Grantmaking is a Prize Contest

Grantmaking is a Prize Contest



As a person working in the field of grant writing, we have participated in several experimental competitions this year that are very different from the more traditional grantmaking process. National foundations are offering up prizes of millions of dollars for innovative solutions to complex problems.  In the most recent case, we are vying for five prizes totally $50 million to rethink high schools.  In their press release they write “XQ Institute is launching XQ: The Super School Project, a challenge to reimagine and design the next American high school. Harnessing the best of American ingenuity in cities and towns across the country, XQ aims to help spark a movement to rethink the American high school—an institution that was designed to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution and hasn’t changed in more than a century.

The democratic spirit of the prize, many believe, make this an especially powerful tool. Unlike traditional grant making, these foundations kept the bar of entry low, asking for a brief description of applicants’ ideas, not a complex proposal that few start-up entrepreneurs could manage. They seek out people with visionary ideas who weren’t necessarily plugged into philanthropic networks. In the case of Project XQ, high school students could form a team and apply.  They don’t care whether they had decades of nonprofit experience or were a budding innovator — as long as their ideas have transformative potential.

In case of XQ, the first round included thousands of team applicants starting the online process.  Over 700 applications were actually completed and received from 49 states. Less than half of these proposals were invited to continue on to the next step for the final award of just 5 schools.  The proposal we are working on for the new FWISD STEM/VPA High School is one of them.  The process requires us as grant writers to use a whole new set of skills.  We have always used facilitation skills to bring people together to develop an innovative project design.  But this process, requires us to develop short videos, diagrams, infographics, charts and graphs and very little written narrative.  It is a flipped approach to the traditional grant format that had pages (sometimes over 75) of written narrative and just a few charts and graphs.  Project XQ requires many attachments while traditional grantmakers in the past request few attachments which were generally not scored as part of the award process.

Yesterday, our grant design team came together for a required timed project as part of the final stage of competition for Project XQ.  We met in a conference room, equipped with laptops, projector and the all important healthy snacks.  We connected to the website and agreed to start the timer.  We were given four hours to complete the test which included responses to two scenarios and allowed for a total of 850 words and requested three attachments. Our team quickly went to work and uploaded our responses to the exercise with 14 minutes to spare on the computer timer.  We designed a Powerpoint, a RACI Chart and a Canva 5 Why?, Root Cause Analysis Diagram in less than 3 hours. Collectively, with our lead writer, we drafted and edited the 850 word responses to the two scenarios.  We didn’t even stop for lunch as we had sandwiches delivered.

The team felt great about the experience and our products and each person had a vital role to play in getting the responses and work products submitted. Whatever the outcome, we have come together even stronger than before in our planning for this innovative school and as a team. And we had fun!  I get paid to do this and all for a great cause of public education in Fort Worth.






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