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“Oh boy, here I am, why my hands are a little shaky, got to be cool and for goodness sakes, don’t start babbling incoherently.  Don’t forget to make eye contact.  And who replaced my normally calm, composed, charming self with this nervous imposter?”  That’s my little internal dialogue which has played out in my first, tenth, and umpteenth interview!


Honestly, I’ve never felt fully prepared for panel meetings because it’s impossible to predict the various questions that might come up during the interview.  The good news is that by following a few steps, I’ve been prepared enough to clearly answer almost any question that has been posed, and respond appropriately if I didn’t have the answer (hint, don’t make something up).


Step 1:  Read your grant application thoroughly and carefully, even if you wrote it and especially if you didn’t write it.  Be familiar with everything in that application inside and out.


Step 2:  Read the funder’s guidelines again.  Along with this, do as much research on the organization as you can.  If you are familiar with their committee members, their prior funding awards, and philosophy, you will feel much more at ease when meeting them in person.


Step 3:  Realize that philanthropy is changing in a major way.  Grant makers are shifting more toward an investment mindset and are looking for a return on their investment in your program.  This return can take many different shapes, so don’t limit your thinking here.  Instead think of how their investment in your program can be multiplied through a positive outcome.  For example, are you seeking funding for a workshop series?  Maybe your workshop curriculum can be developed into a product that other organizations can use as well.  With this model, the funder gives you funding one time, and several organizations can benefit, multiplying the effect of their investment.


Step 4:  Be able to explain how you are going to track your program outcomes.  Yes, I’m talking about baselines, surveys and statistics.  Someone on the panel might want to know how you are going to measure the success of the program.


Step 5:  Be prepared to tell someone’s story.  Committee members like to hear about someone this program has helped, or someone that this program is designed to help.  If you can relate a real-life story (briefly), you are demonstrating knowledge of your population, connection to those you are serving, and allowing the committee to have a peek at the challenges faced by those you are serving.


Step 6:  Know what you would do if the committee funds less than what you requested, and know what you would do if they fund more than you requested.  You may be asked!


Step 7:  Read your grant application again, right before the panel interview. 


Step 8:  In the interview, be ready for the question you can’t answer.  It’s going to happen.  Be truthful and let them know that there is someone at your organization better able to answer that question.  Write the question down and let them know you will get an answer and respond promptly.   


Step 9:  Smile!  You’re about as ready as you’re going to be!

And always remember, just getting the interview is a big win for your organization!  This is an opportunity to build a relationship for the future, even if you don’t get funding this time around.

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