By Rosalyn Leban
Even under normal circumstances, fellowships and grants rarely go exactly as planned. The very things that make fellowships and grants such excellent professional opportunities – like working with community partners, domestically and internationally, and conducting self-directed work – are the same things that mean that the execution often looks significantly different than the proposal. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of difficulty to the execution of grants and fellowships.
In this time of constant change and uncertainty, even the best-laid plans have to be adjusted. If you have received a grant to carry out a project that cannot take place as expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be facing the daunting prospect of approaching your source or sources of funding to propose changes. This doesn’t have to be scary – especially now, institutions understand that circumstances necessitate a change of plans. They may even reach out to you to ask how you are responding to the situation in your work. Use the following tips to ensure that you’re staying true to your original proposal as you adjust to this new situation.
1. Approach your funding source directly
If you have received funding from a large institution, it is likely that they already have plans in place to react to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first step in proposing changes to your proposal should be finding out what steps they have already taken. By approaching them directly before making adjustments to your proposal and budget, you can ensure that your proposed changes are in line with their priorities and regulations. Some institutions are delaying projects, while others are encouraging remote implementation. Their approach to the situation should inform the way in which you frame any proposed changes to your plan. An institution that is encouraging its grant recipients to delay their activities until the situation has improved may be less amenable to a proposal that shifts activities to a remote format. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t propose remote implementation – it just means that you need to present your proposal in a way that makes it clear why you’ve chosen to go in a different direction.
Outside of the pandemic, it is still crucial to get in touch with your funding source at the beginning of this process. There may be a specific procedure to follow in order to propose a set of changes or request an update to your budget. Even if your reason for requesting a change is specific to your situation, your funding source or advisor may have ideas about how to approach the change. This is especially important if you’re juggling funding from multiple sources. You need to make sure to balance the requirements of each grant. For example, when civil unrest made travel to Nicaragua impossible, one of my funding sources specifically offered an extended timeline and discouraged travel while another was firm on deadlines for project completion and had no guidance regarding travel to the country. As a result, I carried out my project remotely and ensured that I completed all of the requirements of the second grant by the original deadline.
Knowing what your sources of funding expect from you as you craft an updated proposal is key!
2. Consider your original proposal
When you’re trying to make changes in the midst of an unexpected setback, it can feel like your original proposal is irrelevant in light of the current situation. But remember that the reasons for which you wrote the original proposal haven’t gone away! Go back to your original proposal and read it carefully. What motivated you to focus on the subject or cause you chose as your focus in the first place?
To use my own experience as an example, I’m currently working on a project focused on LGBTQ+ youth in Nicaragua. Given the pandemic and the residual civil unrest from the 2018 uprisings in the country, the issues of LGBTQ+ youth are not at the forefront of programming. However, being LGBTQ+ compounds the difficulty of being in quarantine with families who may not be accepting of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, and LGBTQ+ youth worldwide are much more likely to be homeless, putting them at increased risk for contracting the virus. As a result, we have repurposed our grant funds towards remote support groups and therapy, as well as food assistance. This ensures that we are being responsive to the current realities of the community we work with without abandoning the purpose of the grant.
There may be situations in which you need to leave most of your original proposal behind, but don’t assume that’s the case for you until you’ve really thought about how to adapt your proposal in detail. Do your best to incorporate at least some of the goals you proposed in your application for funding. This will ensure that the institutions funding your grant or fellowship see the value in the change as it relates to the proposal they selected for funding.
Ideally, your updated proposal will change as little as possible while ensuring that your project remains feasible and sensitive to the circumstances.
3. Make a detailed budget
One of the best ways to make sure your funding sources see that your updated project proposal is practical is to create an updated version of your budget that documents, in detail, how the changes you’ve made to the proposal will affect your budget and why you’ve chosen to make the changes you have made. This is a required step in the case of many project-based grants. Even if it isn’t explicitly required, presenting a detailed budget demonstrates the thought you’ve put into the revised proposal. It also makes you think about how you’ll manage the grant funds given new circumstances. Here are some questions to consider when you’re preparing a revised budget:
- If I’m moving to remote implementation, how can I repurpose funding for in-purpose activities to facilitate effective execution?
- If I’m delaying grant activities, how will those delays affect the cost of my project? Will I incur costs for storage? Will I need to retain the services of professionals for longer than anticipated?
- Is this an approved expense according to the guidelines for my funding?
In preparing your budget, communicating with your funding source is extremely important. Make sure to find out if there is any flexibility in the amount of your grant! Some funding sources have made additional funds available in response to COVID-19, for example.
Even under ideal circumstances, things change. These tips for navigating an adjustment to your grant proposal and budget can be applied whether your proposed changes are due to the global pandemic or more typical events. With preparation, you and your grant can weather these changes and proceed to effective implementation despite setbacks.
Rosalyn Leban is an alumna of the 2018 Fulbright U.S. Student Research Program in Guatemala, the 2018 Davis Projects for Peace Fellowship in Nicaragua, and the 2017 Critical Language Scholarship in China. In 2020, she was the recipient of a Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund grant to carry out “Nuestras Huellas: Stories of LGBTQ+ Youth” in Nicaragua. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2018 and currently works as an immigration paralegal.
© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved