Friday, July 29, 2011

Finding the right person

I had a job interview this week - to become a grants assessor for a national foundation.  I already do this voluntarily in the borough where I live and I've lost count of the number of bids that I've put in myself to funding organisations and central government.  Most often it's been done with others - the biggest was for £20m and I was doing amongst other things the finances - 60 linked spread sheets - one for each project which made up the programme.  Each project was due to have funding from a number of sources.  Not to be to be too cliche'ed - it was a nightmare.  People would merrily tell me that they'd changed one figure from 6 to 7 as if that was easy (and next week tell me that no it was indeed 6!) - on one spread sheet yes it's easy but to get the total correct so that all the funding streams added up to the same final figure that was the art.  

Of course most of the bids that I've done have been much much smaller - I wrote one recently for a small craft group for £441 and it was accepted - the pleasure in this for me was not them getting the money but that the woman running the group would no longer have to worry about finances - and all it took was £441. One thing that has irritated me has been grants advisers who have a lot of experience of assessing but no experience of developing and running projects. How rounded are they?

I am now the chair of a grant-making trust and within that role I have rewritten the whole process for grant applications, rewritten the grant application forms and the guidance and all the acceptance letters.  It is a strange thing to be on the other side of the table and to understand why funders need certain bits of information.  There is a challenge in trying to put into English what information is required and why: trying to be clear and precise.  What I have learnt is that whatever you do write, there will always be some people who either don't read it or they think that it doesn't matter very much.  For example if they put one figure in the budget and there's another in the quote for the item wanting to be purchased - this happens every grant round.  But I also understand that for people wanting to get on with a project or to continue something that's already running that filling in a grant application form can be seen to be a hurdle to be jumped over rather than a process to be engaged with.  A good grant-giver will support organisations in developing their skills in bid-writing which should help them in managing their project.

I have also learnt that I already know a lot about assessing grants because of (a) putting programmes of projects together I have been assessing each project with spend and outcomes figures challenged; and (b) in putting in bids myself you see what the difficulties are - you understand why for example the proposed cashflow is a fiction; why you won't know until you start the project what the real outcomes will be; and why some people are good at putting bids in but that does not make their project a good one.
I didn't get the job.  The woman was very nice when she phoned.  They had agonised over the decision but in the end had decided that I didn't have enough experience of assessing grants.  I have learnt that it is better not to argue with someone who in the future you may end up working with or for.  And anyway the decision has been made and the person appointed.  I believe that I have ample experience of assessing grants large and small, and have a balanced view from both sides.  And I have experience of actually developing and running projects - I have been a front line service provider, a manager and a trustee -  and that makes an enormous difference, at least in my eyes.

The issue for me these days in application forms and in interviews is how to encapsulate 45 years of experience in the voluntary sector and 36 years in work as a front line worker, a manager, a service planner, a consultant and a mentor.  To be honest I can't remember half of what I have done.  And even if I could there's got to be lots of things left out in a 45-minute interview.  

And as I get older I find that wisdom and compassion are vital qualities for most of the jobs that I am likely to apply for but no-one tests to see whether I have either.  I am pretty phlegmatic about job interviews - as a self-employed consultant who puts in tenders I am constantly being judged and constantly being found to be wanting.  

I also know that I am very good at what I do and would have been very good at this job.  Not having experience of something has always been a minor issue for me when I have interviewed people.  You can gain skills, knowledge and experience.  It is much more difficult to learn attitudes and develop personal characteristics.

So what is this posting about?  I think that it's about roundness of character and the value of spiritual maturity, which may come at any age  It is about moving away from itemised lists which tell us what we want from people and thinking about the person's values and what value they will add.  I have heard that there is a developing conversation about ministry and the requirements for a good minister.  I will put my vote in here for wisdom and compassion and perhaps a touch of charisma.

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