One Woman's Journey -- Informative but Disappointing
There is usually more than one way to become successful in any field, and Bev Browning has written about her path to success as a grant writing consultant. Her account has left me impressed, awe-struck, and appalled.
The book (really more of a workbook in format and presentation) documents a path to successful nonprofit-sector consulting that combines the chutzpah of a used car salesman with an entrepreneur's business savvy, but neglects the professionalism and non-financial rewards that a successful practice has to offer.
The work is a disappointment when looking at the potential breadth and depth of the subject matter implied in the title. The book is expensive ($49.00) for its meager saddle-stitched format. Some very good and insightful information is presented in a style heavily mixed with cheerleading “you can do it” boosterism and self-important, mundane pull-quotes, always attributed to the author herself.
It is important to note that this book teaches one nothing about how to write a successful grant application. It is assumed that the reader is already experienced at grantsmanship, or is pursuing a separate road to acquire that knowledge. This assumption is never stated in the promotional material or the cover text of the shrink-wrapped volume. This oversight is serious, especially when considering the “you can do it, too!” tone of the text on the back cover.
Ms. Browning does a good job of identifying the materials and equipment necessary to starting a home-based business, but “dates” her material by recommending particular products and specifications for computers and peripherals. She does a good job of providing some tables and checklists for helping the reader identify their expertise and probable target market for clients. However, be wary of the opinions and statements about the legalities surrounding setting up a business in one's home; some communities' ordinances and covenants are not as tolerant as Ms. Browning implies.
As good and relevant as some of the basic advice may be, I cringed when I read about her marketing techniques. The idea of monthly direct mail and telephone follow-up is a reasonable, though unusual, professional client recruitment strategy (the telephone follow-up is key). It's more appropriate for recruiting speaking and teaching engagements than for specific grants preparation assignments, though this distinction is never explored.
However, the practice she follows and recommends of dropping business cards on workshop and conference tables, resource racks -- and even airplane seats and office restrooms where nonprofits have office space -- does damage to the professional image that most nonprofit-sector consultants work to project. Of course, the author's company name, with three dollar signs in place of the letter “S,” is another indicator that a professional image is not being cultivated. Most readers, especially those with a grounding in the nonprofit sector and therefore those most likely to benefit from a book on the topic, will not see themselves in such a blatant promotional/sales role and will need to seek alternate strategies, equally effective, with which they (and their clients) are more comfortable.
Building a consulting practice in the field of grantsmanship can be a rewarding experience in many ways, and can take many forms. This slim “book” (really a workbook format) focuses on one person's success and fails to present the broader picture, additional information, and illustrative experiences that the reader should expect for the title and the price.
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