A Plea for Working in the Open From Your Friendly Neighborhood Grants Manager

The GeoConvos team is pleased to present the following guest post by Michael Cansfield, Grants Manager at the Chicago History Museum (CHM). Michael  has played a key role securing support for the GeoConvos project. 

Written by Michael Cansfield | April 29, 2015

For the past 4 years, I have had the pleasure and responsibility of raising funds for the Chicago History Museum from corporate and foundation sources.  These requests most often take the form of an online application process.  Working for a museum with bold ambitions and a multi-disciplinary approach to telling stories of Chicago’s yesterdays and today, I am charged with writing concise, informative, and effective descriptions about public programs, youth education projects, new exhibitions, ongoing research, collection items, business planning, and overall nonprofit management and fiscal health.

In my time here I have written applications which have explored the history of Chinese immigrants working in Chicago, railroad development, architectural history, photography, the Royal family of Thailand, Jewish refugees settling in Chicago, fashion history, civil rights progress for the African American and gay communities, Civil War events, and many other topics which have been the focus of programs and exhibits at the Chicago History Museum. Certainly, I have not written about these projects alone; my colleagues who are the curators, programmers, and collections experts here at the museum provide a lot of information about the importance of their work.  But it my job to distill that down into a 200 or 500 word description that also makes the case for why a certain prospect’s funding will make all the difference in the creation and implementation of the project.

Managing a grant also means stewardship of a donor relationship after the gift is received. This is where working in the open can most definitely benefit your colleagues in the development or advancement office.  Often before a grant application even has been approved, we have moved on to seeking funding for other projects.  And by the time an interim report or final report is due, sometime a year or more later, I have most likely lost track of the progress my hard-working colleagues on the front lines have accomplished.  They may have been living this project on a daily basis, but I have not.

Blog posts, progress reports, event photographs, statistics, all the items that can document the ongoing successes, challenges and lessons learned during a project, are the stuff I feed off in preparing final funding reports.  They are the breadcrumbs that lead me back to the home base of a project and help me describe the process, path, and outcomes which a funder wants to hear about and which can keep them engaged in your project and keep them funding your efforts.

So, please, colleague to colleague, I beg you.  No matter how mundane or miniscule, or seemingly unimportant you may think an item is, that photograph, those statistics, that meeting agenda, the notes you’ve made,  your random thoughts on the project can all be part of the story that we tell together.

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