Chinchilla's Guide to Grantseeking


You might not think that a chinchilla could have anything to teach you about grantseeking, or life. But Chewie Chinchilla is here to tell you that you are wrong.

As human people living in a human world, we obviously take a very human approach to grantseeking, bringing along with it very human techniques and emotions. But perhaps we can also look to our animal friends and their approaches to life for guidance.

The feisty little furball (full name Princess Priscilla Chewchilla Fluffybottoms) came into our lives on New Year's Day of 2016. We found her on Craigslist, a short ways out into the country on the other side of the river. Though she was supposedly only three years old at the time, we were going to be her fourth owners. The young woman who was giving her up said she was going to college and couldn't take a pet with her; we don't know the other stories of the owners before.

And herein lies Chewie's first lesson for us. The first attempt isn't always the right fit. Not every funder will be a good match for your organization. Sometimes you'll get it right on the first try, but in other instances you'll have to try and try again. GrantStation's State of Grantseeking Report says that most organizations will get a grant if they apply for at least three. For Chewie, the fourth time was the charm.

We were so glad we found her, but those first couple years wouldn't be easy for Chewie. We learned early on that she had arthritis, a bit strange for a young chinchilla. Was she older than we'd been told? In the coming years, she would have some other health problems, as well. But fortunately, Chewie had a group of people around her to help her through the rough patches. People who really cared about her and wanted her to be well. The things that seem impossible when you are alone can be manageable with the help of a good team by your side.

In the grantseeking world, you may want to try to do it all yourself, but if at all possible, lean on the expertise of the staff and volunteers around you. They likely have some skills they haven't yet revealed. Putting them up to the challenge can have the potential to bring out the best in everyone.

So even though Chewie Chinchilla looks a bit like a fuzzy marshmallow, we can see she is very wise. What other guidance does she have?

Take a leap of faith

In her younger days, Chewie was able to easily leap over the baby gate that we used to try to keep her in the kitchen during playtime. She would sometimes jump up on the countertops. Some chinchilla owners have even reported their chinchillas jumping up on top of the refrigerator.

But time and her progressing arthritis have limited Chewie's jumping in recent years. She just doesn't have the bounce she once did. But that doesn't stop her from trying. She will eye a jump she could have once made with ease and just go for it, occasionally falling hilariously short.

Chewie - Leap of Faith
Chewie contemplating a leap of faith.

Even if a grant seems out of reach, there will be times when you should still go for it. Yes, you may invest time and effort and perhaps not succeed, but you will never know unless you try. You could unlock an opportunity you never expected. But like Chewie, be prepared to shake yourself off and try again if you fail.

Circle back and try again

When Chewie asks for a treat and doesn't get one, she will run in a big circle and come right back to try again. She'll perhaps change the way she looks at us or do a little hopping dance. Generally, we end up giving her what she wants.

Even if a grant application is denied, don't necessarily write that funder off forever. Many will have a period that you have to wait before applying again, but if you make some changes to your application and possibly your program, they may be willing to give you a second look.

Many funders have too many applicants to offer specific feedback, but some will be able to tell you how to improve your application in the future. Read their guidelines to see if any followup is allowed, and make the effort to reach out to them if it is.

It's okay to say no

Chewie's favorite snacks are oats and shredded wheats. (In chinchilla world, those are treats, not health food. They are goofy little critters.) Other snacks include rose hips and chamomile buds, but those aren't nearly as desirable. Sometimes when we offer her one of these lesser snacks, she will put up her nose and turn her head away, hoping for a better offering.

Similarly, you don't have to apply for every grant that seems like it might be a fit. Grantseeking can take a lot of time and effort. GrantStation's Decision Matrix can help you decide which grants are worth pursuing and which ones to put on the backburner. It provides a technique for comparing potential grants to determine where to best focus your energy.

Keep growing

The teeth of chinchillas never stop growing. That's why Chewie gets a variety of sticks and vines and pumice and other crunchy things to chew on. She has to actively grind down the growth.

As a grantseeker, though, you have to deal with the opposite situation; you have to work at growing. GrantStation's Pathfinder tool will help you find new resources to help you develop as a grants professional. From webinars to courses to books and conferences, there is a wealth of materials to help you on your grants career journey.

Recycle the waste

So . . . how to put this delicately . . . Chewie, like all chinchillas, re-eats her droppings to try to acquire as many nutrients as possible. (Hey, no one's perfect.) Her system just can't grab all the good stuff the first time through. Similarly, you can find some good in your failed grant applications. You don't need to start completely from scratch, but can hold on to the best bits for the next application attempt. A visit to our archive of previous winning grant proposals will let you compare successful proposals to your own applications and help you decide which parts are worth keeping.

Grantseeking can be difficult. But don't let the process or setbacks weigh you down. Chewie Chinchilla believes in you and knows that you will eventually get your programs funded. There is a world of grants out there, waiting. Hop to it!

Action steps you can take today
  • You can't sleep all day like Chewie Chinchilla; you have grants to apply for! Take our free course to learn how to free up some time for grantseeking. 
  • GrantStation is more than just a database. Chewie may be an expert on grantseeking, but if she wasn't, GrantStation's Build Strategy (freshly updated!) and Write Proposals (new content coming soon!) sections could guide her through the grantseeking process, from starting the search to submission.
  • Chewie Chinchilla may be incomparable, but GrantStation's Benchmarker lets you see how your organization measures up against others.