Myth: Getting a grant is all about who you know.
Reality: Whom you know is seldom all that matters.
This post is part of a series on Myths in Grant Seeking.
One of the most potent myths in grant seeking surrounds the indispensability of interpersonal relationships between grant seekers and grant makers in determining who wins grant awards. Underlying the Myth of Relationships is the misapprehension that the only way to be sure to get a grant is to know and befriend those who decide who gets one. It appears as ‘Winning a grant all depends on who you know and how well you know them.’ Like some other myths in grant seeking, this one contains elements of truth, but not all of it.
In reality, positive interpersonal relationships always can be useful assets; however, they usually play a far more formidable role in deciding which applicants win grants from private sources than they do in deciding which ones win grants from public sources. The fundraising specialty of foundation and corporate relations, for example, exists to cultivate and steward interpersonal and cross-institutional relationships that yield grant awards (among other revenue types); in such contexts, those relationships are more often decisive.
In the public arena, however, grant seekers’ relationships with grant-making agencies and program officers, particularly at the federal level, play a far lesser role in securing grants. Such relationships at times may play a somewhat greater role, after initial funding, in positioning the grant recipients to renew multiyear grants year after year, but this is not the same phenomenon as that of winning a grant in the first place. It’s not that positive interpersonal relationships with public grant makers don’t matter, but only that peer reviewers don’t use them as criteria in reviewing and scoring applications or in recommending recipients of competitively awarded grants.
Interpersonal relationships are sometimes decisive in determining which applicants win grant awards – and in specific contexts they may be often decisive – but they are not always decisive.
The next post in this series on Myths in Grant Seeking will address the Myth of Scarcity.