Nowadays, there is plenty of talk and ink about how nonprofit organizations can survive in a rapidly changing and complex world. Often, the focus is on how individuals can acquire new skills and a new mindset to meet tomorrow’s challenges.
While this approach is well-intentioned, I think it misses an important point. Encouraging individuals to think critically presupposes that your organization has created a working environment where critical thinking is encouraged and rewarded. Without this kind of supportive environment, employees will not raise new questions, new possibilities, and regard old problems from new angles, to paraphrase Albert Einstein.
Dr. Christine M. Riordan, the Dean of the College of Business at the University of Denver, has suggested that there are ten principles that comprise a critical thinking mindset. I will modify them slightly to focus on how your nonprofit can create a better environment to develop government proposals.
Principle 1: View problems as an exciting challenge. Use your creativity and intelligence to figure out ways to overcome past barriers. In other words, identify problems in order to focus on solutions.
Principle 2: Act courageously, take risks, and allow people and project to fail. The fear of risk or failure makes people timid and unimaginative. There are no successes without failures. Many of your grant proposals will not be funded. Figure out why and do better next time.
Principle 3: Do not make excuses. Candidly confront problems and develop solutions.
Principle 4: Do not be afraid to blink. Nonprofit organizations must be comfortable knowing that they will always have incomplete knowledge and that their proposals will never be perfect. Do not be paralyzed by over-analyzing. Be thoughtful, but move forward.
Principle 5: Learn and question. Successful organizations encourage their proposal teams to question and they provide formal opportunities for team members to acquire new knowledge and skills.
Principle 6: Think on the organizational level. Proposal development is a group and organization process. Focus on what you can do to help the proposal team and your company.
Principle 7: Push through roadblocks. Good organizations find ways to help proposal development teams create new ways to surmount old barriers.
Principle 8: Be open to new ideas. Problems sometimes are solved best by thinking and doing things in new and different ways.
Principle 9: Be optimistic. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.” Be realistic, but also be proactive and productive because it inspires confidence and a winning mindset.
Principle 10: Create an environment where employees can succeed and feel fulfilled. Create an environment that is conducive to critical thinking. This means attracting and retaining imaginative and productive people; providing complexity and challenges for grant professionals; knowing when to help people and knowing when to get out of their way; and rewarding grant professionals for their work.
One essential way to develop good government grant proposals is to create an environment that unleashes your proposal team’s critical thinking mindset.