The other day, my 5-year old twins nearly pushed me over the edge. We went to the park, to the pool, and to get ice cream. I spent nearly the whole day entertaining them. But the second we got home, that wasn't enough. They immediately insisted that I hadn't spent enough time with them and that I had to play with them in the basement.
If you're a parent, no doubt you've been there. But parents aren't the only ones who feel pushed to the point of breaking. Grantees can also feel that way when trying to comply with some of the latest and greatest additions to funder grant proposals.
Take for example, the idea of requesting that grantseekers submit a video as part of their proposal. This appears perhaps to be a new trend, and one recently discussed on a national grantmaker listerv.
Not only does a resource-strapped and staff-stretched nonprofit need to spend hours filling out written information in a precise, foundation-dictated format, but now they must create an additional "get to know you" video submission.
I recently heard a foundation describe its process for asking grantseekers to submit a short (two minute) video as part of its proposal - "just shot from a smartphone" - as no big deal. Right?
Wrong. Adding video adds a list of unintended hurdles for grantees. Three come immediately to mind:
1) Technology. Just because I have a smartphone doesn't mean I know how to use it to produce a decent video. I don't understand the importance of lighting, or sound quality. I may not even have someone else around to hold the phone, which can make for a very wobbly selfie. I also may have no idea how to get my video from my phone to your website.
As a funder, will you be capable of seeing past the blurry images and poor sound quality and view this grantee without some kind of personal judgment? If not, are you willing to provide the technology needed to all applicants or send your own video crew?
2) Time. How many takes will I need to do before I'm happy with my two-minute video? I will probably want to create a script for myself, then consider which background might be best, then wonder whether I should just show myself or pan around my workplace or community. Do I need to know how to video edit? Do I need to pull in a colleague to help with all of this? Before I know it, I've spent a day of my time (and probably someone else's) creating my two-minute video.
As a funder, are you willing to compensate grantees for time spent creating a video that's just for you?
3) Self-Image. What if I feel horribly uncomfortable on camera? Literally putting my "best face forward" for a potential funder can send my anxiety levels through the roof. What if I'm brilliant and inspiring to my staff, but incredibly introverted?
As a funder, do you feel that the added information you'll get from a two-minute video justifies the personal or professional angst and stress that creating the video may place on potential grantees? What if a phenomenal nonprofit leader comes across as boring on video? How would you feel if you had to create and disseminate your funding program on a two-minute video, without the help of communications professionals?
You wouldn't add a requirement to your grant application process that all grantee leadership must be highly verbally articulate and able to engage and entertain your staff and board on video, would you? Of course not! But that's essentially what you're requesting when you make a video part of the application process.
Instead, if you're considering requesting video, be honest about why you want to see a grantseeker on video in the first place, and whether this technology will help or hinder you. What is it you want to learn? Is video the best, or even a useful way to learn it?
If your foundation really wants to get a feel for who potential grantees are, why not allow them to choose from among several "get to know you" options? For example, they could send an existing video, opt for a short conference call with your staff, participate in a site visit. Or better yet, what if your program staff or trustees actually went out into the community to meet with people over coffee, with no expectations on either side, just to learn more about who's working in the communities you serve?
Don't get me wrong - I'm not pooh-poohing the use of personal technology, and I definitely think video can play a role in the interaction between funder and grantee, or funder and community. But you should also be sure that the lure of technology isn't creating more burden than benefit, and that it's not blurring your own vision.