Grant writing lessons from the Fyre Festival debacle

Last weekend I watched that Neflix documentary about the Fyre Festival - have you seen it yet? MY GOD. It's like the documentary version of rubber-necking after a car crash.

If you don't know the story, here's a quick recap: Silicon Valley/Tech Bro sets out to create the world's most exclusive music festival on an island in the Bahamas. Spoiler alert: disaster ensues; hardworking people don't get paid; Tech Bro gets charged with fraud.

So.Many.Feelings for a control freak like me.

The *extremely charitable* version of the story is that poor ol' Tech Bro really wanted to put on an epic show and he got in waaaay over his head. He just didn't plan well enough.

I'm sure that's true. What's probably ALSO true is that Tech Bro just wanted to party with some supermodels and didn't give a crap about all the people who paid a truckload of money to see Blink-182 on a beach in the Bahamas. (Um, I don't know who those people are but they deserve to get their money back, I guess.)

Why am I telling you this?

Because there's actually a lot you can learn about grant writing from Finance Bro (and yes, I'm trying to justify my Netflix downtime by making it relevant to my work :). For the sake of today's lesson, we're going to ignore the part about him being a total grifter and focus on three Fyre Festival takeaways that are relevant to grant writing so that you can avoid serving people lettuce on toast when they were expecting gourmet sushi. (Try to imagine what the grant writing equivalent of lettuce on toast would be.)

If you want to be the best, you need to start early

This one's easy. There's a big difference between time pressure before a deadline—which is pretty much unavoidable—and hair-on-fire throwing things together at the last minute. The hair-on-fire version will almost always produce something disappointing. (That's when you get lettuce on toast instead of fancy sushi.) Grant writing takeaway? You need time to write a fundable proposal. Way more time than you think. Give yourself at least four months for an operating grant.

Get feedback from experts - and USE IT

There were a bunch of (well-meaning?) people around Tech Bro who were willing to do pretty much anything to make the Fyre Festival happen. They tried offering (unsolicited) advice, and then warnings, but Bro had his own ideas—bad ones—and refused to listen to advice. Grant writing takeaway? Use the expertise of your colleagues and mentors to improve your work. Or *ahem* hire someone who can bring an outsider's perspective to your proposal.

If you hype something, you'd better be able to back it up

The Fyre Festival made colossal promises that it couldn't deliver. And it's absolutely bonkers that investors trusted this guy—who had never run a music festival before—to pull off one of the most complex events out there. There are two grant writing takeaways for this one: 1) You need to prove that you can be trusted to deliver on your promises, either through your existing track record or the team you've assembled; 2) Reviewers will see right through you if you inflate the significance or impact of your work...so be cautious about how you describe the potential of your study.

Did you watch the documentary? What other grant writing lessons would you add to the list? Tell me in the comments!

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