I love being on the other side. I am in the midst of reviewing evaluator letters of interest – miniproposals – to evaluate one of my work projects. Rarely am I in the position to need the evaluator. Usually I am the one submitting my ideas and credentials. The pile sitting in front of me holds an incredible range of quality. For some, I am honored that they would be interested in working with us. For others, I am reminded of a mistake I made early on in my professional evaluation career.

I was hired on to a grant, which had proposed to evaluate a community initiative, after the proposal was accepted and funding had landed. My team was geeked, particularly because the local community initiative had been so successful, other cities were adopting the model. We saw this rapid replication as an opportunity – perhaps even as a meat market. Hmmmm, which one of these pretties shall we go after? We, naturally, went for the largest, the richest, the most popular options and courted those community leaders around the country. We submitted evaluation proposals to them that were all basically the same, with selected search-and-replacing. At the time, I had never actually written an evaluation proposal and I use my naivete as an excuse, thankyouverymuch.

When the first rejection letter was returned to us, I was devastated (I mean, I cried. First rejection.) It was from Denver. And their chief complaint was that the proposal didn’t reflect an understanding of the Denver context. We had talked about this particular community initiative being so necessary because the larger community of Fill-In-The-Blank was a waning industrial center that needed revitalization. Hello? Been to Denver lately? That’s not them at all. They were right to reject us. We should have done more homework before submitting that proposal.

The same mistakes are sitting in front of me: boilerplate language that shows no evidence of even trying to understand who we are and what we do. While this might seem like an easy strategy (and who knows, one of the 400 letters sent out might actually land a job…), one shouldn’t be a surprised by rejection. Just like the guy who sidles up to me at the bar, I am thinking in my head, “don’t even try.”

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