Video grant proposals – you can’t be serious


Chet Tchozewski

Chet Tchozewski

Chet Tchozewski

Are written grant proposals a thing of the past? As I consider the rapid raise and ubiquitous influence of internet video, it seems possible.

Social innovation accelerators such as TED (‘Ideas Worth Spreading’), the Unreasonable Institute (‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man [and woman].’) and, most recently, Common Pitch (created by advertising genius Alex Bogusky, ‘Ad Man of the Decade’ according to Ad Week magazine) are all focused on helping inventors, scholars, activists and entrepreneurs hone more compelling short oral presentations – then recording them for rapid, wide-scale online distribution.

This doesn’t mean that these innovators haven’t first written a proposal or script. Most likely they have. But they are then also coached on content and technique and they repeatedly practise their oral presentation, which can reach far more people quickly – enabling a rapid feedback loop from a larger crowd of interested donors. This rapid prototyping facilitates faster scaling and wider impact.

Don’t think that these oral presentations are necessarily oversimplified or too shallow to be useful to grantmakers. Take, for example, my recent favorite TED Talk by Santa Fe Institute physicist Geoffrey West – who was featured in an interview in Alliance in the June 2010 special issue on ‘scaling social impact’. In this 17-minute video the understated and badly dressed West provides a breathtaking interdisciplinary analysis of the universal properties of scale in biology and physics to derive surprisingly meaningful insight for the resilience of some of the most significant human organizations – cities and corporations.

Efficient and effective donors seeking to find innovative early-stage or mid-stage practitioners can harness the burgeoning YouTube world of new ideas by simply scouring the growing collections of free videos produced for this purpose. Subscribers to leading periodicals are also getting acquainted with journalists and authors in new ways, as The Economist, Stanford Social Innovation Review and even iTunes University feature audio and video podcasts as companions to published articles.

Of course, the information in video presentations can and must be corroborated with the written literature – especially for historical reference, since neither Isaac Newton, Khalil Gibran nor Florence Nightingale are known to have made a short YouTube video for patrons to consider.

Central to mastering online learning for philanthropy is the emerging technology for semantic search, and search engines capable of coding non-text audio and video for relevant information.

What do you think – is video capable of replacing written information for grantmakers and social investors?

Chet Tchozewski is founder and a board member of Global Greengrants Fund

Tagged in: Grant proposals Internet YouTube

Comments (3)

Nick Perks

Good post. My sense is that video meetings are just starting to come of age. As already touched upon, there is an interesting question of who this advantages. When I worked as a grant officer, I felt meeting people face to face was a key part of the assessment process, though only to complement the written application. I also liked to do assessment visits on people's own premises because you learnt so much - from what kind of office they could afford, to how they welcomed visitors, to whether they worked in order or chaos. I think there is a good argument that, if we want to make a difference, we need to be funding people who can shine using new technology; however, there is also a risk (as with any assessment of exam process) that we fund people who are good at applying, rather than people who are good at delivering.

Caroline Diehl

Video is a fantastic way of conveying both need and impact - impact to date, and potential impact. Media Trust is increasingly engaged in using video to support funders and projects with impact evaluation. Video can add unique value by giving the beneficiaries and users a direct voice into grant funders, they can express their own needs, vision, and the impact of funding interventions to date. We increasingly are training and resourcing communities to create their own video to record impact, make a case for funding, and tell their own story, minimising the need for intervention. We also work directly with funders to enable them to use video to communicate to funding applicants. Video can now be used and re-used in so many multiple ways - the investment is invaluable.

Dani LaGiglia

Good article Chet. But I see video applications in a different way. I believe grantors/investors can often get a fulsome picture of a project through a video application. When grantmakers and investors are looking at culturally appropriate mechanisms to capture the 'voice' of a project, video can be the answer. Often written submissions to funders or potential investors are required to follow a strict Western academic framework. People who communicate the spirit of their work in verbal form can be discouraged from applying because of this. Figuring out how to measure or weigh video proposals against written ones, or video against video, that is a challenge for certain.

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